The two dozen letters squeezed on the paperboard sign delivered a message louder than the 10 syllables intended. The grand opening of a new childcare center on 46th Street near Market Street in Walnut Hill was marked with a set of bubble letters, filled in with washable marker. The sign promoted that the center was state licensed and accepted Child Care Information Services payments, which help Philadelphia families pay for child care.
A Pennsylvania state license is granted on the basis of a center’s health, safety and risks for children. It doesn’t factor in the center’s curriculum or purpose.
Two blocks west sits the Caregarden Learning and Development Center. No magic markers or paperboard here, instead a large sign hangs on the brick wall just inside the front gate.
For nearly a decade, Aaron Simmons has provided quality early childhood care at 216 S. 48th St. He founded the center after frustrations with the child care options in the neighborhood.
Four words written on a paper board sign would fail to describe Simmons’ center. But, as early childhood care becomes readily more available and popular, Simmons works to separate the Caregarden from the rest of the field.
“The new centers popping up have been a little disconcerting, but not too much,” said Simmons, whose center is rated by Keystone Stars. “We have a great reputation in the neighborhood and [the other centers] offer different things.”
According to the United States census, over 300,000 Philadelphia families live in poverty and almost 19 percent of the population did not graduate from high school. Simmons said he believes that quality child care centers, such as his, can help lower those statistics.
“Between the ages of birth and 7 years, so much is learned, we still don’t completely understand how much they affect the rest of a child’s life,” said Simmons, who graduated from Temple with a degree in psychology.
A study by the National Center for Children in Poverty states that the majority of children, 51 percent in urban areas, live in low-income families, and the percent has risen 3 percent over the past decade. The lack of resources in the community only heightens the importance on early childcare centers and the impact they can have on the future of an area.
Horace Patterson, the president of the Walnut Hill Community Association, said that child care is essential to the neighborhood due to the high amount of working parents. He said these parents need to be able to trust a center and ensure that the center will be able to help that child prepare for school.
Also, Patterson said he believed a quality education from the ages of birth to 3 years old to be most important. He said he found that children in Walnut Hill who attended child care programs in the community learned how to read and write at a younger age and had an advantage when they entered school.
“They need a good, quality place to send their children,” Patterson said. “We find that daycare centers in this area are very important for kids to get a good beginning.”
Walnut Hill resident Dawn Jones said she was beginning to look into child care for her 3-year-old daughter, but didn’t know where to start. It wasn’t the lack of centers, but the sudden abundance of them. In the span of four blocks in Walnut Hill, there are five child care centers, which left Jones puzzled at what separated them from each other. For example, the Caregarden is located just across the street from another childcare center.
“It gets hard after a while when you’re looking at all these different places and hearing opinions,” Jones said. “A lot of the places seem similar and it’s draining to tell them apart.”
Simmons said all of the activities are focused on learning. He said the opposite would be a center which has its children watching TV most of the day.
“This one stands out from some of the other ones,” said Horace Patterson, the president of the Walnut Hill Community Association. “It’s been here a while and it’s established a track record that is good and positive for the neighborhood.”
The Caregarden engages its students and builds social interaction through learning. Along with math, reading, and social studies the center also teaches basic sign language. Simmons said the preschool class has a great reputation for preparing students for kindergarten.
The center also partnered with Philadelphia-based Congreso to help its staff receive certified daycare associate licenses.
“One of our parents coined it best when they said we are a center with a home feel,” Simmons said. “The kids all feel loved here, the staff are all very caring people. And you can tell that when parents come to pick up their kids and kids are crying because they’re leaving.”