“Good afternoon and welcome to my new school!” said little Claude Johnson into the microphone. Then he ran a few feet to his left across the stage, got a reassuring hug from Mom, and scampered back to the mic to deliver his next line.

In two weeks, Claude will be a kindergartner at the new, state-of-the-art Arundel Elementary School in Cherry Hill. He was proud – but nervous – to be the emcee who started the official part of its grand opening. The school includes an Early Education Center, where Catholic Charities will operate three Head Start classrooms.


The excitement was palpable, even if the talented young drummers and dancers of Citywide Goldstarz weren’t setting the tone. Hundreds of moms, dads, children and community members turned out to cheer when the ribbon was cut on the building so new that, as of Aug. 21, there were still huge mounds of dirt outside.

“We are excited to be part of the new early learning center in Cherry Hill,” said Catholic Charities Executive Director Bill McCarthy. “Every child deserves the best education.”

Early Education Center

The Early Education Center is a 10,000-square-foot space equipped to facilitate learning from infancy. The Head Start classrooms feature colorful paint on the walls, bathroom facilities small enough for the littlest users, pint-sized tables and chairs, open areas for flexible learning approaches and lots of opportunities.

“This building gives children the chance to be in a beautiful space that’s familiar to them for a few years even before they start kindergarten,” said Mary Gunning, the director of Head Start Community Services for Catholic Charities. “It also lets parents know that we really value education for their child, no matter their background or income.”

Why it matters

That’s an important point for the community. Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, speaking just before the ceremonial ribbon cutting, noted that Baltimore has some of the oldest schools in the country. Investing in communities that are historically underserved is vital to giving young people the chance to succeed.

The school’s principal, Rochelle Machado, told the cheering crowd that the celebration marked the beginning of endless opportunities for early learners. She said the school provides access to resources and experiences that will encourage young scholars.

Soon-to-be-kindergartner Cassandra checked out the Early Childhood Center classrooms at her new school with her mom. The only part she didn’t like was not being able to stay and look at all the books and toys.

“I love school!” Cassandra said. “I love the learning!”

How kids succeed

That enthusiasm isn’t just cute. It’s a major part of a child’s potential success, and the earlier it starts, the better off young learners will be. Early Head Start features programming to help from birth to age 3, while Head Start programs go from ages 3 to 5 – just before kindergarten. Catholic Charities operates 15 of these programs in Baltimore City alone, with more in Carroll and Harford Counties. 

“So many studies have shown that early intervention is where we should invest,” Gunning said. 

That seems just fine to Cassandra. She’s only in kindergarten, but she’s already got lots of learning under her belt – enough to know she can’t wait to go back to school.

See the Head Start classrooms in the Early Education Center