In the heart of Indianapolis, a beacon of education and nurturing care has been established within the historic walls of what was once Manual High School. The Day Early Learning Childcare Center, located inside Manual High School, serves as a cornerstone of the educational hub for all ages. Through its partnership with Christel House International (Christel House), one of Indiana’s oldest charter school networks, the center has been providing high-quality care and education to more than 80 children between the ages of 0 and 5 years. This innovative approach to early childhood education has not only enriched the lives of these young learners but has also created a dynamic partnership within the community, fostering an environment of learning and support.

A Historical Transformation
In 2020, Christel House made a significant stride in their mission to provide quality education to all children by establishing Christel House at Manual. Former IPS Manual High School, which had been under state control since 2012, was given new life as the hub for the Christel House educational network. This transformation brought together their existing K-12 school alongside the final classes of charter school ReThink Forward, effectively creating a comprehensive learning environment for approximately 1,800 students during the day, with an additional 250 attending night classes.

A Vision for Early Learning
Recognizing the critical importance of early childhood education, Christel House decided to partner with an organization to include childcare services for young learners. The Day Early Learning Childcare Center, born out of this vision, within former Manual High School not only facilitated seamless collaboration but also has promoted a sense of community and inclusivity.

Through extensive programming, security, and circulation planning, a partial space reconfiguration, and upgraded interior finishes, the building now provides space for K-12 education, DORS (Drop-Out Recovery School), an adult education program), childcare, and a Sease Institute program, which offers post-high school training provided by the University of Indianapolis.

To make programming work, security, and circulation was necessary throughout the design. Ultimately, an enclosed exterior connector was created to provide a secure passageway for the youngest students to be able to access the cafeteria and gymnasium without crossing paths with older students. By relocating walls to right size spaces for the new program, developing wings appropriate for the number of classrooms per grade, and the addition of intermediate cross corridors, the facility was able to be zoned for age-appropriate separation.

Because the building had previously served as a high school, it was imperative that each portion of the building felt age-appropriate—from the childcare space through the adult education. With an extensive finishes upgrade, the building now feels like separate facilities specifically created for each of the age groups.

“The Schmidt Associates team did a great job of helping us visualize what the spaces would look like before we could even get into the building, and they helped us think through the logistics by creating spaces that are flexible and can accommodate future growth,” said Christel House International Chief of Staff Dr. Sarah Weimer. “The team also listened and were very responsive to our needs, ensuring that their outputs matched our expectations.”

Revitalizing with Investment
The renovation of the space for Day Early Learning Childcare Center inside Manual High School was a testament to Christel House’s commitment to children’s early education. With an investment of $2M, the space was transformed into a vibrant, child-friendly environment, equipped with state-of-the-art facilities and resources conducive to early childhood development. During the day, it is not uncommon to find babies napping in cribs, children playing with wooden trucks or practicing writing their names, or preschoolers playing a game of telephone holding a cup supported by string.

Empowering the Community
To realize the ambitious vision of the Day Early Learning Childcare Center, a significant fundraising effort was undertaken. The initiative demonstrated the community’s belief in the value of early education and care. United Way of Central Indiana also played a crucial role in assisting with the fundraising efforts, showing its unwavering support for initiatives that empower young learners and their families.

A Holistic Partnership
One of the most distinctive aspects of the Day Early Learning Childcare Center is the partnership it has forged, not only with Christel House, but also with DORS who offers drop-off services for its students, easing the burden on parents, and enabling them to pursue their education while their young children receive top-notch care.

Impacting Lives, Shaping Futures
Since its inception, the Day Early Learning Childcare Center and Christel House at Manual High School have touched the lives of countless children and families. By providing a safe and stimulating environment, it lays a solid foundation for these young learners to thrive academically, socially, and emotionally. The Center’s emphasis also has a profound impact on the children’s cognitive development, language skills, and emotional intelligence, setting them on a trajectory for future success.

Christel House at Manual and Early Learning Indiana also demonstrates the power of collaboration and the profound impact of early childhood education. Through the joint efforts and those from the extended community, this beacon of learning and care continues to brighten the lives of young learners, nurturing their potential and instilling in them a lifelong love for learning.