NEW ORLEANS – The Kellogg Foundation awarded Hoffman Early Learning Center (Hoffman) a two-year grant for $400,000. “These funds will help the center achieve sustainability and to achieve its mission to provide a high-quality, affordable early education to children from a diverse set of socio-economic background,” by Joel Castro, the CEO of New Orleans College Prep, Hoffman’s operator.
“We know there is a need for our services and the support from the Kellogg Foundation will greatly help us further our mission,” said CEO Joel Castro, citing research showing that are nearly 12,000 low-income families with children ages 0-4 without access to affordable, quality early childcare programs in New Orleans. “Our job is to close the learning gap between low-income students and their more affluent peers,” Castro said.
“We are doing that!” said Hoffman Executive Director Zerlander Ragas. “I could not be more proud of my teacher’s efforts. Last year we made the Louisiana Honor Roll for Early Learning Centers because the exemplary education we provide our students.”
Hoffman is New Orleans’ first early childhood center intentionally designed to be diverse both racially and socio-economically. Founded in 2015, with a Head Start grant and only 60 students ages three and four, Hoffman now serves approximately 125 students aged six-weeks to five years old. The center operates on a model that embraces diversity. Fifty-five percent of seats are publically funded and reserved for low-income students. The balance, 45%, are for students whose families pay tuition on a sliding scale. In addition, Hoffman families are equally diverse, fifty-nine percent identify as African American, 25% white, 12% mixed race, and 4% Latino.
“I signed up for Hoffman because there is no happier place,” said Jonathan Tebeleff, future Hoffman parent. Jonathan is one of a growing number of New Orleans parents looking for high-quality childcare in a diverse, affordable setting. “There is just no other place like it in our area.”
Prior to the pandemic, Hoffman maintained a waitlist with over 100 families on it. Additionally, 91% of parents surveyed said they would recommend Hoffman to other families, and 96% indicated that the diversity at Hoffman was a benefit for their children and family.
Since the pandemic, however, the center has experienced declined enrollment. Zerlander Ragas explained after reopening in the summer, some families opted not to return to Hoffman. “Most returned by September,” she added, “however, during the months we closed, we lost a significant amount of revenue.”
“We have taken a financial hit during the pandemic,” added Joel Castro, CEO. “That is why this support from the Kellogg Foundation is so vital. It has enabled us to stay afloat during a time when many centers have not fared as well or even had to close altogether. We could not be more grateful for our continued partnership with the Kellogg Foundation.”