Julia Dineen remembers the day, many years ago, when she was a toddler and built a birdhouse at St. Joseph’s College’s Dillon Child Study Center. She recalled gripping her tiny hands around a hammer, ready to nail the roof on the small, brown structure that would soon be home to some local birds.
When Ms. Dineen, a 2017 SJC Brooklyn graduate, closes her eyes, she can still feel the warm feeling that traveled through her body, giving her a sense of accomplishment when the house was complete.
Ms. Dineen, 23, of Park Slope has only fond memories of the Dillon Center, which this spring celebrates 50 years in its current building. But she didn’t realize how many distinct memories from the preschool she held until she returned to student teach as an adult.
“It was really sentimental walking through the hallway and realizing everything you remember,” she said.
During that walk, recollections of smiles and laughter hit her like a wave crashing on the shore. Playing in the playground. Riding bicycles with her peers on the grass. The reminiscent smell of the Vanderbilt Avenue building.
Celebrating 50 Years
This spring — on June 8 — SJC Brooklyn will commemorate the five decades of memories made in the current building with celebratory events. While the plans are still preliminary, Director of Alumni Engagement Paige Napoli Carbone ’02 said the festivities will include former preschool students; current St. Joseph’s students, faculty and staff; alumni; and the community.
Organizers — which also include Dillon Center Director Susan Straut Collard, Ph.D., and Associate Director of Special Events Jessica Meotti — said the celebration will be combined with the preschool’s annual Sun Fest.
While the Dillon Center has existed at the SJC Brooklyn campus since 1934, the building it now calls home was built in 1967 and opened the following fall, when S. Vincent Thèrése was president of the College.
Construction of the new two-story building — named after former SJC President Monsignor William T. Dillon — coincided with the expansion of the College’s child studies department, which Msgr. Dillon founded.
Dr. Straut Collard said the Dillon Center is an “ideal setting” for students studying childcare. Not only is the Dillon Center a great preschool for local families to send their children, but it also caters to students with special needs.
Inclusion for All
The inclusion program combines special needs students, who may have individual education programs (IEPs), with other children. The setup improves the quality of learning for the 70-plus students enrolled at the school, Dr. Straut Collard said.
“I think it’s great,” said Dr. Straut Collard, explaining that the way special needs children are included at the preschool follows the mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph.
In addition to running the Dillon Center, Dr. Straut Collard is the director of the master’s in childhood and adolescence special education program at the College. She has taught at St. Joseph’s for 30 years.
During Dr. Straut Collard’s time at St. Joseph’s, she has spent 10 years — though not consecutively — running the Dillon Center. Her own children, Meghan Straut Collard ’13 and Thomas Straut Collard ’16, are alumni of the Dillon Center and St. Joseph’s.
“It comes full circle,” Dr. Straut Collard said.
Ms. Dineen, now pursuing a master’s degree in speech pathology from Brooklyn College, said it was a unique experience attending the preschool as a child, and then student teaching there later in life. She recalls Margaret Donovan — known in the Dillon Center as “Miss Peggy” — from her time as a preschooler, and how it impressed her that Ms. Donovan still remembered her more than a decade later when Ms. Dineen returned as a college student.
“All the people there, all the staff — from the security guards to the teachers — are incredibly caring and involved in the students’ lives,” she said. “All the teachers are so devoted.”