Talk about a success story, look what’s happening at Clark College’s Early Learning Center. For more than three decades, the center on the north end of the main campus has served two purposes: a place where preschool children can learn, and a place where college students can learn how to teach the kids. Visualize both a school (for kids launching their academic pursuits) and a laboratory (for future teachers launching their careers). It’s a trifecta of sorts, when you consider the third faction of parents participating and helping the whole process unfold.
That’s the old news. The new news broke Thursday when the college dedicated Phase I of the Oliva Family Early Learning Center. This 5,000-square-foot facility includes two classrooms, a large multipurpose room, kitchen and resource center. But the success story doesn’t stop there. Still in the early stages of planning and funding acquisition is Phase II, which will be more than triple the size of Phase I.
An even greater success story — beyond and behind the structural realities — is the public-private partnership that allowed all of this to happen. It’s yet another example of the can-do spirit that is rooted in many areas throughout Clark County, and especially at the ultra-productive community college. Officials there have long known that the Early Learning Center, which opened in 1975 with funding assistance from then state Sen. Al Bauer, had become so popular for teaching both kids and teachers-to-be that it needed to be expanded.
Part of the necessary funding for Phase I — $1 million — came from the state, but it carried the requirement that matching funds had to be found.
Enter Jan and Steve Oliva, and not for the first time as local philanthropists. Jan’s service to the college includes 15 years on the board of the Clark College Foundation, and as a young parent she had discovered the benefits of the Early Learning Center. And Steve is former president and chief executive officer of Hi-School Pharmacy. Their matching gift — plus a donation from Kitty Welsh of Vancouver to cover costs of the “Little Penguins’ Gardens” in the new facility — completed the partnership.
All of this is a perfect example of how a vibrant and caring community gets things done even in the midst of a cruel and lingering economic downturn. Last year at the groundbreaking of the Phase I building, Clark College President Bob Knight explained, “At a time when our state funding continues to decline, it’s clear that donor support will be vitally important to our future, for today’s students and to help us meet our region’s needs for the future.” In other words, if the money can’t be found in Olympia, it must be found at home.
And if you’ve dared to venture around any of Clark College’s parking lots during the midday rush in the past week or so, you’ve seen how 15,000 students are fulfilling their own role in trying to boost an economic recovery.
Clark County residents can expect two dynamic realities to continue at their college. First, state funding will continue to be difficult to secure. Second, local residents can be counted on to accelerate matching grants. We’re not sure when ground-breaking will occur on the $4 million Phase II, but the plans are bold: extensive remodeling of the older building, plus seven classrooms, an art studio and an observation deck where Clark College students who are aspiring teachers can observe and listen in on the kids.
An unresolved challenge is how to build Phase II and accommodate current services at the Early Learning Center. But history tells us what will happen: They’ll find a way.