Plans move forward for Milton Hershey School’s first early childhood education center

The Milton Hershey School is planning to build an early childhood education center in Derry Township.

The center will be built on the southwest corner of Governor Road and Homestead Road. It will be designed to accommodate 150 students and will serve eligible children free-of-charge.

The school said that the center is designed for children from birth to age 5 from economically disadvantaged and at-risk backgrounds with the goal of encouraging the development of a child’s educational, cognitive, social, emotional, and physical well-being. The school said the center will have a core early learning program consisting of a “rigorous and relevant curriculum that’s aligned with a mission to nurture and educate enrolled children.” The school said it will also provide nutritious meals, transportation as necessary, and other needed supplies such as clothes and basic on-site medical supplies.

The school is expected to include 41,325 square feet and will have a 9,500 square-foot second floor. There will also be an outdoor learning area. The center is expected to have 80 employees and volunteers and is tentatively scheduled to be open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays.

The center in Derry Township is part of a much larger $350 million plan for Milton Hersey to open six early childhood centers across the state of Pennsylvania.

Dauphin County Judge John J. McNally ruled in October that the school for the first time, to will be allowed to extend its educational reach beyond its Derry Township campus. McNally’s approval of the childcare center plan was required because the deed of trust issued by Milton and Catherine Hershey in 1909 restricted the spending of trust income solely to the existing private residential school for underprivileged students in Derry Township.

The Hershey Trust Company and the Milton Hershey School recently filed a conditional use application with Derry Township for a group childcare facility. The application requests that a conditional use authorization be granted to establish a group childcare facility on the property located at the southwest portion of Governor Road and Homestead Road. The planning commission unanimously recommended approval of the conditional use request with some conditions on Tuesday night. The Derry Township board of supervisors will hold a hearing to approve the request on Jan. 26.

Kate Dattilo of the Milton Hershey School said that the early childhood education centers are a result a comprehensive study.

“A couple of years ago (the school) kind of engaged in a comprehensive multi-year study to think about different ways to expand our impact and to enhance the vision of Milton and Catherine Hershey and really through that process and as informed by data and various internal and external experts the school landed on the vision for [the] early childhood education initiative and so this initiative and the center will serve a very similar population to the Milton Hershey School,” she said. “It will serve children form disadvantage backgrounds.”

While the residential portion of the Milton Hershey school serves children from across the country, the centers will serves children in the local areas.

“We are also exploring transportation, so we may provide small buses to take children closer to their home and to relieve families of the burden of day to day transportation,” Dattilo said.

The school plans to build the second center in Harrisburg and four more centers throughout the state at locations that are yet to be determined. The facilities would be built in stages, with the first one likely opening in 2023, the second one in 2024 and the last one opening in 2027.

Each center will have six classes each for infants to 2-year-olds and the same number of separate classes for ages 3 to 5.

The Milton Hershey School was established in 1909 and held its first classes in 1910. It was designed to be a cost-free, private, coeducational home and school for children from low-income families. Its residential campus features more than 170 group homes and schools for grades K-12. The school has more than 2,100 students. The new centers would allow the school to provide services to up to 900 children age five and below.

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