The Early Learning Center, originally called the Student Child Care Center, was first established in 1973 and has expanded over time. The organization has been funded by Bellevue College, the Costco Wholesale Corporation and donations from numerous private donors. Their focus has always been on helping children and families develop and grow.
Assistant Director Cindy Koepke explained this philosophy in 1989 by saying “We’re child-care, not day care,” in an article in The Advocate, Bellevue College’s newspaper at the time.
The Early Learning Center now includes parent education, child-care services, “field” training for childcare providers and Head Start services for children from low-income families.
Throughout its history, current Assistant Director Lisa Miller said the aim has always been to provide a “nurturing environment” where they “encourage discovery and learning for children and families.”
When Miller came on staff, the center was located in an actual house. In 2001 a new center was built through a partnership with Costco that changed the capacity from 60 kids to 180. Miller explained that the center now feels more “like a school than a home.”
The Early Learning center serves the children of Bellevue College staff, students and faculty on a sliding scale, and members of the community who pay a flat rate. Half of the slots are reserved for Costco employees, which was part of the partnership created with the building’s construction.
The center is a long standing part of the BC community, in fact Miller says she “sees kids all the time on campus that have gone to school here.”
The center has had partnerships with childhood development students throughout the years, providing opportunities for students to complete lab work and see childrens’ development in action.
Miller said that one of her favorite parts of her job is that she can still stop into a classroom and see the kids whenever she needs to change her mindset. “Sometimes the day-to-day paperwork and different situations kind of get to me sometimes.” she explained. “Kids are always happy, even if they come in in a mood because of their parents or something, after being here for a while they don’t care, they just have fun.”
Over the years, Miller said each director has added something special and taught her something new. Betty Kacynski was at the school until 2004, and Miller said she showed her “how to be a better teacher, how to use your natural resources.” She is from the city and said Miller actually “taught me how to be a gardener,” which she could then add into activities with the kids.