Early Childhood General Education '94
Our program at Friends Center is child-centered, hands-on, play-based, and family-focused. All of this came from Bank Street.
As a teenager working summer jobs with children, Allyx Schiavone dreamed of running her own schooI. She knew that it would be a place where every young child had a voice—and was heard.
“For me, school was my safe place,” Allyx has said. “My voice was lost in childhood because my personal, physical and emotional boundaries were ignored. I was not safe. At the same time, my racial and fiscal privilege afforded me strong medical care, life opportunities and access to high-quality education.”
Allyx excelled in safe places. After graduating from Union college, she earned a master’s degree in both early childhood and elementary education at Bank Street College, a place she credits with shaping her entire educational career. After Bank Street, Allyx held a variety of teaching jobs, working in programs from nursery through sixth grade in New York City, including teaching first grade for eight years before moving to Connecticut, where she raised her children and worked as an educational consultant and curriculum developer.
In 2009, Friends Center for Children (FCfC), a new, independent early childhood education center in the Fair Haven section of New Haven, CT, offered Allyx the job as its first executive director—and the chance to achieve her dream of running her own school. The program began in the basement of Friends Center’s Quaker church with four children and has grown to serve 122 infants and preschoolers in two New Haven locations, with a 3 year growth plan to serve an additional 175 children in two new sites.
As executive director, Allyx built from scratch a learning environment modeled on what she had learned at Bank Street about culturally, socially, and emotionally responsive practices. From these roots, she established the Friend Center’s Emotional Wellbeing Program, which is now a cornerstone of its curriculum.
“Our program at Friends Center is child-centered, hands-on, play-based, and family-focused,” Allyx said. “All of this came from Bank Street, and none of that has changed over the course of time. What has changed is the world around us.”
As Friends Center for Children grew, Allyx began to confront the issue of access and equity—how to offer access to high-quality early care and education to a much larger audience, encompassing all 15,000 children in the New Haven’s community. The majority of these households have two working parents, so child care is a critical aspect of the economy, yet little progress has been made to provide affordable, quality, hands-on, culturally relevant learning experiences across the spectrum of New Haven’s many diverse communities.
At a Trust for Learning meeting in 2017 focused on creating ideal learning environments, Allyx shared her ideas for growing child care options in New Haven with Bank Street’s president, Shael Polakow-Suransky, who offered encouragement and help. Allyx then partnered with Trust for Learning and a Bank Street research and development team led by Emily Sharrock, Associate Vice President of the Bank Street Education Center, and together they launched the New Haven Children’s Ideal Learning District (NH ChILD ) pilot program. The first of its kind in the nation, the NH ChILD program provided a citywide structure and a set of ideal learning principles with the goal of making high-quality early care and education available to all local children. In the ensuing years, this group has raised over $1 million, hired an executive director, and is working to build public awareness and enthusiasm to expand the city’s early care and education options with a lens on access and equity.
And then, COVID-19 arrived, and the local economy ground to a halt. Child care options shrank, most schooling was virtual, and economic hardships increased dramatically, particularly for those whose incomes had never been sufficient. Long before the pandemic, infant and preschool teachers’ salaries were so low that many struggled to stay afloat. COVID-19 simply exacerbated an already precarious financial situation. Allyx sought a way to do something about it, starting with her own school.
“In my 30 years of working in this field, I believe that there is not one parent who wants their child to be taught by a teacher who is overburdened, under-resourced, marginalized, undervalued, and who has no voice,” Allyx said.
She proposed an unusual way to help teachers in financial distress without raising tuition: The Friends Center Teacher Housing Initiative. Thanks to generous benefactors, two local homes were purchased and refurbished. Friends Center teachers were invited to apply to live in these homes rent free while they receive financial coaching and work to pay off debts and/or build a nest egg to purchase their own home. Four teachers were chosen for the initial program, which hopes to create 12 to 19 additional teacher housing units as funding becomes available.
“l had learned at Bank Street that I’m allowed to think outside the system, and I believe that bold measures are needed to change the status quo,” Allyx said. “Providing free housing to our teachers is not a bonus or a privilege. It is our attempt to counterbalance a system designed to marginalize an under-resourced and overburdened industry. We’re trying to help in a small way while shining a light on these marginalized but vital teachers.”