The youngsters of the Ann Campbell Early Learning Center at MTSU spent much of Thursday, March 2, happily greeting visitors with gifts intended to expand their minds and bodies.
First, in observance of “Read Across America Day,” the little ones at the North Baird Lane facility listened excitedly to storybooks read by two-time MTSU alumna LaShan Mathews Dixon, a health educator with the Rutherford County Health Department and a former Miss MTSU and Miss Black Tennessee and current National Ms. Unite.
Then, friends from Nissan North America in Smyrna delivered four new “Cozy Coupe” riding toys for the ACE Center’s playground, which is being revamped into a natural playscape that’s fully wheelchair-accessible.
“What an exciting day! We’re beyond grateful to people in the community coming to read and bringing us donations,” said center director Christy Davis.
“The children love to have company here, and the parents love it too, because the more people we have coming in to the center, the more excitement and fun and more new friends and relationships that we’re building in the community.”
MTSU’s ACE Learning Center provides learning environments for children with and without developmental delays from age 13 months to kindergarten, allowing them to play together and learn from each other. Teachers at the center plan activities that help each child develop good communication, social, cognitive and motor skills, and students majoring in early childhood education work with and monitor the children for class credit.
Dixon and her husband, Lamar, have an almost-2-year-old daughter, Londyn, so she easily joked, answered questions, showed off her sparkling pageant crown and shared hugs with the children in the ACE Center’s Green Room, which serves 13- to 24-month-old toddlers; the Red Room, where 2- and 3-year-olds learn; and the Blue Room, which serves 3- and 4-year-olds. The center teaches 4- to 5-year-olds in its Yellow Room in the Fairview Building across campus.
A farm animals book got a good response from the youngest children, but pulling out “Llama Llama Red Pajama” wound them up like little alarm clocks, yelling “HEYYYY!” with the frantic title character, imitating telephones and begging “Read it again, please!” while their fish-filled aquariums burbled in the background.
“I love storytime so much,” Dixon told the kids. “I read to my baby girl all the time, and she acts like y’all do about her books.”
Nissan representatives, working through the company’s Multicultural Business Synergy Team, contacted Davis to see what items the center might need this spring.
The company, like others in the community, works through the ACE “Wishing Tree” program to bring in napkins, paper towels, wet wipes, paper cups, cleaning supplies and other similar items donated by its employees.
Magen Clayton, an engineer in Nissan’s New Model Trim and Chassis Engineering department, and JaMichael Smith, an inventory control analyst for Nissan Supply Chain Management, returned to North Baird this time with new smiling-faced Little Tikes cars, which are favorites among the center’s children.
“About every couple of months I’ll get a call from someone in the community, asking, ‘Can we help you?’ and of course we say, with open arms, ‘Absolutely! And thank you!’” said Davis. “There are times when someone will say that they have something for us, or ask whether this is a need, and there’s times they’ll say, ‘Will you send me a wish list? What are you needing at the present?’”
Obviously, with 45 busy children, supplies run out and even well-maintained equipment gets worn, so the ACE Center appreciates donations of all kinds to serve its students.
Individuals and businesses wanting to help can contact the center at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-898-2458. Financial donations, such as those intended to help fund the playground project, can be made by contacting Lucie Burchfield, development director for MTSU’s College of Education, at 615-898-5032 or email@example.com.
The ACE Center children conducted their own fundraiser for the playground last fall, creating four special pieces of art for an “art ransom” event, then inviting the community to their Fairview Building “gallery” to view the artwork, enjoy snacks and purchase each piece.
“Right now we have a temporary playground,” Davis said. “The children call it the ‘new playground,’ but I can’t wait to see their faces when it actually is the new playground, especially since it’ll be wheelchair-accessible.
“We’ve had babies in the past, and I’m know we’ll have more in the future, who use wheelchairs, and this will be a great asset for them.”
— Gina E. Fann (firstname.lastname@example.org)