When Southeastern Illinois College boasts of instructing students of all ages, they do not mean high school and up. For the last 40 years, the college has had the privilege of teaching hundreds of children ages five and under.
On April 6, the college is hosting a 40th anniversary celebration for the Mary Jo Oldham Center for Child Study (MJOCCS). It will be a come-and-go event held 4:30-6:30 p.m. in the George T. Dennis Visual & Performing Arts Center Upper Lobby. Anyone in the community who has had a connection to the center over the years is encouraged to attend.
The reunion-type celebration will include a tour of the center, refreshments, art display in the gallery, memory wall, t-shirts for sale, photo booth, silent auction and more. SIC music student, Kayla DePriest will provide piano music for the event. Following the celebration will be a musical performance by the SIC Concert Choir, Broadway and Beyond, in the lower lobby at 7 p.m.
“Our children and teachers are preparing their best artwork for the gallery show and for some special silent auction items,” said Lori Sizemore, coordinator of the MJOCCS.
Sue Beal, who was the first coordinator of the center, added, “We hope to have a good turnout of students and their parents from the early days of the center to rekindle some of their very first friendships and see teachers that they may not have seen since the seventies and eighties.”
Sylvi Burroughs is cooking up some fun while Caroline Woolard dresses her baby doll during center time at the Mary Jo Oldham Center for Child Study at SIC. Both girls are from Harrisburg.
The event will also kick off a fundraising campaign in hopes of stabilizing the center. SIC President, Dr. Jonah Rice, said that SIC is one of the few colleges that still have a robust childcare center.
“We hear of college child study centers closing all the time, and we are the last of our five cohort colleges to maintain one on campus,” he said. “Our task at hand is two-fold. We want to celebrate the tradition and as well as foster a strong support system for a valuable resource that many colleges simply can’t continue due to the state’s fiscal impasse.”
In 1976, the Child Study Center opened at SIC with approximately 20 preschoolers in a classroom in building A. Twenty years later, the college built a brand new building to house the preschoolers and to open up the center to include infants and toddlers. In 2004, the center earned a competitive Illinois Early Childhood Block Grant, known now as the Preschool for All Grant, which serves not only one public school, but the entire college district and more.
Additionally in 2004, the Child Study Center was renamed the Mary Jo Oldham Center for Child Study (MJOCCS) in honor of SIC’s fourth president and long-time education instructor. Dr. Oldham Morgan is working on the anniversary planning committee and is looking forward to the event.
Mandoline Sawyer of Harrisburg is queen of the castle on a nice spring day at the Mary Jo Oldham Center for Child Study at SIC.
“This program was created to provide a laboratory or place for college students to study children and to gain hands-on teaching experience. Over the years many early childhood education students, nursing students, child psychology students and others from SIC as well as other institutions have had a model center in which to observe and practice,” said Oldham Morgan.
“What began as a small nursery school grew into a more comprehensive program to meet the needs of college students, parents and others needing child care,” continued Oldham. “Hundreds and hundreds of young children began their school experience in the MJOCCS and now some are returning to enroll their own children! We have enjoyed many successes and are proud of our preschool alumni who have entered all walks of life.”
Today, the MJOCCS is accredited by the National Academy of Early Childhood Programs, a division of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. The center has earned a top-level gold star on the quality ratings scale granted by the Illinois Department of Human Services and serves 87 toddlers and preschoolers with more on the waiting list due to space constraints.
For more information about the anniversary celebration or to donate, contact Lori Sizemore at the MJOCCS at 618-252-5400 ext. 3401.