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As Branford Early Learning Center (BELC) enters its fourth decade of service, it does so with a hearty "thank you" to its director of the past 30 years, Beryl Meiner.
After staying on in a consultation role for the month of January, Meiner has now officially retired as BELC director. BELC is a town agency funded by the Department of Social Services.
"Beryl deserves a lot of credit for everything she did. The whole entire board is very grateful for the program that she built here and the staff that she has led in order to keep the program growing," said BELC board member Dale Izzo.
Meiner, who preferred not to be interviewed, is credited with bringing a diverse number of enrichment opportunities to BELC, from yoga to music and dance. She also established its infant-toddler room. An educator who taught pre-k in East Haven before joining BELC, Meiner instituted the use of the Connecticut Preschool Curriculum Framework in all lessons. She also chaired Branford Early Childhood Collaborative's preschool/pre-k to kindergarten transition program. In 2008, Meiner was inducted into the Branford Education Hall of Fame.
"Beryl was a mentor to so many people," said BELC Interim Director and BELC teacher of 28 years Diane Pappacoda. "So many students have come back because they've wanted to be student teachers here, and many have come back as parents, because of her."
Currently located in the former Pine Orchard School on Birch Road, the program was the first of its kind in town when it was established in 1974 as Branford Day Care Center. BELC provides children of working parents with high-quality, low-cost (sliding scale) child care and early childhood education aligned with developmental practices for pre-K programming for Branford Public Schools.
"Our classes are always filled with a waiting list, because of the reputation we've built, and that's because of Beryl," said Pappacoda. "Parents go to work knowing this is a great place for their children not only to play but to be educated."
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)-accredited center focuses on developing the whole child in areas including nutritional wellbeing, physical and emotional health, social relationships, creativity, and academic growth.
It all began 40 years ago, with a little classroom set up in a Branford home that quickly found a more permanent space in the basement of St. Stephens AME Zion Church on Rogers Street. The growing program soon moved into two classrooms at St. Mary's School, where it served 20 children. There, Meiner joined Branford Day Care Center as a teacher and was promoted to director within 11 months.
The program found its current home 22 years ago. In 2007, it was renamed Branford Early Learning Center, Inc. From its certified schoolyard habitat "Natures Garden" outside (for which Meiner helped pave the way) to its diverse, year-round services inside, the program continues to blossom. It currently serves 49 Branford children, ages 8 weeks to Pre-K, in four classrooms.
The majority of teachers and support staff have been with growing with program for many years as well. "Teddy Bears" (Pre-K) head teacher Karen TenBrock has been with BELC for nearly 35 years.
"It's amazing to me," said TenBrock. "A big part of it has been Beryl, who kept this going for 30 years. She has been the most amazing boss and mentor."