Sunday, May 20, 2018

Day care receives grant

Brown Bear Daycare, 21007 McGuire Road, is one of 14 recipients of a building and development grant through the Illinois Capital Development Board.

Sheila Henson, executive director of the day care, said that her staff applied for the grant in November 2011. At that point, the day care was aware that the city of Harvard fell into the top 50 most underserved communities in the state of Illinois.

“We were ranked number 14,” said Henson. “We knew we qualified for this.”

Henson and Brown Bear Daycare were informed in December 2012 that they were being awarded a $3.2 million building and development grant in order to serve more people in the community.

“Currently, we are [Department of Children and Family Services]-licensed to have 203 students in our facility. With this grant, we will be expanding our center by six rooms which will mean that we would be able to accommodate 350 students,” Henson said.

With the additional space for increased student enrollment, Henson is eager to serve students who have been on a waiting list for at least six months.

“We are an early childhood center,” Henson pointed out. “We are not just babysitters. Each one of our teachers has a degree in early childhood education – a bachelor’s or an associate degree – or are in school working toward that. We, as an educational center, parallel Crosby and Jefferson. ... We have lesson plans for each of our days.”

This summer, the learning center will implement a reading program for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. The staff at the center wants to ensure that the students will not fall behind over the summer and would like to challenge the students throughout the next three months.

“[Being awarded this grant] is exciting. We are looking forward to building and expanding our facility. We are hoping to put bid packages out soon and look forward to using local talent in our building process. I hope to see us breaking ground in about six months,” Henson said.

Brown Bear Daycare was given two years to complete the building process, but Henson said she hopes it will be completed much sooner than that. Though the enrollment for the fall will remain the same as it has been in the past, she looks forward to the day when she can serve more members of the community and add students from the waiting list to her student body.

“This is a great place to work. I couldn’t do this without my staff,” Henson added. She said the day care employs 57, from administrators to maintenance workers. She has a team of 40 teachers – many of whom are bilingual.

“We are an educational institution. We classify ourselves as a learning center. We do much more than just watch the children. We teach them and prepare them,” she said.

With the grant, Brown Bear Daycare will not only continue to provide a learning environment for those already enrolled in the center, but will also continue to serve many more families in the years to come.