Cornerstone Center for Early Learning, the first accredited early learning center in the city of St. Louis, is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2019. The center, located at 3901 Russell Blvd. on the near South Side, was founded in 1969 after its founders discovered that a significant number of preschool-aged children in the city were home alone while their parents were working.
“We want to provide quality, affordable, childcare, pre-school education for St. Louis-area families of all economic backgrounds,” said Executive Director Jerry Ehrlich, who has been with the center since 2010.
In 2017, the center served 205 children in 168 families, ages 6 weeks to kindergarten entry. Of those, 62 percent were from families with a household income under $30,000, 46 percent were from families with a household income under $20,000, 46 percent paid no tuition per state income guidelines, and 9 percent paid $1 - $25 per week.
Demographically, most (52 percent) of the children were African American, while 32 percent were Caucasian, 9 percent multi-racial, 6 percent Hispanic, and 1 percent identified as “other.”
“The kids develop friendships, true friendships, at an early age, and that’s what we want,” Ehrlich said. “Here you’ll notice kids aren’t in swings; they’re not in rockers. We want the kids on the floor, we want the kids getting down and dirty, we want the kids being creative, we want the kids to explore.”
The Romp N’ Stomp room is where kids play when the main playground is too busy. In this area, staff members also work with kids to screen their progress in childhood development.
“Beginning at 4 months, we have trained staff that perform developmental screenings on kids,” Ehrlich said. “We want to make sure that kids are within the acceptable range for speech, fine motor skills, because kids develop at different times.”
When conducting evaluations, staff members look for red flags.
“If for some reason there’s a red flag, no one panics. We’ll re-test, but if there’s another red flag, we will contact the parents and say, ‘At no charge to you, we will bring in a trained therapist to work with your child,’” Ehrlich said.
“It’s wonderful, because it’s all about early detection, early intervention. Because if you don’t deal with it here, other delays, other problems could come about.”
In 2017, 19 percent of children at the center received developmental therapies on-site and at no additional cost to families.
Staff members conduct lesson plans for the kids, even as young as the infants, Ehrlich said, and provides all meals and snacks. The center has an onsite counselor to assist with children’s social and emotional needs as well.
A number of community partnerships contribute to the health and wellbeing of Cornerstone children and families, by providing medical, dental, vision, hearing and developmental screening, as well as speech, physical and occupational therapy, if needed, at no additional cost. Partners also provide donations of food, clothing, diapers, books and other items to children and families as well.
Collaborations include Healthy Kids Express at St. Louis Children’s Hospital; St. Louis Area Diaper Bank, Head Start, St. Louis Centers for Hearing and Speech, Saint Louis University School of Nursing, SLU’s Micah Program, Positive Support for Kids, Ready Readers and St. Louis Teachers Recycle Center.
Parents who are curious about Cornerstone get an opportunity to tour the center, including meeting the teachers of each age group. Most of the rooms have nicknames, and they each have different goals behind them. One of the rooms is called Peaceful Penguins, which is geared towards infants.
“I always encourage tours around the 10-11 a.m. time slot, and the reason for that is because you see us in full force,” he said. “All the kids here, all the kids are wound up. We want people to see us as we are with a full slate of kids.”