Now independent, Early Learning Center reopening

Flurry of activity has building at Fort Ethan Allen nearly ready for youngsters as St. Mike's community support still making difference

August 7, 2020
Mark Tarnacki
Staff Writer

Following the closure of the Early Learning Center at Saint Michael’ s College in June, a small group of dedicated staff, parents and community members have worked tirelessly to re-establish an independent, non-profit early childhood education center in the same building on North Campus/Fort Ethan Allen, scheduled to open August 31.

Board members of the new Early Learning Center (ELC) said this week that the work has involved everything from legal incorporation with the State of Vermont, designing a website and organizing payroll administration, to coordinating open house meetings with families, writing a family handbook and cleaning the center in preparation for re-opening.

Jenny smiles

Jenny Stearns takes a break from helping clean the Early Learning Center building in early August

“This has been, and continues to be, a tremendous amount of work and a steep learning curve for us all,” said Jenny Stearns of the Board of Directors and Saint Michael’s Education Department faculty, who is also the College’s Early Childhood Education Coordinator. “But, thanks to the motivation and positive approach shown by everyone involved, we are currently on target to open August 31, 2020.” She said the majority of staff members from the former Saint Michael’s College Early Learning Center have decided to stay on and will continue to work at the center.

Stearns said the day that the educators and families of the ELC learned of its closure, a parent reached out to Sue Treadwell, the director and Cindy Beaudoin-Valyou, the assistant director of the Center at the time (photo below left). “We met for an hour and a half that day and from that moment on we have been hard at work creating what is now the Early Learning Center, Inc.,” she said, adding that Treadwell made the decision shortly thereafter to return to classroom teaching, “and is excited to be spending her days with the children.”


Cindy Beudoin-Valyou is assistant director of the newly organized Early Learning Center. She is seen in this photo helping with preparations at the Center in early August.

“Sue is one of the members of the staff from the former ELC that have been working alongside family members and community members the last few months to establish and open the Early Learning Center, Inc.,” Stearns said. “We are currently in the process of hiring a new director.”

“We are beyond excited to announce this!” said Stearns. “Similarly, many families who had children at the Early Learning Center at Saint Michael’s College are excited to enroll their children in the new Center.” Previously the Early Learning Center was able to provide full-time care for 38 children at a time, and “We anticipate being licensed for 37 full time spots,” she said.

Stearns said the community rate that clients of the Center pay has increased minimally with the new opening as an independent nonprofit. For families who previously had received the St. Mike’s discount, that increase is more substantial, Stearns said. “All families are now paying one rate,” she said. “As a new entity and an independent non-profit, we are not in a position to be able to offer St. Mike’s employees a discount.”

Saint Michael’s College has been supportive of the newly conceived enterprise, however. “We are fortunate that from the day we reached out to St. Mike’s to engage in a conversation about what may be possible that we were met with support and encouragement,” Stearns said. “We would not be preparing to open the Center if it wasn’t for the support of Saint Michael’s College. We truly believe that we are setting the Center up to continue to be a resource to the local community as well as to St. Mike’s employees who have young children, and to St. Mike’s students who have an opportunity to gain experience in their field of study and/ or students who wish to have part time employment close to campus and have experience with and enjoy working with young children. We’re excited about the partnerships that we’ve continued to maintain and in some cases (as is with the Education Department), strengthen. St. Mike’s has agreed to allow us to lease the building for a nominal yearly fee, making this all possible for us.”


Laura Lee, ELC Board president, does some cleaning at the Center in early August.

Rob Robinson, Saint Michael’s College vice president for finance, said, “The decision to close the ELC was a difficult one for the College, as we knew this would have significant impact to the families. The College has been impressed with the efforts of the parent Board, and is happy to have been able to play a small role in the creation of the new ELC.”

Stearns said the ELC staff team and Board of Directors are aware of a number of non-profit childcare centers that are hugely successful, although “We are not aware of any others in a position similar to ours who are currently opening a new center in the midst of a pandemic.” She said all the new ELC leaders “are working very hard to make sure that we comply with all COVID-19 requirements in order to mitigate risk and create and maintain a safe and healthy environment for everyone. This has involved writing specific policies, thorough cleaning procedures and detailed guidelines for staff, parents/guardians and families.”


Hannah Cruickshank, ELC early educator, in early August helps prepare the Center for reopening in the coming month.

The new Early Learning Center is now accepting enrollments for the fall 2020. The enrollment inquiry form, and more information, including how to support the Center’s fundraising efforts, can be found on the new center’s website:

According to this new website, “The Early Learning Center (ELC) is a new non-profit early childhood program created in partnership with families, educators and members of the community …[that is] in the process of becoming a fully licensed, center-based program located at Fort Ethan Allen in Colchester, providing care and education for 40 children ages 6 weeks to 6 years. We believe that children are competent learners from birth. We value children’s natural curiosity and individual ideas and we facilitate children’s learning through a developmentally appropriate, play-based curriculum. Our center is committed to providing the very best early childhood education experience for every child and family in our care. Welcome to our community!”

The Center’s Board of Directors is: Chris Lei (ELC Board Secretary; Manager of Web Technologies, Saint Michael’s College); Jenny Stearns (Early Childhood Education Coordinator, Education Department Faculty, Saint Michael’s College); Allison Gardner ’05 (formerly of the Saint Michael’s Parent & Alumni Relations Office; Ryan Dulude ’07 (ELC Board Assistant Treasurer); Laura Lee ’04 (Early Learning Center, Inc. President and ELC Board Chair; Sarah Robinson; Melissa Tourville (ELC Board Treasurer).

ELC crew

Left to right: Jenny Stearns (SMC Education Department); Cindy Beaudoin-Valyou (ELC Assistant Director); Laura Lee (ELC Board President); Hannah Cruickshank (ELC Early Educator)










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