Troy University’s Dothan campus will soon see a younger cohort of students now that the Coleman Center for Early Learning and Family Enrichment has opened. A ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony was held on Thursday.
Hundreds of Troy University officials, Wiregrass leaders, educators, and members of the community congregated onsite to witness officials dedicate the building to the Coleman family, whose initial $1 million donation kickstarted its development.
Jeff Coleman, chairman of Coleman Worldwide Moving company in Dothan, said the innovative program will help give area youth a “smart start” while building the workforce with trained teachers through a mentorship component.
“This is where you bring the child and the family together, and we have a chance to allow the children in the greater Wiregrass community to get a smart and a strong start and matriculate out into our workforce and be college- and career-ready,” he said. “Today’s about workforce development. It’s about growth and prosperity in our community.”
The 14,000 square-foot Coleman Hall will house the early learning center, a collaboration between the College of Education and the College of Health and Human Services that will serve Wiregrass children from six weeks through 4 years of age.
In addition to the focus on children, the center also provides laboratory and interactive opportunities intended to prepare Troy University students for careers in the field of early education.
Further, it provides a training environment for students who are taking courses related to the well-being and development of young children, such as nursing, social work, physical education, nutrition, and therapy.
Jack Hawkins, who recently celebrated 30 years as Troy University’s chancellor, said he is reminded of the importance of early childhood education by his granddaughter Micah.
“As we have watched her in the past three and a half years literally go from an infant who was totally dependent on the world to one now who not only outruns her granddad by far, but she also communicates, and dances and sings – and you think about the power of those three years… and the power of those lost three years if they’re not employed appropriately,” he said.
He and others noted that in the first five years of life, about 90 percent of a child’s brain is developed.
“This place will do three things fundamentally. One, it will serve children….,” Hawkins said. “We will produce well-qualified teachers in this building. They will be ready to serve that early childhood population.”
Hawkins said that the element he is most excited about is the potential for research because of its ripple effects beyond service and teaching.
“What we think will happen here is the identification through research is skill sets that will help others, and that will be the magnitude of this effect,” he said.
The vision behind the $3 million project began seven years ago. Originally, the Coleman Center was intended to be a $7 million, 40,000 square-foot business center, but university officials saw a more pressing need in helping the area deliver quality pre-k education to children, Hawkins said earlier. Troy has a history of being responsive to emerging needs, Hawkins said, citing the school’s early adoption of offering online classes and its international outreach.
Coleman, an early childhood education advocate, said it took time to nurture the vision for the project.
“Obviously it takes resources, and we were working hard through that seven-year period to put all those resources together and create the right vision… a lot of planning and development goes into the planning of a facility of this size and stature and to do it the right way and to di it very methodically and to do it in the theme – the great traditional theme of Dr. Jack Hawkins,” he said.
The Houston County Commission has pledged $175,000 contingent on the Dothan City Commission providing $400,000 for the expansion.
In traditional Troy University style, the red-brick building features arched windows and large, thick cement columns to match the motif of other educational buildings on all Troy campuses. It is located next to Malone Hall.
It features a nursery, classrooms for pre-school aged children starting two years old, as well as rooms for meetings, workshops, assessment, and counseling.
The center will teach curriculum focused on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) by certified teachers. Enrollment in the center costs $150 a week, and starting Monday, Sept. 9, the center will remain open year-round from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The facility will also house three classrooms part of the Alabama First Class Pre-K program.