New ELC Director not new to the island
Taking up the post of Director of the Block Island Early Learning Center did not bring Christine Grele to the island for the first time. It was not a move to an unknown, remote community. Rather, it was a return to a place she had learned to love back in 1994 while working at the Yellow Kittens for a summer and at the Block Island Depot for the year and half that she and her young daughter lived on the island.
That time marked an interval between her undergraduate studies at Antioch College in Ohio, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in art and her pursuit of a master’s in Early Childhood and Elementary Education at school at Antioch University’s Graduate School in Keene, New Hampshire. (She grew up in New Brunswick, New Jersey.)
Coming to the island to direct a preschool program allows Grele to tap the skills and multiple work experiences that she has built up during her career. “It’s not often that someone can find a place that uses all their skills,” she said.
While an undergraduate, Grele worked part time “at co-op jobs with special needs populations.” After graduate school, she went to Brattleboro and Bellows Falls, Vermont, where she worked with a Head Start agency.
Grele says she loved the work, which focused on family engagement and providing access to services. Later, she worked at Vermont College at Norwich University in Brattleboro in an adult degree program. Students pursuing a bachelor’s degree came to the college once a month to go over their papers and projects with faculty advisors. It was a program, she says, that allowed students to fit their studies in between their work schedules.
At the same time Grele was teaching art to children from kindergarten to eighth grade in Brookline, Vermont. Noting she always wanted to “keep teaching,” eventually she took a position at Landmark College in Vermont. During the 12 years she was there, she also trained in many areas related to her interests: in brain-based research, universal design in learning, coaching techniques, designing spaces for the inclusive classroom and creating curricula that was adaptable for special needs students.
Ready for a change from rural Vermont where she’d been for many years, last year Grele joined Americorps — living and working in Trenton, New Jersey — where she did community and volunteer management.
Grele says her return to the island has been exciting, as is her work at the BIELC, where she and her staff are in the midst an accreditation process. She sees her role as integrating and implementing [the state regulations], “while maintaining the very special character of the BIELC.”
Grele finds it a particularly “exciting time to be involved in early childhood education, because there is a focus on professionalizing early childhood education.” The changes may mean more training and work for early childhood faculty, Grele says, “but tied to that are more competitive salaries and professional recognition.”
Furthermore, she feels it is good to be working in a field that has emerged as so pivotal in the growth of the individual. National research has shown, Grele points out, that “children who have been in a good quality early learning center do better in school and are more likely to earn a livable wage.”
Feeling quite certain that the Block Island Early Learning Center meets the criteria of a good quality learning facility, Grele says, the staff is engaged in special ways here. She’s referring to the way the teachers work with children. She says, “They work really hard to create an atmosphere of caring and respect, integrating an awareness of the changing seasons into their classrooms, as well as developing in their youngsters an interest in members of the community.”
She notes there has been some interest expressed in developing intergenerational programs at the BIELC in which senior citizens come in to read to children or to assist them in some way.
Grele says the children are wonderful to work with, and their “families are great, as well. They are so responsive, supportive and very open.” She is looking forward to seeing the BIELC through the accreditation process, to working with the BIELC board and the town to implement mandated changes within the school yard, to assist in fund-raising projects and to promote the growth of the children and the BIELC in ways that are meaningful and rewarding for the island community that she has returned to.