The Early Childhood Education Center (ECEC) is a treasured institution within Concordia University Chicago and the surrounding community. As the ECEC celebrates its 45th anniversary, our teachers reflect on how they inspire lifelong learning as a centerpiece of the educational experience.

“What has helped the ECEC endure for 45 years is its unwavering commitment to best educational practices rooted in the most current research and theory, as well as the Gospel,” says Bogusia Ryndak-Mazur, assistant director. “Our exceptional teachers foster children’s natural curiosity about the world and support a lifelong love of learning through guided play and project-based learning.”

Ryndak-Mazur has been working at the ECEC since 2001, when it was still housed in the basement of Lindemann Hall. In 2002, the ECEC moved into the brand-new Christopher Center building, where Ryndak-Mazur taught younger full-day preschool, gaining the experience that led to her promotion to assistant director in December 2019.

“As part of the University, the ECEC always inspired me, personally, to continue my education,” she says. “I came to the Center with a master’s degree, but working with University students, professors and families who have high expectations of us motivated me to pursue further education. I went on to earn a Professional Teacher License and am currently in my third year of a PhD program in early childhood education. My educational journey is far from over.”

The connection between the ECEC and the College of Education was the idea of Professor Emerita Dr. Shirley Morgenthaler, and it continues to this day. “The curriculum framework we use is based off Shirley’s original framework,” says Cathy Gruenwald BA ’88, ECEC director. “Over the years, the ECEC staff have taken her framework and expanded it as the basis of our emergent and project-based curriculum.”

Teacher Kim Keane BA ’11 explains that the Early Childhood Education Center has multiple layers of learning built into it: the children, the lab students and the teachers. “The ECEC has a significant impact on the learning and growth of every person involved, from the infants all the way up to the administration,” she says.

Through the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic, it became even more apparent how valued the ECEC is by the local community. After temporarily closing in March in observance of Illinois pandemic regulations, the ECEC reopened in June with a lower capacity, amended operations and strict safety measures in place. “Over these past several months I have been struck repeatedly by how blessed I am to be part of this community. Everyone has approached the work that we do with such grace, compassion and commitment,” Keane says. “The teachers have worked hard to provide safe and positive environments for their students. The administration advocated for us. While we were closed, the families even got together to fundraise in our support. God is so good!”

“The ECEC has been an invaluable asset to Concordia-Chicago and the community for the last 45 years,” says Ryndak-Mazur. “I am confident we will continue to share the Christian faith with others while also providing the best early childhood environment and experiences for many years to come.”

Learn more about the Early Childhood Education Center at CUChicago.edu/ECEC and to read the full edition of the recent Forester magazine visit CUChicago.edu/Forester.

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