Children center

Sandhills Children’s Center provides inclusive learning for all

“They know that their children, whether they have special needs or not, are receiving direct service,” said program director Jennifer Decker.

Matthieu Sasser | Daily newspaper

This is part of a series of stories about United Way agencies in Richmond County. Their annual Day of Caring event kicks off on Friday, September 17, 2021. Each Saturday, search for stories featuring each of their agencies before the event and learn how to get involved at

ROCKINGHAM – For over 50 years, the Sandhills Children’s Center has educated children, with and without special needs, from birth to age 5.

Inclusion has been the foundation of the Centre’s philosophy for over 30 years. About 30% of CSC students have special needs, ranging from speech and cognitive delays to cerebral palsy and autism. Sometimes this ratio is closer to 50-50 between neurotypical and neurodivergent children.

“[Parents] feel comfortable having their child come here and know that they will be accepted by their peers, ”said Program Director Jennifer Decker.

CEO Melanie Gayle said children with special needs “benefit so much” from growing up alongside neurotypical children, instead of being separated.

All teachers in their classes have a four-year diploma and a teaching license. Most assistants have two-year degrees, while many have a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

As a licensed developmental daycare, they have maintained higher student-teacher ratios in all of their classrooms. They don’t have more than 6: 1 between students and staff, which is a huge difference from regular state guidelines. Infants have a 4: 1 ratio. Most classes have three adults.

“They know their children, whether they have special needs or not, are receiving direct service,” Decker said.

The CCS has a five-star child care license, which is the highest that can be achieved.

Some children enter their neighborhood school after graduation, while others may go to a special and more confined education class. Some can do both.

“We have kids every year that go to regular kindergarten because they had that experience here when they were young,” Gayle said. “The most important and important years of brain development are from birth to age 5. The sooner we can get our hands on the children, the better off they will be. “

They have a close relationship with the Department for Exceptional Children at Richmond County Schools. Any child identified as having special needs is registered with CSC at the age of 3.

“Parents of children with special needs, they want their child to be as normal as possible,” Gayle said. “It gives them a greater opportunity to do it. “

Classes take place 12 months a year. Speech therapists, physiotherapists and occupational therapists are present daily to the hundred or so students of their establishment.

The pandemic has not slowed down their work. As an essential service, CSC has always been able to have children in class five days a week. Gayle said it was important because for the young students they care for, their attention span is limited.

Currently, they plan to renovate their current facility in Rockingham, which has been open since 2008. Walkways will connect their three buildings together, and there will be additional space for therapy rooms and offices. The parking lot will also be redone.

CSC has been a United Way partner since 1991. They use the money from these funds to provide essential speech-language pathology, occupational therapy and physiotherapy services to children in need.

Gayle clarified that although many families have Medicaid, he does not pay 100% of the costs. If this insurance is not available, the Center is still bound by an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to provide these services. Centraide funds allow them to make up for this deficit and avoid paying all of the costs.

Volunteers will paint a classroom in their facility for United Way Caring Day on September 17th.

“[Children] receive next-level care when they need it most, ”Decker said.

You can find more information about the Sandhills Children’s Center at or contact Jennifer Decker at 910-997-7160. Richmond County United Way Executive Director Michelle Parrish can be reached at [email protected] or 910-997-2173.

Centraide’s local service organizations

The other Centraide agencies are as follows:

• Leak Street alumni

• Pee Dee Pregnancy Resource Center

• New Horizons Life and Family Services

• Red Cross

• backpack friends

• Richmond County Rescue Squad

• Samaritan colony

• Salvation Army

• Richmond County 4-H

• Department for Exceptional Children in Richmond County Schools

• Boy Scouts of America

• Richmond County Aging Services

• Habitat for Humanity of the North Carolina Dunes

• Our daily bread

To support the Richmond County Daily Journal, subscribe to or 910-817-3111.

Contact Matthew Sasser at 910-817-2671 or [email protected]

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