Opinion: Providing strong foundations for Bridgeport’s youth

Robert Dzurenda, of Hall Neighborhood House, addresses children at the McGivney Center before unveiling an art room they helped renovate.

Robert Dzurenda, of Hall Neighborhood House, addresses children at the McGivney Center before unveiling an art room they helped renovate.

Keila Torres Ocasio, Staff Photo / Keila Torres Ocasio

Children are born learners. They look at the world with boundless curiosity, endless questions and true joy. As adults, it is our job to nurture their innate love of learning and set them up for a lifetime of growth.

At Hall Neighborhood House, our early childhood team — made up of dedicated professionals with combined decades of experience — provides programs that encourage learning and growth in children from six weeks old through their entry into kindergarten.

Each day, Hall Neighborhood House’s early childhood programs serve 250 children here on the East Side of Bridgeport. And, with the addition of two new early childhood rooms, we’re opening up space for 24 additional children. High-quality early childhood education is critical for our community, just as it is for so many communities across the United States — and it can be hard to find. The Center for American Progress found that 51 percent of Americans live in neighborhoods classified as child care deserts.

Support from the community makes this possible, and affirms the quality of our programs and the trust we have earned by consistently providing best-in-class care to the children and families we serve.

Importance of early childhood education

It is essential that children have access to targeted learning opportunities, social-emotional support and a strong network of caring, trusted adults before their first day of kindergarten. Through my work as executive director at Hall Neighborhood House, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing countless children be transformed by a quality, dedicated child care program.

According to the Harvard University Center on the Developing Child, we begin developing executive function and self-regulation skills — which are critical for successful adulthood — in infancy. Throughout toddlerhood, we grow our ability to focus, follow rules and set limits. Research continues to show that early childhood education is tied to positive health, social and educational outcomes for children and, frequently, for their parents, as well.

Our team of dedicated, knowledgeable teachers and child development experts fosters healthy development, social skills and resilience in the children we serve. Our programs are accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, meet all criteria established by the Office of Early Childhood in the Connecticut Early Learning and Development Standards and are guided by the Teaching Strategies Gold Curriculum. Children are also assessed by the Connecticut Documentation for Observation and Teaching System Assessment tool, the Brigance screening tool, and the Ages and Stages Screening Tool.

All that to say, when we say best-in-class, we mean it.

Our team creates childcare and preschool classrooms that give children a fun, safe place to learn—helping them build the foundation they need to grow, reach their goals, and cope with setbacks throughout their lives.

Increasing access

In 2015, The Washington Post conducted a national poll that found that more than 75 percent of mothers and 50 percent of fathers had passed up work opportunities, switched jobs or quit their jobs because of a lack of paid leave or child care. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Harvard Business Review found that nearly 20 percent of working parents had to leave work or reduce their hours solely because of a lack of childcare.

Trusted, affordable and conveniently located child care is not accessible for so many Americans. We’re changing that fact here on the East Side of Bridgeport. We provide care and education opportunities right here in the neighborhood to meet our neighbors’ needs. And, as we expand our facilities, we open this critically needed service up to more children and families.

Mental and behavioral health support

Learning how to cope with challenges is a critical part of development. Here at Hall, we know it’s important to invest in behavioral health support for the youth we serve. Our students have access to mental health resources through group and individual sessions focused on social-emotional learning, building resilience, and working through challenges. These skills will support them throughout their lives.

Beyond child care, we’re here for whatever our neighbors need

As we expand our child care program, we know that this is only the beginning. Here at Hall Neighborhood House, we serve neighbors of all ages — elementary, middle and high school students; families; and seniors. We look forward to a season of expansion, as we invest in new services for all of our neighbors and continue to meet their changing needs.

At Hall Neighborhood House, we are proud to provide holistic services and a proven model for community care that ensures that none of our neighbors get left behind. We are so thankful to our champions and partners for ensuring that we have the funding we need to carry out our mission.

Robert Dzurenda is executive director of Hall Neighborhood House in Bridgeport.