EDCI and LEAP launch preschool program

Steven Blalock knows the value of early childhood education, and he wants to make sure his 4-year-old son, Ja-Mar, is ready for kindergarten.

“I just want him to be able to get the fundamentals, and what he’ll learn he’ll take with him,” Blalock said.

With the opening of the preschool program, EDCI LEAP Academy, Ja-Mar is getting the chance to learn Spanish, make crafts and interact with other children his age in an educational setting. 

A joint effort of East Durham Children’s Initiative and the Latino Educational Achievement Partnership (LEAP), the preschool opened its doors on Feb. 2.

Chief Executive Officer and President of EDCI David Reese touted the program’s design to serve students from both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking homes as well as its 6-to-1 student-teacher ratio.

Blalock was complimentary of the teachers and said he was impressed with the amount of individual attention students receive.

Reese said the program was the next logical step in serving the children and families of the EDCI zone, which encompasses the school district for Y.E. Smith Elementary Museum School, according to EDCI’s website.

Ja-Mar Blalock, 4, proudly shows off a craft he made at EDCI LEAP Academy. “I built it all myself,” he said.

Ja-Mar Blalock, 4, proudly shows off a craft he made at EDCI LEAP Academy. “I built it all myself,” he said. (Staff photo by Katie Reeder)

“This is part of the process of us getting to walk with children,” Reese said.

Reese said 62 percent of families in this area have no access to high-quality child care.

Reese said the only requirement for children to attend EDCI LEAP Academy is that they live in the EDCI zone. No child will be denied from the program because of an inability to afford the program, he explained.

There is a $25-per-month fee parents are asked to pay, but if they cannot afford that, Reese said parents can pay what they are able to. He said the program was designed in a way that would allow parents to participate, at least on some level, financially in their children’s education.

“For us, this is about alleviating barriers, making sure we’re not creating any other barriers,” Reese said. “The goal for us, I think, is very, very straightforward in that we need to have children and families who are kindergarten-ready, because that is the beginning of academic success for children.”

Aside from the parents’ contribution, the preschool is funded by philanthropic donors, Reese said. He said there is no city-based funding for the program but that it has enough support to be sustainable in the long run.

The preschool is housed in the East Durham Recreational Center at 2615 Harvard Ave. and is operated by Durham Parks and Recreation Department. EDCI gained access to the building through a bidding process, said EDCI community ambassador, Clifton Daye. He has been working to make sure the building is safe and secure for students and teachers.

Daye said the building was chosen for its location in East Durham and that he thinks it is in a relatively safe area. The EDCI zone has the lowest crime rate in Northeast Central Durham, said Reese.

“I just want to make sure every child arrives safe and leaves safe,” Daye said.

He said the building was already equipped with an alarm system, and the doors remain locked during operating hours. Televisions were also installed to secure the perimeter of the building.

There will be a launch party to celebrate all the work done and the preschool’s opening on Feb. 26 from noon to 1 p.m. at the East Durham Recreation Center on Harvard Avenue. Speakers will include Reese, Mayor Bill Bell and LEAP’s executive director, Leigh Bordley.

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