By Cindy Zomar, Education Coordinator
MARLBOROUGH – Andrew Bernabei, Director of Marlborough’s Early Childhood Center (ECC), is not sure where the disposable hazmat suit came from, but he was grateful that he had it on when he was the target of staff members with paint in their hands.
“Someone ordered them for the event, and it helped, but I still had paint on my clothes and skin,” he recently told the Community Advocate. “It soaked right through.”
Luckily most early childhood centers are equipped with washable paint, and this was no exception. Samson Martin, a Behavioral Technician in the Pathways Program, had volunteered to join Bernabei for the paint deluge.
Fundraiser sets $2,000 goal
The school has been doing a spring fundraiser for the Boston Red Sox Rally Against Cancer for the Jimmy Fund every year. But the effort was always just among the staff members. This year Bernabei decided to open it up to the students and families as well, issuing a challenge.
“I agreed to be painted if they raised $2,000 between February and the Red Sox opening day,” he explained. “This was the most we’ve ever raised; they reached almost $2,400.”
A deal is a deal so, as students lined up laughing and giggling behind a fence, staff members covered Bernabei in bright colors of paint.
“We did it after school and parents even brought kids back just to watch,” Bernabei said. “It was great!”
Following such success, Bernabei is thinking that this will be an annual event. Will it be him in the hazmat suit next year as well or will he delegate that honor and rotate it among the staff? That decision is still up in the air.
ECC expands capacity
As the ECC celebrates this fundraising effort, the facility is also expanding its number of available seats over the next four years, while offering a universal pre-school option with no tuition.
The district approved this expansion plan in 2019, cutting tuition for the 2020-2021 school year for the preschool. However, COVID-19 hit and the plan was temporarily derailed.
Now Bernabei is happy to report that the expansion model is back on track and universal preschool is available.
“We had a team doing research, looking into local districts like Framingham, Shrewsbury, Hudson, and even Somerville because there are similar demographics, and learned that almost all offer tuition-based pre-school,” Bernabei explained. “Marlborough is one of the only ones providing a universal program.”
With the district’s administrative offices moving to Whitcomb Middle School, it had freed up space in the Freeman School allowing for immediate expansion. Superintendent Mike Bergeron made it a priority to get other administrators and School Committee on board with a plan to continue adding classroom space each year.
The team surveyed parents and found that a large portion prioritize adding more full-day classes. The district also conducted its own additional study by looking at Marlborough sophomores and juniors identified as having attended the ECC.
“We were happy to find that all the 10th graders we checked had passed MCAS, and many of the juniors were members of National Honor Society,” Bernabei said. “It validated the need for our expansion.”
ECC eyes adding 100 students
The ECC had a little over 200 students as it recently dealt with COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines. The goal, though, is to reach 300 students going forward, counting both full-day and half-day programs.
The ECC uses a lottery system for admission, with registration criteria listed on the district website under the Early Childhood Center tab. Classes are currently full for next year, but new applicants will be added to the wait list.