UPDATED Early education a vision for the future

After opening early education centres in Chisholm, Cardiff and Lochinvar this year, you might think Diocesan Chief Executive Officer, Sean Scanlon, has plans to rest on his laurels - but there’s no rest and relaxation when it comes to St Nicholas early education.

Instead, Mr Scanlon has plans to open another six centres within the next two years – at Branxton, Maitland, Raymond Terrace, Gillieston Heights, Nelson Bay and Muswellbrook.

Speaking to The Herald, Mr Scanlon detailed the $15 million vision he has for St Nicholas Early Education Centres and the value these centres will add to the community.

“We’ve hit a magic formula trying to build centres next to Catholic primary and secondary schools.

“This allows parents to make one drop-off for their children attending both day care and school,” Mr Scanlon told The Herald.

The plan for St Nick’s is unlike anything currently on offer from any of the other dioceses in the state, both in terms of scale and scope of the project. While a number of other dioceses and parishes have also established childcare and early education programs, few have moved into long daycare.

“We’ve set this up separately to give it the focus and attention others haven’t.

“We’re also talking to other dioceses to roll out our centres in their areas as well. We’ve got expertise and hopefully will build on that,” Mr Scanlon said.

While St Nicholas Early Education is linked to the diocese’s Catholic schools in terms of their location, enrolment at these early education centres is open to all families, regardless of religious affiliation or background. There are also transition programs available for those parents planning to enrol their children in state schools.

“We do see a lot of children going on to Catholic schools but we don’t say they must go there. There’s no hard sell - we allow parents to decide,” Mr Scanlon told The Herald.

“The philosophy is the same as Bishop Bill Wright’s for schools - they’re Catholic schools, not schools for Catholics,” Mr Scanlon said.

While there is a nun working in one of the centres, St Nick’s is built on a Reggio Emilia-inspired approach to early education which does not include overtly religious themes.

The plan for the future of St Nick’s will include the conversion of an existing Raymond Terrace centre close to St Brigid’s Primary school which is slated to open in January 2019 while in Maitland, the Ex-Servicemen’s Citizens Bowling and Sporting Club will be converted into a St Nick’s centre in February 2019.

The Maitland centre will be situated near St John the Baptist Primary and All Saints College, St Peter’s Campus and will be joined by a new Vocational Education and Training Centre for a future generation of early education staff.

Another development in the future of St Nicholas Early Education is the Branxton centre which will have 104 places. This centre will be located across from Rosary Park Catholic School and opened next March.

As if these plans aren’t enough, if all goes as expected, there will be a 124-place centre opened at Gillieston Heights in November 2019, an 80-place centre in Muswellbrook and a 70-place centre in Scone. The latter two centres are expected to be completed by February 2020.

Mr Scanlon also mentioned the diocese is preparing to submit a development application to Port Stephens Council for the Catherine McAuley Catholic College site which is scheduled to open at Medowie in 2020.

“This site could cater for children from six months old to Year 12. It will draw in students from Raymond Terrace and Nelson Bay who are currently travelling to San Clemente [in Mayfield]” Mr Scanlon told The Herald.

Kerri Armstrong, Director of St Nicholas Early Education, has pointed out that at the Medowie site, and all St Nick’s centres, St Nick’s will cater for infants as young as eight- weeks in age.

To learn more about St Nicholas Early Education, please visit website.

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