A developmental approach to a better New Haven.
The Friends Center for Children in New Haven, Connecticut is committed to making sure all children have access to Ideal Learning regardless of their socioeconomic status. Its executive director, Allyx Schiavone, is leading the charge.
New Haven is a tale of two cities, with Yale University in its center and some of the most vulnerable populations living in and around the surrounding neighborhoods. While the college town is unique, the social and economic conditions are not dramatically different from those in Connecticut’s other major cities, and in fact are very similar to other major metropolitan areas nationwide. While great opportunity exists, those who need it most have the least access.
Allyx Schiavone is an exemplar leader who understands the need to bring Ideal Learning to all children in New Haven and other communities. The Friends Center for Children offers relationship-centered, hands-on learning experiences for children across the socioeconomic spectrum from ages three months to five years.
The Friends Center believes that an Ideal Learning environment puts the child at the center.
“Our philosophy makes the child the center with a developmentally appropriate, play-based, trauma-informed approach to learning,” Allyx says. “All the adults surrounding the child enter into a partnership through which the child’s full self is supported, encouraged, and able to grow.”
The school’s curriculum design provides communities of learning for young children that include personal, social, emotional, and academic support for children in all aspects of their development.
“Here at the Friends Center, every child brings their interests to the learning environment, and the educator creates a learning experience for that child based on those interests,” Allyx says. “There is no set system of what they’re going to study, so the child becomes actively engaged in their learning, owning that experience and opening the door for critical thinking.”
The Friends Center works in close partnership with parents, who are actively engaged to understand their children’s learning style and contribute their love and talent to best support their children’s progress. This approach allows parents to work alongside their children’s teachers to determine what works, what doesn’t, and how to advocate for what their children need at school and in life.
Furthermore, the Friends Center also works hard to create a learning community that reflects the community as a whole. The Friends Center is deeply committed to enrolling a diverse student body, reflecting the racial, cultural, and socioeconomic picture of New Haven, where the population is roughly evenly split between African American, Caucasian, and Hispanic communities. Through experiences at a school that reflects their community, students have a clear sense of self and of those around them. This opens them up to learning from all cultural perspectives.
The Friends Center’s approach provides a nurturing environment that often masks a very intentional curriculum and constant evaluation of each child’s developmental progress. The goal is a well-rounded child. This is achieved through a framework of happiness, connectedness, joy, interest in learning, and ability to feel grounded and safe. At the same time, the approach is designed to advance and measure social and emotional development and academic proficiencies in logical thinking, math, reading, writing, and language. By evaluating a student’s mastery of skills based on holistic outcomes, the Friends Center and other Ideal Learning providers identify growth, adjust teaching to the child, and empower families to better understand their children’s abilities and advocate for their success.
Recently, the Friends Center partnered with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence to determine how emotional development impacts the ability to learn. Children in New Haven can face significant challenges that inform their emotional, physical, and educational progress. To help children overcome those challenges, the Friends Center does a full assessment of students within the first six months of enrollment; employs a full-time social worker to interact with students, parents, and teachers who need support; and offers individualized plans to provide students and families with the tools they need to thrive. They also send surveys to families to acquire program feedback, and coordinators are available for families at any time for counseling.
By providing these resources for families, putting children at the center of their education, and focusing on serving the diverse community in New Haven, the Friends Center is proving that Ideal Learning works for all children and can be adapted to many more communities.