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New, state-of-the art Marygrove Early Education Center celebrates grand opening

Detroit, Social Investment Practice

Today, representatives from the Marygrove Conservancy and its partners celebrated the grand opening of a $22 million, state-of-the-art early education center on the Marygrove campus in northwest Detroit. (The livestreamed event can be replayed here.)

The opening of the Marygrove Early Education Center marks another milestone in the development of a cradle-to-career P-20 educational campus, which was first announced in September 2018. In fall 2019, Detroit Public Schools Community District and the University of Michigan School of Education opened the first component with The School at Marygrove, which now teaches grades 9-11 and eventually will be a full K-12 institution.

The earliest years before kindergarten lay the building blocks for success, as well as create the foundation for strong and vibrant communities. The opening of the Marygrove Early Education Center models a wholly new scale of excellence and impact to the early childhood education movement and to the children and families of Detroit.

“The Marygrove Early Education Center reflects the alchemy possible when partners from different sectors join energies and resources in service of Detroit’s children. We have created an early education facility that not only offers unprecedented quality of care, but also provides a new anchor for the redevelopment of the surrounding Livernois-McNichols neighborhood,” said Rip Rapson, president and CEO of The Kresge Foundation, which organized the partnership at its outset. Kresge has made a $50 million commitment to the P-20 campus, including construction of the early education center, marking the largest philanthropic investment in history to a Detroit neighborhood.

At today’s celebration, Rapson went further, saying, “Kresge will likely invest upwards of $75 million on this campus. We do it with pride in the knowledge that it will enrich the lives of families in the Livernois-Six Mile neighborhood for generations.”

One child with a pacifier in mouth, older child holding his hand, adult walking alongside, mostly out of frame, holding someone's backpack.
First day at the Marygrove Early Education Center. (Photo by Darrell Ellis for The Kresge Foundation)

The Marygrove Early Education Center officially opened on September 7, welcoming its first 144 children from birth to age five. Starfish Family Services provides overall leadership to the center, as well as supports a diverse and highly qualified team of educators and administrators. After breaking ground in November 2019, the center was built by developer IFF and lead contractor Barton Malow from designs by Marlon Blackwell Architects. The University of Michigan School of Education organizes and leads a diverse team of experts to adapt and develop curricula designed to engage children – even from the earliest ages – in powerful learning opportunities. It is the first new building on the 53-acre campus of the former Marygrove College which the nonprofit Marygrove Conservancy now stewards as a resource for the surrounding community.

Response from Marygrove Early Education Center families has been glowing. As one parent shared, “I am filled with hope, joy and gratitude. So much thought, love and research went into building this school. My heart is full. Our children are blessed and deserving.”

“The impact of what we’re doing here hit home last Tuesday – the first day of school – when we heard directly from our families and watched them proudly walk through the doors with their precious little ones,” said Celina Byrd, principal of the Marygrove Early Education Center. From the project’s inception, Byrd has been integral in leading the early childhood element of the Marygrove cradle-to-career education model for Starfish. With 15 other centers across Wayne County, Starfish Family Services serves nearly 4,000 children and families annually using an integrated behavioral and developmental health services model to achieve a whole-child, whole-family focus.

“What also hit home is that our responsibility to all the Marygrove Starfish little learners is enormous,” Byrd continued. “We take it very seriously. We are eager and ready to lay the foundation for these bright little spirits who are so full of potential. And we look forward to watching their progress for years to come on this campus, as they reach and stretch toward unlimited possibilities.”

To set a new benchmark for early childhood education, Starfish and the University of Michigan School of Education are collaborating to co-develop, adapt and enact high-quality, culturally responsive curricula for the Marygrove Early Education Center, focused on literacy, STEM and social justice. Starfish also encourages individual development to be responsive to each child’s interests, strengths and needs. Starfish is also drawing from U-M SOE’s unique model for educator preparation, The Michigan Education Teaching School, designed to prepare the best early education teachers possible to work across the Starfish system and Detroit.

The Marygrove Early Education Center, like the P-20 partnership, is an outgrowth of Hope Starts Here, a citywide framework to develop a comprehensive early childhood system in Detroit that puts young children and families first. The center’s physical design and programming reflect the priorities identified in the Hope Starts Here framework, highlighting leading practices for the design, operation and financing of early childhood facilities.

“A few years ago, the future of this campus and community anchor was uncertain. But thanks to The Kresge Foundation and Starfish, we now have a new educational anchor that will serve our youngest learners to prepare them for their future academic career and a successful life,” said Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. “I can’t thank all of the partners who made this possible enough for creating this beautiful early childhood center to serve families in this community.”

A center shaped by community input and investment

Built adjacent to the landmark Liberal Arts Building, the Marygrove Early Education Center is a single-story, 28,000 square foot facility with 12 spacious classrooms and dedicated spaces

Woman with baby in right arm and toddler holding left hand.
First day at the Marygrove Early Education Center, Sept. 7. (Photo by Darrell Ellis for The Kresge Foundation)

focused on health and holistic child development. The design is centered on three interior courtyards, bringing in natural lighting and connections to the outdoors. A playscape is designed around a grove of oak trees, providing space for children to play and explore in nature. There is also a dedicated space designed to support the wellbeing of Starfish’s early childhood teachers and staff.

In the predevelopment stage, Starfish, IFF and Detroit Collaborative Design Center consulted with parents, caregivers and existing childcare providers to help inform the design and ensure its programming met the needs of the surrounding community.

An advocate for equitable access to high-quality education, IFF has more than 30 years of experience with early childhood education center development in the Midwest. IFF has partnered with and supported dozens of early childhood providers across Detroit to enhance facilities quality, supporting the creation of more than 5,000 early education slots in high-quality facilities.

At the Marygrove Early Education Center, Starfish and IFF are working together to highlight opportunities for early childhood facilities to provide spaces for active, holistic learning for children. It will also provide opportunities for Marygrove Early Education Center to serve a resource for neighboring early childhood providers through its communal spaces and resources for families and caregivers.

The Marygrove Early Education Center was constructed by Barton Malow. Prioritizing Detroiters and Detroit-based businesses, Barton Malow incorporated the community through workforce development in the skilled trades and sourced contractors and suppliers through national, regional and local diverse-owned business associations.

Barton Malow committed 20 percent of its construction spending on the Marygrove campus with minority-, veteran- and women-owned (MVWBE) businesses. The firm also employed local residents through the Barton Malow Boot Camp. Conducted in partnership with Grow Detroit’s Young Talent program, the Boot Camp provided paid, on-the-job training along with financial literacy, soft skills training and mentorship. All six participants at the Marygrove Early Education Center jobsite were residents of Detroit, with three even residing within the impact area of the Marygrove campus.

“The Marygrove Early Education Center and P-20 initiative embody the principles that run deep in Barton Malow’s culture of building people, projects and communities,” said Dannis Mitchell, director of community engagement for Barton Malow. “I believe that access to early education is critical to youth development and working with community partners to bring this project to life has been nothing short of an honor and exciting experience.”

An anchor and hub for a thriving northwest Detroit community

Young child holding grown man's hand in foreground; young girl holding a woman's hand behind.
First day at the Marygrove Early Education Center. (Photo by Darrell Ellis for The Kresge Foundation)

The Marygrove Early Education Center is one component of the linked P-20 educational opportunities on campus, spanning prenatal to pre-K, through K-12 to college and workforce development support.  The School at Marygrove opened in September 2019 with an inaugural class of 9th grade students. A new grade has been added each year, and The School at Marygrove is now welcoming 9th, 10th and 11th graders for the 2021-22 school year. The elementary school will commence with kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade students in fall 2022 and will create a streamlined experience for children and families from early childhood through their K-12 school. At full capacity, The School at Marygrove will serve approximately 1,000 students.

The Marygrove Conservancy aims to preserve the legacy of Marygrove College through stewardship of a campus designed to be an educational, economic and civic anchor in the Livernois-McNichols neighborhood. In addition to managing the cradle-to-career partnership, the Marygrove Conservancy is developing a master plan that activates campus facilities, builds a supportive ecosystem for startups and nonprofits and increases capacity for Black leaders serving the community.

“The official opening of this center serves as an important milestone for Marygrove’s transformation,” said Racheal Allen, Chief Operating Officer of the Marygrove Conservancy. “This project deepens our commitment to preserving education on these historic grounds by investing in the youngest of our stakeholders – those whose educational journey will help blaze the trail of all future Marygrove scholars.”