When I moved here over two decades ago and started learning my way around, the city was described to me as a “checkerboard” of good and bad neighborhoods. I’m fairly confident this was a warning, but I actually found the checkerboard to be one of the more fascinating characteristics of my new home. I still love that no matter where you live, work or play it’s nearly impossible to not notice and be touched by the cross pollination of unique people and cultures around us that is New Orleans.
In contrast to this melting pot of neighborhoods, most early learning centers are either entirely tuition-based or entirely publicly funded, leading to segregation in our schools that doesn’t reflect the diverse makeup of the city. But I recently learned there’s an innovative option when a board member of New Orleans College Prep invited me to visit one of their schools: Hoffman Early Learning Center.
Tucked neatly on a large lot of South Prieur Street, Hoffman Early Learning Center’s unique model is a mecca for families searching for an affordable, high-quality early education program. With nearly 12,000 low-income families with children ages infant to 4 in New Orleans and the importance of pre-K education in long-term development, Hoffman offers a racially and socioeconomically diverse learning experience for our city’s youngest students that truly mirrors our community at large. “One of the things that drew us to Hoffman was the economic diversity that the school’s mission tries to attract amongst the families,” says a current parent.
Unlike most schools, tuition at Hoffman is a sliding scale of rates based on family income with 56 percent publicly funded seats (from Early Head Start, Head Start and the City of New Orleans) and 44 percent tuition based for a total enrollment of 150 students from infants to 4-year-olds. Hoffman developed their model from a tremendous amount of research supporting the theory that “kids in racially and economically diverse schools perform better academically and enroll in college at higher rates” (The Century Foundation study, 2016). Through community partnerships with Kingsley House, Boys Town and Charter School Collaborators and with extensive waiting lists, Hoffman achieves economies of scale by implementing a diversified funding model with the hope to serve 235 students by 2020.
The school has a warm, welcoming vibe with classrooms entered off large porches centered on an inviting play area equipped with gardens, play structures, and picnic tables. Peeking into a few classrooms to witness the learning first hand brightened my day – one classroom of chatty 4-year-olds was working collaboratively on a project and a sweet younger group was resting quietly post-lunch on cots while their teacher read. Hoffman uses the Creative Curriculum, a comprehensive, research-based curriculum that features exploration and discovery as a way of learning. Low student-teacher ratios and hands-on learning assure that every child receives attention and engagement at an increased level. Not only do all Hoffman teachers have degrees in early childhood education or are currently enrolled in an education program, but the joy and enthusiasm they exuded during my brief visit was palpable.
Hoffman Executive Director Eboni Walker explains it best: “All children deserve a great early childhood education that sets them up for success in life and so that’s what we’re trying to do here – level the playing field, put them in a room together to learn together at a high quality and you’ll see the outcome. This is what learning should be.”
A LITTLE MORE…
To get involved or donate to Hoffman Early Learning Center visit NolaCollegePrep.org.