When families, staff and community members gathered recently to celebrate the official opening of the Holly Street Early Learning Center, it's no surprise that the stars of the show were the students themselves. After a brief welcome and the Pledge of Allegiance, students walked to the front of the room and helped create a visual representation of the land acknowledgment.
“We want to begin by acknowledging the first people of this land, since time immemorial,” Dr. Luisa Sanchez-Nilsen read aloud. Throughout the acknowledgment, as she mentioned the salmon that spawned in the rivers that ran free, or the canopy of the trees, the preschool students took turns placing fish and trees made from felt on a board at the front of the room. After the land acknowledgment, the students sang “The Hello Song,” with their teachers.
Although he had a tough act to follow speaking after our incredible preschoolers performed, School Board Director Dr. Harlan Gallinger shared a brief history of the process and planning that led to the creation of the Holly Street Early Learning Center.
Years before the decision to create the Holly Street Early Learning Center, district staff and board members began researching planning for how best to serve preschoolers. This work is also an effort to break down the silos that exist between preschool and early learning opportunities and the kindergarten through 12th grade education system, Gallinger said. “One of the best investments we can make is in our community’s youngest children,” he added. “Our hope is that this building and these programs will allow the seamless transition in the educational journey for our students and families, particularly those who need these supports the most. Investments in early learning deepen the district and School Board’s vision of equity that every student will have the opportunity to reach their highest potential,” he said.
“This early learning center was not part of the original 2016 bond, but was a project that we couldn’t miss the opportunity to invest in,” Gallinger continued. “Reinvesting in a building and property that we already owned as a district was good use of taxpayer dollars, and it provided immediately available space for a critical new [facility] like this.” Not only does the facility allow for collaboration among staff and access to therapists and specialists for students, it is also a place of joy, he said.
“This building is another milestone in our district’s continued investments in early learning,” Gallinger said. “The work that is happening here will be foundational to our district’s success, both today and long into our future.”
Sanchez-Nilsen, along with Director of Elementary Special Programs Page Perey and Director of Before and After Care (BASC) Autumn Fugere introduced Holly Street staff members to the families and community members at the ceremony.
Holly Street Early Learning Center was created by renovating the district’s former administration building, which became available after staff moved to the new building on 220th Avenue Southeast. Holly Street now features two new Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) classrooms, two new Early Childhood Education (ECE) classrooms, the Child Find Program, office space for early learning administrators, a health room and improved BASC classrooms. The project had an estimated final cost of $4.7 million and was completed in August of 2022. A second phase of the project calls for the addition of a playground and covered play area. That project is currently under permit review with the City of Issaquah, and we hope to start construction in the spring.
As part of the celebration, students made dragonflies out of pipe cleaners, clothespins and tissue paper – a nod to the facility’s logo, which features a dragonfly. With help from staff and families, the students added their dragonflies to a large “Friendship Tree” made of craft paper. The tree is located in the main hallway of Holly Street ELC, and also features “leaves” made from students’ handprints and photos.
At the end of the event, students held either end of the long red ribbon – a safe distance from the giant scissors used to cut the ribbon – and officially dedicated the facility to the students, family and community. Assistant Superintendent of Special Services Dana Bailey invited families, community members and district staff to tour the "beautiful building built just for preschool students. I think you’re going to find it charming.”
In the photo above, Holly Street Early Learning Center students help place visual examples of salmon and trees on a felt board during the land acknowledgment. Below, students hold either end of the ribbon during the dedication ceremony; between the students, from left are School Board Director Sydne Mullings, School Board Director Suzanne Weaver, Superintendent Heather Tow-Yick, School Board Director Marnie Maraldo, School Board Director Dr. Harlan Gallinger, and School Board President Anne Moore.