Recent research has shown that from the crib to the classroom, healthy child development and achieving school readiness require nurturing children's mental and physical health, social and emotional skills, language, and cognition. In a state fraught with low academic achievement, underemployment, and poverty, Francis Marion University has a vision for building a better future through early childhood education.
That vision was realized in 2005 when the university obtained a $2 million appropriation from the legislature to build the Center for the Child. This center, scheduled to open in 2008, will be a child development and evaluation clinic to train students, giving them firsthand experience in dealing with the nearly 100 small children it will serve. In addition, the center will serve as a state model for the dissemination of best practices in early childhood education.
FMU’s School of Education and the Department of Psychology will work jointly to improve the physical, academic, social, emotional and economic well-being of children and their families through the center. Students from the School of Education will receive training through observational labs at the center allowing them to pull back the curtain and monitor the learning behaviors of children, according to James Ron Faulkenberry, dean of the FMU School of Education and professor of education.
“Essentially, we will be able to hold classes for our students in the center and make observations to provide for the total child,” said Faulkenberry. “We will be able to apply best practices almost immediately.”
An integral part of this undertaking is the offering of child care service for children ages six weeks to five years old for children of students, faculty, staff and community members, according to psychology professor John R. Hester, who was named director of FMU’s Center for the Child in 2005.
“I feel we have a joint mission – both to develop best practices for working with children of poverty and to provide quality, direct care for children,” said Hester.
Hester was chosen to lead these efforts because of his extensive background in working with children in schools throughout the state, said FMU President Fred Carter.
"John Hester’s expertise in school psychology makes him an ideal choice to head the Center for the Child," said Carter. "His years of experience working with children will be a tremendous asset in this important position."
Prior to joining the FMU faculty in 1980, Hester, a native of Greenville, worked as a school psychologist in Richland School District 2. He also worked as a school psychology intern in the Fairfield County, Richland 1 and Lexington 2 school districts. He earned the B.A. degree in psychology from Clemson University and the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in school psychology from the University of South Carolina. He is a nationally certified school psychologist and has worked in private practice, consulting with individual clients and area school districts, for more than 20 years.
The center will boast the names of a couple who have been long-time supporters of Francis Marion University and enthusiastic proponents for establishing the Center for the Child. The FMU trustees will consider a resolution naming the Center for the Child in honor of Gail and Terry Richardson of Barnwell at their meeting on Feb. 2.
“Not only are Gail and Terry Richardson substantial donors to FMU, but they have been very active in university life for many years,” said Carter. “This is a fitting tribute to their loyalty to FMU and their devotion to children.”
Gail Ness Richardson has served on the FMU Board of Trustees since 1988, and was the first woman elected to a two-year term as chair in 2003. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Queens College in Charlotte and a master’s in library science from the University of South Carolina. She has been a public school teacher and a community advocate for education.
Terry E. Richardson Jr. is a successful attorney with the law firm Richardson, Patrick, Westbrook & Brickman in Barnwell. He earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree at Clemson University and a law degree at the University of South Carolina. He received the President’s Award for Service from the S.C. Trial Lawyers Association in 1994, and the Compleat Lawyer Award from the S.C. Bar in 2003.
This 15,000-square-foot, one-story facility will be located on a site near the Pee Dee Education Center on the campus of FMU. The university has a long established partnership with the Pee Dee Education Center, a 30-year consortium of 19 school districts, working together to impact the educational careers of almost 70,000 children. In addition, the university intends to cooperate closely with South Carolina’s First Steps to School Readiness program at the state level to assist with their important efforts.
The cost of the facility is expected to be approximately $3.5 million. The facility is in the design phase, and so far includes a child-care wing of two infant rooms, two toddler rooms, two rooms for three- and four-year-olds, and two rooms for four- and five-year-olds; an office area for psychology and education faculty members; a central lobby and library that will function as a family waiting area; observation and assessment rooms; and an outdoor play area. Liollio Architecture in Charleston is the design firm.
It is being funded through state appropriations and private funding. The university is soliciting funds for an endowment to cover operational costs. For more information, contact the FMU Development Office at (843) 661-1295.