Tyra Chatman, 20, is living on temporary assistance from the government but wants a job in a factory to bring in more money for her family, 1-year-old son Da’vion and 5-month-old daughter Ti’aisha. But before she can join the production line, she says she needs someone to look after her children.
That’s where the First Chance for Children Learning Center comes in.
The center, at 1306/1308 Elleta Blvd., is down the street from Chatman’s small duplex on the same street. It is being renovated and is scheduled to open at the end of next month, when it plans to provide day care services by professional providers free to parents. Come September, Chatman hopes that the center can take over the duty of watching her kids. It will be home to eight children under the age of 3 during the day.
This year, only Elleta Boulevard residents are eligible, but the program may someday accept applications from any parent living in public housing who has transportation.
“Right now, our first priority is people who live right here on Elleta,” said Ludi Yocum, education coordinator at Early Head Start. The center is still accepting applications.
The organizers plan the center to be more than just an average day care for the youngsters. A proposal from First Chance for Children to Columbia Housing Authority earlier this year said the center would use “best practices from the field.”
Amalie Duvall, assistant director of First Chance for Children, said the center would use the Program for Infant/Toddler Care to guide how the center operates. Since the care program was developed 20 years ago, it has become one of the most common training programs for child-care givers nationwide.
The small number of children at the day care is no accident. It is central to the care program and speaks to the organizer’s desire to provide high-quality care for a smaller number of children. Each child will have one primary care provider.
“That allows them to build a real strong relationship,” Duvall said. “They won’t be switched between classrooms and caregivers. They will stay with that caregiver, ideally from birth until age 3.”
In many ways, the new day care will be just as much a school for parents and a lab for researchers as a place for toddlers to spend their days.
“We want to set it up where teachers and parents can come in and observe the care,” Lana Poole, executive director, said. “We are looking to partner with other agencies to create a demonstration.”
Parents, researchers and other day care providers may watch the care program in action through a one-way mirror and listen in, thanks to microphones. MU’s Center for Family Policy and Research also plans to observe the day care program.
Columbia Housing Authority owns most of the duplexes and four-unit apartments on Elleta Boulevard, in the Bear Creek neighborhood off Range Line Street, just north of Highway 70.
“We are allowing two of our public housing units to be taken offline and remodeled to be used for the Bear Creek Family Support Center,” said Phil Steinhaus, CEO of the housing authority. “Columbia Housing Authority will wave the rent for both of those units.”
The housing authority has agreed to pay up to $2,600 annually in utilities, but First Chance for Children will be responsible for any additional utilities, supplies in the building and remodeling.
“The Bear Creek project makes a lot of sense for us because the children could benefit tremendously from high-quality early education,” said Phil Peters, president of the First Chance for Children Board and an MU law professor.
Although group child care can help people like Chatman immensely by freeing up time to work, she said there are disadvantages of spending time away from children when they are young.
“I worry about that,” Chatman said. “But it won’t be like I won’t be able to still do stuff with them.”
Another of the care program’s core policies is cultural continuity that stresses the importance of learning about the child’s family. Occasional home visits and dinners with the family will help with this goal.
“Group care for infants and toddlers is not ideal,” Duvall said. “We want to make sure the families understand they are the first teachers.”