Back in 1972, two young moms, Anne Thompson and Annette Van Hilst, along with a retired friend, Caroline Landreau, came up with the idea to start a child care program in Shepherdstown. The Eastside school, which Jefferson County Public Schools operated as a segregated school for black students between 1948 and 1965, was vacant and the women struck a deal to lease the building for $1 a year. They opened the doors of the new Shepherdstown Day Care Center (SDC) in September 1973. The non-profit purchased the building in 1978, making many updates and expansions over the past 50 years. What started as a program serving 20 children is now licensed to serve 100 children (although with current staffing the school is not able to operate at full capacity). The Observer asked Melissa Holman, the current director of SDC to explain what the center does and what challenges it faces.
Observer: SDC describes itself as a “child development center” — Can you explain what that means?
Holman: SDC programming is based on the Creative Curriculum, a child-centered approach to teaching based on the most current research on how young children learn. Both structured and unstructured experiences are designed to support development of the whole child. We focus on language development, creativity, social interaction, problem solving, and peaceful conflict resolution throughout the curricular areas. Our teaching staff creates learning centers to stimulate development of early literacy, mathematics, language, social and physical skills and the arts and sciences.
The goal of our staff is to help the children develop self-control, social skills, and a sense of responsibility for their own actions. SDC is committed to providing educational experiences in a child-centered, nurturing environment. We help children develop the social skills and empathy necessary to get along with others, to feel accepted in a group, to communicate their thoughts and feelings, and to develop a sense of independence.
We provide a balance of individual, small, and large group experiences in a play-based curriculum designed to stimulate development and learning and to give the children opportunities to develop specific skills, problem solve, and become independent learners.
Observer: Can you give a brief description of what services SDC provides?
Holman: SDC provides quality care for children aged twelve weeks through fifth grade. Our goal is to provide a nurturing, stimulating environment that allows for individualized education to meet the needs of each child. We offer Pre-K for four-year olds in collaboration with Jefferson County Schools.
SDC offers a before and after school program for children in kindergarten through fifth grade. The program includes homework support and a variety of experiences to engage children independently or in small groups. All children enrolled are served home cooked breakfasts, lunches, and snacks that are prepared by our chefs under the USDA CACFP food program.
Observer: How has child care in general and the SDC program changed over the past 50 years?
Holman: In general, child care has become more in demand to meet the ever growing needs and dynamics of today’s family units. As we have learned through research, a child’s early years are the foundation for his or her future development, providing a strong base for lifelong learning and learning abilities, including cognitive and social development. We have been witness to more families working outside of the home making child care an important staple of early childhood education.
When SDC began fifty years ago, the center was licensed for only twenty children. Today, that number has grown to 100 children. SDC has achieved and maintained a Tier II credential through the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources. Our building has had quite a face lift with the addition of the Ruth D. Brown Infant and Toddler Wing.
Observer: You have a sliding scale tuition program, correct? How does it work and how do you sustain that model?
Holman: Yes, SDC offers a sliding scale tuition program for our families. Because we know that quality child care is essential for working families, Shepherdstown Day Care Center’s tuition payments for the two, three and four year old groups are based on a sliding scale that is adjusted on family income. We are the only center in the Eastern Panhandle that uses a sliding scale in determining tuition.
Tuition assistance is available to eligible parents and guardians through Mountain Heart, a West Virginia state-funded subsidy program. Mountain Heart assists eligible parents who work, attend training, or attend school with financial assistance that allows for children to attend quality educational centers. In order to sustain that model, SDC’s Board of Directors must fundraise all year long to bridge the financial gap with accepting Mountain Heart families.
Observer: September 30 marks the end of the Child Care Stabilization Program. Will that affect SDC?
Holman: In 2021, we received some surprising news that we would be receiving funding from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources. Recognizing that child care centers were faced with financial hardships caused by the pandemic, the Child Care Stabilization Program was created.
As a way to provide some economic relief to our families, the SDC Board Members decided to reduce tuition payments by 20 percent for parents on the sliding scale and waive co-pays for parents receiving Mountain Heart funding. As stated, the program will end on September 30th and so will the reduction in tuition for our families on the sliding scale. For those families who utilize Mountain Heart services, copays will be reinstated. In addition, SDC will implement a 3% tuition increase.
Observer: What challenges do you see ahead for SDC?
Holman: A challenge that we are currently facing and that we project will continue in the future is being short staffed. This has been an issue for several years and is not improving. Being short staffed means that we are not able to meet the demand of families seeking child care, which creates a very lengthy waiting list. We want to give as many children the opportunity for educational experiences that we can.
Observer: What advice would you give to parents thinking about child care options?
Holman: The first advice that I would give to parents considering child care is to get on a wait list immediately. We receive multiple phone calls a day from parents seeking child care and unfortunately, we have to explain that we have a long waiting list.
Parents should schedule a tour to measure the quality of child care by whether there is a warm, positive relationship between the child and the caregiver and whether there is a safe, healthy and stimulating learning environment. They need to ask questions. Questions that ask how a child is comforted or what curriculum is used in their program. Above all, trust their intuition.
For more information on programs, events, and how to support SDC, visit ShepherdstownDayCare.orgBy Staff Contributor