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Dual Education Center prepares to offer new approach to assisting Wilmington families

Delaware Public Media

A “dual generation center,” the centerpiece of the state’s strategy to improve the educational lot of Wilmington children by helping to uplift their families, is expected to open to adult clients in early October at Stubbs Early Education Center on the city’s East Side.

The center, located on the second floor of what was formerly an elementary school, will provide a variety of resources to adults, including access to programs offered by three departments of state government – Labor, Health and Social Services, and Services to Children, Youth and Their Families. A partnership between the state Department of Education and the Christina School District will provide adult education programming as well. The portion of the program that serves a much younger generation – early education and childcare for children up to 4 years old – opened earlier this month on Stubbs’ ground floor.

The project is an integral part of the Memorandum of Understanding signed in March 2018 by Gov. John Carney, the Department of Education and the Christina district.

Helen Anderson, the center’s director, admits she isn’t quite sure how many people will turn out to make use of the newly available programs. “If they live in Wilmington and they need assistance, we will do what we have to do,” she says. In the run-up to opening, there has been little publicity, so most of those who know about the center are either families who have children in childcare, prekindergarten or kindergarten at Stubbs, and those who have learned through word of mouth.

“As the word gets out, people will hear someone say ‘I got this at Stubbs’ and they’re going to come here,” she says.

The state allocated $2 million to pay for repairs, upgrades and furnishings for the new center. A hoped-for early September opening was delayed as state and Christina officials concentrated on launching the education components of the MOU, particularly the reconfiguration of the Bancroft and Bayard schools to serve students from first through eighth grades in time to open on Aug. 12. Work on installing wiring to accommodate the computers and other technology in the dual generation center did not begin until last week. The tech equipment will be installed next week and the center will finish when that work is completed.  Also, exterior doors on the north side of the building were being repurposed as a separate entrance to the dual generation center so that adults using the center would not be able to access the kindergarten/preschool portion of the building.

"We're pioneers here. There's nothing like this elsewhere in the state." - Helen Anderson, Dual Generation Center director.

“These are older buildings,” says James Simmons, director of the Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement, referring to Stubbs, Bancroft and Bayard. “There was some need for deferred maintenance and we ran into some hiccups in getting the sites ready,” pushing back completion of work on the dual generation center.

In many respects, Anderson says, “we’re still trying to figure out who does what and how it’s going to work.”

The center, she explains, is “a way to break down barriers that keep people in poverty and low-income situations. We want to help them get jobs with livable wages.”

In some respects the center will look like a mini version of a state service center – state-run hubs that provide one-stop-shopping for a range of social needs.

“We’ve looked at our space and we’ve tried to be multi-functional,” Anderson says. “Almost anything you can get at a state service center, you can get here.”

The center consists of five former classrooms – three that are being arranged as office space for Anderson and representatives of state agencies and two that will be used as client work rooms and for training sessions.

Among the services:

A Department of Health and Social Services specialist will provide assistance in applying for social services, food benefits, hotel vouchers and other referrals.

A Department of Labor representative will help clients navigate the Job Link employment search program, provide assistance in creating resumes and offer tips to prepare for job interviews. Periodic classes in the “soft skills” essential to holding a job will be offered. A closet will be stocked with attire that clients can use to dress appropriately for job interviews.

The Department of Services to Children, Youth and Their Families will provide wellness programs, access to a child psychologist, dental screenings and other services.

A collaboration between the Department of Education and the Christina School District will provide adult education and GED classes, tutoring, child development classes, educational support services and adult-child instruction on how parents and children can improve their literacy skills by reading to each other.

The two resource/work rooms will be equipped with computers that clients can use for job searches, resume writing and other research. These rooms can be reconfigured for use as classrooms or for community meetings, Anderson says.

Anderson says the center will be staffed full-time by seven representatives of various state agencies. Staff from other agencies, like the state Division of Services for Aging and Adults with Physical Disabilities, will make periodic visits to the center, using desk space in the former classroom that will include Anderson’s office. Depending on scheduling, there could be as many as 15 state employees working at the center on any given day, she says.

“Aging is a major concern” in the area, Anderson says. “Seniors want to know about available programs, and there are many grandparents and some great-grandparents caring for young children.”

At the start, the center will be staffed by experienced personnel who are familiar with all the programs their agencies offer, Anderson says. Staffers assigned to the center will remain on the payroll of the agency that employs them.

In addition to the state agencies, nonprofit organizations are likely to participate in the center’s development. Children and Families First, for example, has been offering parental support programs at Stubbs for several years. Anderson says she intends to invite the Delaware Financial Literacy Institute to offer money management classes at the center. Programs in home ownership, offered either by a nonprofit or the Delaware State Housing Authority, are also a possibility, she says.

Anderson, formerly a special education teacher at William Penn High School, not only knows the community well but also recognizes the importance of providing additional supports to the families of low-income students. She lives in Wilmington and spent much of her childhood there. Her father, the late William “Hicks” Anderson, was an aggressive and influential advocate for low-income families in the former Wilmington school system in the 1970s. The Hicks Anderson Community Center in West Center City is named in his memory.

Since starting her assignment at Stubbs on July 1, Anderson has had frequent contact with families whose children are enrolled in the early learning programs in the building. Many adults have asked her questions about the dual generation center’s services, and she says she’s now at the point where she is providing some sort of guidance to 10 to 12 families a week.

“We’re pioneers here. There’s nothing like this elsewhere in the state,” Anderson says.

“It’s a growth process for everybody. We’ll have our growing pains in the beginning,” she says. “But everything we’re doing is about helping to build up families and raise them to another level.”

The Dual Generation Center will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday and from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday.

For more information, call 302-434-6960. The center’s website is still in development.

Larry Nagengast, a contributor to Delaware First Media since 2011, has been writing and editing news stories in Delaware for more than five decades.