New library for Camden's youngest

What was a plain second-floor lab and study room for Rutgers-Camden early childhood development students has been transformed into a library at the John S. and James L. Knight Early Learning Research Academy. 

The academy, which is on Rutgers’ campus and part of the LEAP Academy University Charter School, received a $10,000 donation from the PNC Bank Foundation to build the library, which formally opened Monday. 

The Grow up Great Library at ELRA is the sixth PNC employees have created at early-learning centers in the region as part of the bank’s 20-year, $350 million investment in early childhood education. The employees assembled shelves, decorated the interior, and prepared reading corners. More than 1,100 books, including volumes in Spanish, were collected through an employee book drive.

ELRA, which opened in September and serves about 125 children, conducts classes in Spanish three days a week and in English the other two. 

The dual-language approach is just one innovation in the popular pilot program that merges early-childhood education and university research involving student teachers. It has attracted about 400 children to a waiting list. 

The program was designed by Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, LEAP Academy founder and a Rutgers distinguished professor. Funded with grants, private donations, and appropriations from the Camden City School District, it serves low-income families, though in March, the center increased its tuition from $700 a month to $1,000. Santiago attributed the sharp increase to rising costs. 

The staff at ELRA will take the children twice a week to the library and read to them, or help them read if they are in preschool, Santiago said Monday. 

“They love it when you read to them,” she said. “They are identifying letters and beginning to understand the alphabet.”

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