Ceremony officially opens pre-school for at-risk children
WATERVILLE — Several pairs of scissors cut through the purple rope and up came a green sheet revealing an engraved stone that read, “Karen M. Baldacci Children’s Garden.”
It was a surprise kept from Maine’s first lady until a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday afternoon marking the official opening of Educare Central Maine — an innovative pre-school aimed at better preparing at-risk children for kindergarten.
“I truly am humbled to see my name in a stone,” said Baldacci. “I didn’t think I’d be around to see it.”
Several speakers at the ceremony lauded Baldacci for leading the drive to bring the nation’s 12th Educare facility to Maine.
Philanthropist Doris Buffett, who donated $3 million toward the school, said after seeing an Educare facility in Omaha, she knew Maine needed to have one. So, she called Baldacci.
“I guess it was the right thing to do,” said Buffett, who has a home in Rockport.
More than 100 people gathered under a tent by the pre-school, adjacent to the George J. Mitchell School on Drummond Avenue, while about a dozen speakers touted the importance of early-childhood education and talked about the significance of opening Educare Central Maine.
The $9 million, 36,000-square-foot school opened about a month ago to 210 students, many of whom come from economically disadvantaged homes.
Dan Pedersen, president of the Buffett Early Childhood Fund, said he’s seen several Educare facilities erected.
“Maine’s process has been the fastest, most effective, most collaborative and most powerfully led,” he said.
Some credited businessman and philanthropist George Kaiser for planting the idea of an Educare school in Maine in the minds of state leaders. Kaiser, who was behind the opening of two Educare facilities in Oklahoma, spoke about the schools at an education summit in the state in 2007. He also spoke at the ceremony Monday.
“We see before us the newest and, in some ways, the most innovative Educare school,” he said.
Kaiser called Educare “the great equalizer,” ensuring that students of all socio-economic classes are given a chance to succeed in school and in life.
He credited Karen Baldacci for bringing the opportunity to Maine. The best adjective he could think to describe her, he said, was “indomitable.”
Gov. John Baldacci also spoke at the ceremony.
“I married well; I married up,” he said, joining the others in recognizing his wife.
“When she gets behind something … there’s no stopping her,” added the governor.
Baldacci said supporting early-childhood education makes sense. Like the builders who had to lay the foundation of the school before they could do the wiring, he said, children need a strong foundation in order to build on their education.
The new Educare school will help carry that message throughout Maine, he said.
“It’s the beginning of a new way of supporting parents with young children,” said Baldacci. “Its impact is going to be felt statewide.”
By Leslie Bridgers
Leslie Bridgers — 861-9252
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