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Displaced by a fire, young students find a home in Quakertown

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The flames that ravaged the Upper Bucks County Early Learning Center on a Friday evening late last month were barely under control when Deb Lock was on the phone to Quakertown Community School District Superintendent Dr. Bill Harner.

Lock, the Bucks County Intermediate Unit’s director of early childhood programs, was desperately looking for space to house about 80 young students displaced by the fire. From that point on, Lock recalled, district officials scrambled to accommodate every request without hesitation to minimize disruption in routine for the vulnerable 3-to-5-year olds who attend the IU’s Head Start, Pre-K Counts, and Preschool Early Intervention programs at the former Quakertown Christian School on Rocky Ridge Road.

For IU staffers, that meant finding appropriate classroom furniture, curriculum materials, learning tools, and therapy spaces so the youngsters, who come from the Quakertown, Pennridge and Palisades school districts, would not miss a beat. And by Tuesday night – just four days after the fire – dozens of students and their families were able to attend an open house to introduce them to their new surroundings, and on Wednesday morning were back in class, either in the district’s Sixth Grade Center or in the District Services Center. The learning environments didn’t look or feel much different from the ones the students left on Friday before the fire, according to Lock.

“That community feel was brought to life in a way that I’ve never experienced it,” she said. “Everyone was very focused on getting us up and running. We’re really thankful.”

Dr. Mark Hoffman, executive director of the Bucks IU, praised the quick response of Quakertown officials in making space in their facilities.

“It was amazing to see the young people at the center of our mission run into classrooms, hug their teachers, and immediately begin to acclimate and feel ‘at home’ in their new surroundings,” he said. “It made everything we have done ... worth every bit of it to see their smiling, happy faces.”

Harner said getting the students “in a proper setting, feeling comfortable, and seeing the same faces was something we needed to accomplish.” He praised the efforts of his administration, teachers and the IU for working together for the students.

“This was a great opportunity to serve,” he said. “A great opportunity for our team to grow and get better. We jumped at it. We loved it and it got done.”

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, according to IU officials. While the IU programs are expected to operate in Quakertown facilities for about a month, Bucks IU spokesperson JoAnn Perotti said the search is on for a more permanent location.

“We would like to relocate our programs sooner rather than later,” she said. “The Quakertown partnership is fantastic but we know they had to displace some of their own students. We need to find our own more permanent space.”


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