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Kilgore Early Childhood Center marks 25 years

By Glenn Evans
Feb. 21, 2012 at 10 p.m.

KILGORE - Jagger Ward rumbled up a few steps to a perch where he could see the fun happening below. It was as if the 4-year-old had found a pretend tree house inside the Kilgore College Early Childhood Center.

"No," he corrected. "This is not a tree house. This is a loft. We even have a table; we have a chair. And then the pillow, to lay on. And there's books - they're for reading."

Jagger did appear equipped for comfort and success, there in his elevated corner of the 1956 home on Brook Street where more than 800 pre-schoolers such as him have played and learned words such as "loft" during the past quarter century.

"All my kids went to the Childhood Center," Jagger's mother, April Ward, said as she browsed a scrapbook at the center's 25th birthday reunion Tuesday night. "And I worked here, off and on, and I went through the program, too."

Her story was a familiar one at the nonprofit day care for ages 18 months to 4 years. It's across the highway from - but very much at the heart of - Kilgore College.

Students on campus find a safe and educational place for children while mom or dad is in class. Some of those children are second-generation students at the combination day care and learning lab for Kilgore College's childhood development classes.

"I wanted to give my kids a chance to get a leg up for kindergarten and school," said Jennifer Russell, who was a working mom when she and husband, Jim, enrolled their 18-month-old son, Zachary, now 15. Russell was able to stay at home by the time her son was 3½, but the couple didn't think twice about whether his little sister, Brannon, now 11, would enter the Early Childhood Center when her time came.

"I couldn't think of not giving her the same opportunity I gave my son," the mother said.

Amber Abell missed attending the center when her little sister, Billie Ann Maxwell, enrolled in 1988, but she couldn't argue with the success Maxwell achieved on the way to becoming an attorney.

"My kids go here now," Abell said of Frank, 4, and 2-year-old Ruby. "I knew that my mother was so pleased with the facility. I knew it was where I wanted my kids to be. It has such a good reputation."

Maxwell, in-house counsel for Martin Gas Co., remembered being treated like a potential grownup during meal times at the center.

"We all helped out with the food," she recalled. "You were responsible for helping out, like serving it and cleaning up. But it made a lasting impression on me."

Terri York's daughter, Ann, held her hand palm down at waist level as the teen and her college instructor mom strolled up the flagstone walk to the front door.

The history and geography teacher recalled bringing her daughter to the center when Ann was, well, about yea high.

"It was wonderful," York said. "It was one of the things that sold me on teaching at this school. They had day care, and I mean quality day care."

That's what organizers envisioned for the former home of Mary and Verner Laird.

"This is an important part of Kilgore College instruction," said Gerald Stanglin, and he ought to know - he's the dean of instruction. "We've got a lab where we can show potential workers what superior child care is all about. But, we're also providing a safe place where the kids can come and learn."

Jackie McCarty was a mother and night student at the college 15 years ago when she began full time at the center.

"I knew that I was going to teach one day," said McCarty, now a second-grade teacher at Chandler Elementary in Kilgore. "This place inspired me. Because, working with young children, it let me see how much they have the capability of learning. And watching the little light bulbs coming on - wow, she understands. I want to keep doing this."



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