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August 5, 2002

Clifton School opens doors in new locale

By Stephanie Sonnenfeld

Excitement is the official mood of the Clifton School child care center’s new Claimont Campus on a Tuesday morning in August.

As the school’s staff happily greets students and their parents in the mellow mid-morning sun, they look at each other with wide eyes and clasped hands. The “adult furniture” has arrived.

As rolling chairs and office desks make their way to the building, Clifton School Executive Director Dixie Bradley waves at the students and stands on her tiptoes to see the new furniture, often glancing around at her surroundings and smiling.

Since July 29, younger scholars—ranging in age from six weeks to 5 years—have been spending their days at the newly opened Clifton School. This marks the second location for the nonprofit center, which first opened in 1988 on Clifton Road, for the children of Emory, Children’s Healthcare and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) employees.

Designing and building the single-level, villa-esque school took almost three years, Bradley says. “It was a long, long process, but they did a beautiful job,” she says.

With a 216-student capacity, the 27,000-square-foot building (which houses 18 classrooms) is twice the size of the Clifton Road facility. A new school with an identical floor plan (the outside will reflect the architecture of the CDC) will open on Clifton Road this winter.

The increased size of both schools has created openings—a rarity to those who know the popularity of the school—in both locations. Open spaces are not avaliable for infants, but do remain for toddlers and pre-kindergarten (Pre-K) students.

The style of the building mirrors Emory’s trademark Mediter-ranean-inspired buildings and fits in with the Clifton School’s Italian-based teaching philosophy. Finding its roots in teachings that originated in the Italian town of Reggio Emilia, the school centers on a “triad” premise: every child has a great learning potential; parents are an integral part of the educational process; and children use artistic and symbolic means to express their ideas. This philosophy is implemented in a comfortable, homelike environment filled with learning possibilities.

“We look upon the child as strong and capable,” Bradley says. “As teachers, educators and researchers, we’re trying to learn where the children are. So we’re not directing them, we’re not following them—we’re moving with them.”

In addition to fostering strong relationships through the Reggio concept, the Clifton School also strongly emphasizes small class sizes and low teacher-to-student ratios.

Reflections of Reggio concepts are found everywhere in the school, starting with the flood of sunlight streaming through the building’s wide, clear windows. Gone are the cookie-cutter classrooms and fluorescent-hued hallways of a typical elementary or preschool. Here, wide walkways floored in light, honey-colored wood lead to piazzas with rocking chairs, sturdy play equipment and, in some cases, aquariums filled with darting goldfish.

Each piazza is circled by classrooms named for trees, many indigenous to the Emory campus. There are the Primrose and Virginia Creeper Rooms (infants), named to reflect their smaller inhabitants. Move down the hallways to different piazzas, and the trees—like the students—grow. For toddlers, there are the Dogwood and Mulberry rooms; Pre-K students are in the Oak and Birch rooms. The library, which will double as a room for summer campers, is the Redwood room.

While each room may be a separate world for its inhabitants, teachers are connected by open hallways and common areas between classroom spaces. Half-doors separate cooking prep areas, and fully windowed “ateliers” (art classrooms) let students see what is going on in the classroom beside them.

Outside, compact courtyards resembling a typical neighborhood backyard are designed for each age group. Infants have flowered, meadow-like retreats with benches, while the Pre-K students have a mini-track and a playground.

As Bradley strolls the hallways with center director Carrie Vincent, the two women frequently stop to greet the students, knowing each child by name and, in some cases, by nicknames.

Back in the front rotunda, Bradley sits for a moment on a curved bench that circles the perimeter of the room. She has been with the Clifton School since it first opened 14 years ago and admits she is amazed at its recent growth, among other things.

“It’s exciting to see institutions [like Emory, the CDC, Children’s Healthcare] support the philosophy we are implementing [and] who were willing to take that leap, that step for their children,” Bradley says. “I think that in itself is exciting.”

For more information on both campuses of (including enrollment and employment), contact Bradley or Vincent at 404-636-4073 or