Smart start: How Nicholls has partnered with Ascension Parish for Donaldsonville early childhood center

Interim location to be Lemann building; permanent location two years away

Staff Report
A rendering shows the Smart Start Ascension Early Childhood Learning Center that Nicholls State University has assisted in developing for Donaldsonville.

Nicholls State University in Thibodaux has been instrumental in the launch of the early childhood learning center in Donaldsonville.

NSU has partnered with Ascension Parish government to provide a team of specialists to establish the Smart Start Ascension Early Childhood Learning Academy, which was touted by Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards and several officials at the historic B. Lemann and Bro. building earlier this month.

Prior to development of the early learning center, families in the Donaldsonville community found it difficult to obtain quality childcare so crucial to child development. 

“Unfortunately, many families either do not have access to or cannot afford such environments for their children," said Nicholls Assistant Professor of Teacher Education and LCA Executive Director Dr. Mistie Perry Lasseigne. "This lack of access often leads to low academic performance within elementary schools, low retention rates in high schools and – in some instances – higher rates of incarceration as adults. The partnership between Ascension Parish Government and Nicholls State University works to change that dynamic."

The center’s framework will be centered on promoting children’s self-awareness, competence, self-worth and physical well-being, while also providing families support in assisting children to accomplish these goals outside of the classroom. The specialist team will work to develop and support strong relationships with enrolled children, children’s families and the local community while embracing diversity, inclusive practices and mutual respect.

“We are grateful, humbled and incredibly excited about becoming such a large part of a project that will shift the trajectory of future generations. Our hope is that this project will serve as the model for other communities across the country to recognize the importance and significance of Early Childhood Education” said Dr. Lasseigne, who is a graduate of Nicholls’ Birth to Five/Early Interventionist Education (BFED) undergraduate program, the Nicholls’ Masters of Curriculum and Instruction Early Childhood program, and the LSU Doctorate of Philosophy in Curriculum and Instruction Early Childhood program.

The Birth to Five/Early Interventionist Education undergraduate program at Nicholls is the only program of its kind in the state and supports the initiatives of the NAEYC and CEC National Standards for young children by teaching practitioners key early learning concepts and fostering early learning skills in children from birth to 8 years old.

To learn more about Nicholls College of Education and Behavioral Sciences and the BFED program, visit https://www.nicholls.edu/education/

Gov. John Bel Edwards poses with the children in attendance for the Oct. 6 ceremony marking the opening of the early childhood learning center in Donaldsonville.

Interim location coming soon

As the permanent site will take an estimated two years to construct, Ascension Parish officials have said the first floor of the historic B. Lemann and Bro. building could be utilized sooner for the program.

The move to the permanent location at 1200 St. Patrick Street would be about January 2025.

The partnership has been a collaborative effort with Ascension Parish government, the Ascension Parish School Board, the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office, the Ascension Parish Library, the City of Donaldsonville, and other entities.