Indiana is one of just 11 American states that does not provide state funding for pre-Kindergarten classes, classes that the Perry Preschool Program study suggests would result in a 16-fold return on each dollar invested. The same study found that high-quality pre-Kindergarten programs result in higher adult earnings and employment and a lower crime rate at age 40. But, while three- and four-year-olds in 39 other states can take advantage of state-funded educational opportunities, in Indiana, nonprofits – often with the support of donors, foundations and registration fees – fill the gap between for-profit childcare facility spots and parent’s needs.
In Indianapolis, Day Nursery’s childcare programs have long been designed to support working families. After helping working mothers with clothes and food for needy families, the King’s Daughters Society opened the first Day Nursery in 1899. Today, as the oldest child care service in Indiana, the group seeks to provide working families with effective early childhood education opportunities. The organization is less focused on day care than it is on providing high quality education for children from infancy – and providing that opportunity to children from all economic backgrounds. Day Nursery’s work is supported by several CICF funds including The Indianapolis Foundation, Women’s Fund of Central Indiana, Efromyson Family Fund and The Glick Fund.
A preschool student at Day Nursery's Lilly Center builds a replica of a pre-Columbian Mexican pyramid.
With more than a century in the field, the group’s capacity has expanded, as have the standards for early childhood education and the approaches available to child care facilities. And, at one Day Nursery location, the Lilly Center on the city’s near-north side, the goals of quality and community meet.
An Educational Import
At Day Nursery’s Lilly Center, each child, from six weeks to six years old, has a photograph of her family on hand. It may be taped to a crib or in a frame on a desk, but the photos bring a sense of home to each child’s day. Beyond that familial connection, the photographs also highlight the special approach utilized at the Lilly Center.
The center’s staff utilizes an educational approach developed in Italy after World War II, Reggio Emilia, which focuses on exploration, community and environment. Reacting to the effects of war, teacher Loris Malaguzzi and parents from the Reggio Emilia area aimed to encourage respect, responsibility and a sense of community among youth. Maintaining a close connection to a child’s first community, the family, is a key part of the Reggio Emilia approach at Day Nursery, as is playing in the dirt and formulating hypotheses about plants, neighborhoods and even the construction of their new playgrounds. The approach is increasingly popular among Indianapolis’ early childhood and elementary educators; St. Mary’s Child Center, Warren Township and the Indianapolis Public Schools’ Butler Lab School all utilize Reggio Emilia techniques.
“Reggio Emilia encourages our teachers to listen to what children are interested and to use that for learning,” says Shannon Garrity, Lilly Center Director. “So, one of our girls is interested in rainbows, and I’ll be shopping to get her supplies to make a food rainbow, because that’s what she’s decided to do.”
Day Nursery’s adoption of the Reggio Emilia approach underscores its commitment to quality and innovation. The organization’s seven locations, which serve more than 1,300 children, are accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children and have achieved Level 4 on Indiana’s Pathways to Quality accreditation process. The commitment goes beyond the organization’s locations; Day Nursery also works with the United Way of Central Indiana to help other organizations achieve accreditation.
|Miss Anita, the Lilly Center's longtime cook, makes meals from scratch each day.|
Community at the Center
The Lilly Center is Day Nursery’s only neighborhood-based location; the majority of the organization’s sites are connected to workplaces or larger geographic areas. For Garrity, that distinction makes the Lilly Center special and also serves as a mandate to engage in community efforts. She has been an active participant in the Mid-North Quality of Life Plan, a multi-organization effort focused on renewing the mid-north area of Indianapolis, as well as Mapleton-Fall Creek’s business community.
The Lilly Center is also connected to its neighbors more directly. Anita Jones, known inside the center as “Miss Anita”, has served as the facility’s cook for more than 30 years. Each day, she commutes to the Lilly Center by simply crossing the street. Her dishes add another layer of comfort and community to the Lilly Center.
“There’s something special about what Miss Anita does,” says Shannon Garrity. “She’s making food with love, and you can taste it, from homemade mac and cheese to veggies, it makes our meals taste like home.”
Read more about the impact of philanthropy in central Indiana.
Photos courtesy of Day Nursery.