UCC opens new early learning academy as it works toward $12 million campaign goal

Last updated on April 23rd, 2021 at 09:01 am

The United Community Center recently opened the doors to its new 42,000-square-foot Early Learning Academy on Milwaukee’s south side.

The early learning center at 2130 W. Becher St. is located next to UCC’s former childcare and learning center at 2210 W. Becher St., expanding its capacity from serving 56 children to more than 300.

The Early Learning Academy serves children ages six weeks to 4 years old. The new school opened to an initial group of students on the first floor earlier this month as work continues to furnish classrooms on the second floor.

The UCC has raised $10 million toward its $12 million campaign goal for the new facility. An anonymous donor recently issued a $50,000 matching gift challenge through the summer.

The fundraising campaign to fund the project is the largest in UCC’s history. The new school has been in the works for nearly two years.

The first floor has an indoor playground. Classrooms include mixed-age groups of up to 8 children and two teachers. The second floor has classrooms for older students, with up to 17 students per class.

The school’s lower level also includes a multi-purpose room for parent meetings and information sessions, as well as two rooms for its on-site partnerships with Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers and Ascension Seton Dental Clinic.

The adjacent former childcare facility, which was built in the 1950s, will be converted to parking space for the new school.

With the school serving largely low-income families, UCC executive director Laura Gutiérrez said the curriculum is focused on preparing students for kindergarten to narrow achievement gaps for students based on income and race.

Carolyn Mueller, a parent of a UCC Learning Academy student, said she appreciates the small class sizes, as well as the opportunity for her daughter to learn in both English and Spanish.

“That’s a benefit; they get more one-on-one attention,” Mueller said. “(And) her being bilingual already … learning Spanish words already is beneficial for her in life. There’s nothing but good that can come from that.”

The school currently employs 29 staff members, which is expected to grow to about 60 when all classrooms are open. Gutiérrez said it’s common for parents whose children are aging out of the early learning program to become interested in getting trained to become teachers at the school, and the organization has a partnership with Milwaukee Area Technical College to help parents become certified.

“It’s an economic development for our families as well,” she said. “We’re creating our own pipeline.”

In 2018, UCC completed construction on a new school building at 1038 S. 6th St. for Acosta Middle School, a technology and skilled trades-focused charter school. The organization also operates Bruce-Guadalupe Elementary School, a charter school for grades K4 through 8th grade, at 1028 S. 9th St.

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Lauren Anderson covers health care, nonprofits and education for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism. In her free time, Lauren enjoys hiking, kayaking, and seeing live music.