Liliane Calfee knew she’d found the right diverse preschool and child care center for her young daughter when she learned how Cornerstone Children’s Learning Center (CCLC) embraces inclusivity.
“Chicago is an incredibly diverse city, but it is far from inclusive,” says the program director and instructor at DePaul University. “Day care is often when a child is first exposed to social situations that build their cognitive framework on how they see themselves and others. We intentionally chose CCLC so that our 2-year-old could breathe the beauty of cultural diversity while anchoring her heart in a precious microcosm that exudes universal love, kindness and respect.”
That’s exactly the mission of the child care center on North Wells Street. “When children interact from a very young age — even at the infant level — with children who do not look like themselves and see parents who look different from their parents, that helps them grow up with a more inclusive attitude,” says Lois Scott, executive director at CCLC. “People come here and see the diversity, and that reinforces a value.”
The non-profit CCLC offers a warm and welcoming environment for infants 6 weeks through pre-kindergarten. Accredited by NAEYC, the highest standard in early childhood education, the center offers health and fitness, Spanish, music, yoga, art and science each week in its bright, open facility.
While Cornerstone is a Christian organization, it welcomes and honors all. “We teach children to appreciate that not everyone is like you, but that we all celebrate and have family rituals,” Scott says. “We have all sorts of families, including single, divorced and same-sex parents.”
“We have a significant international population and a great number of parents of mixed ethnicities, and many of our children speak or understand more than one language,” she adds. The center’s International Board showcases pictures of the children and flags of the nations represented within the school. That message of inclusiveness is reinforced by celebrating the holidays of many cultures and religions such as Chinese New Year, Ramadan, Hannukah and Diwali, the Indian Festival of Lights.
Playing and learning together
The play-based curriculum at CCLC provides many opportunities for children to interact and learn from each other. “Interpersonal relationships are the core to what we do. Children are more than exposed — they really interact with people who are different from them every day,” Scott says.
At CCLC, diversity goes beyond ethnicity to include different socioeconomic levels. “We subsidize our tuition for some families so some who could not otherwise attend are able to,” Scott says. “This year we will give back nearly 10% to families in need. CCLC is a nonprofit so we operate a little differently and invest back into the center and the families that attend.”
Another CCLC parent is Jessica Titlebaum Darmoni, whose mother was born in an Austrian displaced persons camp for Holocaust survivors and whose husband hails from Israel.
“Diverse classrooms that provide an opportunity to learn about different religions and cultures is important to our family,” she says about choosing CCLC. “We want our children to grow up respecting and embracing the differences between us as a community. To gain this level of understanding at an early age will help our kids be empathetic leaders and well-rounded individuals.”
Calfee seconds that thought. “Imagine if all our children were exposed to the great kaleidoscope of humanity in environments that organically promote peace and unity,” she says. “When I do, I see the ripple effect of societies built on shared ingenuity, art and economic prosperity that benefit ALL — and that’s the world I want for my daughter.”
That’s music to Scott’s ears. “This is a very exciting and motivating topic for me,” she says.
“I believe that we are making a better city and contributing to a better world when children experience the joy of diversity from an early age.”
Learn more about Cornerstone Children’s Learning Center at cornerstonechildrenslearningcenter.com