AUBURN UNIVERSITY – The Birmingham Urban Revitalization Partnership recently gifted the Harris Early Learning Center in Birmingham to Auburn University.
The gift, valued at $6.4 million, includes the building and contents, as well as an endowment for general maintenance. The Alabama Power Foundation will also continue its longtime support of the center.
“Auburn University now has a physical presence in downtown Birmingham from which our Extension and outreach mission can more effectively operate in one of the main population centers of the state,” said Joe Pittman, head of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies in Auburn’s College of Human Sciences.
“It will invigorate our research program that has been ongoing in the center since its inception. It will give more undergraduate and graduate interns from a variety of disciplines opportunities to observe or work with young children in a state-of-the-art facility, or, depending on the discipline of the participating student, it could provide ideas for how to design, operate or otherwise improve such facilities for the future.”
Business and civic leaders who make up the partnership joined forces with Human Development and Family Studies faculty in 1994 to provide parents working in the downtown Birmingham area with a high-quality child care facility. Auburn faculty helped design the center, as well as create a curriculum to educate and foster developing social and practical skills. The center’s two directors are Ph.D.-level faculty from the Department of Human Development and Family Studies.
Located in Birmingham’s Civil Rights District, the Harris Early Learning Center opened Aug. 25, 1995, with 65 children. In two years, it was serving 200, ranging in age from six weeks to five years. The center continues to attract approximately 200 children each year, some of whom remain a part of the enrollment until they leave for kindergarten. It is estimated that more than 2,500 youngsters have been served by the center so far.
Besides serving as a state-of-the-art child care center, it offers on-site apartments for students and faculty who need accommodations for overnight or long-term stays while conducting research or completing internships. It also offers parenting workshops and training for teachers and directors of other Birmingham metro centers.
As a model program for early childhood development and education, the center has welcomed professionals from across the country and around the world to assess the viability of replication in their own communities. It also receives a number of college students from throughout Alabama each year for internships.
The Harris Early Learning Center is named for Elmer and Glenda Harris, an Auburn University couple and early childhood education advocates who led the effort to obtain corporate sponsorship to build the center.
(Written by Amy Weaver.)