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Childcare program goes county-wide

Monkey bars, swings and all, the playground of Pizzo Elementary is a haven for kids. They play, chase, hide and seek. Their cheers and screams are heard in the surrounding area, but no one seems to mind. It’s just some kids having fun.

But this playground is more than just an elementary school playground. In a new program from the Hillsborough County School Board, kids ranging from infancy to pre-kindergarten are now discovering the joys of swinging on bars and playing in the grass.

The School District for Hillsborough County began a new day care program that allows employees of the school system to participate. The program has two day care sites, one located at Pizzo Elementary, the other at Temple Terrace Elementary, both in USF’s vicinity.

The program has not been advertised to the public before because the board wanted to preserve spaces for the children of school district employees. Now, however, with many empty spaces left, community members are encouraged to enroll.

“The school district created this program primarily to help retain its teachers after they have children,” said Martha Collins, the president for Children’s Learning Center and Childcare Partners and founder of the program. “But, if the spaces aren’t filled by school district employees, the program is open to district and community needs, and USF falls into the district.”

The school board came up with the idea of a childcare program for their employees last year.

“We submitted a proposal to the school board, and out of the 12 proposals put forward we were selected through a bid process,” Collins said.

Alicia Luper, a fifth grade teacher at Temple Terrace Elementary, said she had decided to use the program for her 2 1/2-year-old son. She enrolled her son at her school when the program began in August.

“I absolutely love (the program),” Luper said. “My son is right there, and I can check in on him or see him playing whenever I want. I’m in constant contact with the day care teacher.”

Last year, Luper’s son was part of a home care program with three other infants. He is now enrolled with more children closer to his age, Luper said.

“I can definitely tell the difference,” Luper said. “He seems more interactive, he plays and interacts with kids his age.”

The service is offered at a reasonable price, Collins said.

“The fees are somewhere in the median of pricing,” Collins said. “It’s between $117 and $140 a week depending on age, but that includes breakfast, lunch and supply fees. There are no hidden charges, we don’t nickel and dime you.”

Collins said that another advantage of the program is that there are more caregivers per child present.

“It’s only five children to one caregiver for 1-year-olds, eight to one for 2-year-olds and ten to one for 3- and four-year-olds,” she said.

Collins is no amateur with childcare centers. She has had experience with leading childcare centers such as this one and is president of two sister companies, one of which is located on the grounds of the University Community Hospital.

“All the staff that work at these two centers have fulfilled their requirement of the 40-hour training with child care licensing, which includes CPR and first aid,” Collins said. “Also, they have been trained here (Children’s Learning Center) and then taken to the site for familiarity with standards.”

The full capacity of the two sites is two classes and three staff members at Pizzo and four classes and five staff members at Temple Terrace. Right now, there are only four children enrolled at Pizzo and 11 at Temple Terrace, and Collins said all are the kids of teachers in the districts.

“The program opened at the end of July, and so not many parents had heard about it,” Collins said. “Parents usually plan things like day care in advance, so when the school year started they already had places picked. So, space is available for the community.”

Luper is adamant about recommending the program to others, including to those at USF who have children and are looking for a childcare program.

“It’s part of the school system, so it seems more secure,” she said. “There are always teachers around and the district oversees it, so you know its run in a proper manner.”

Luper said she is not concerned about things such as abuse when her son is at the day care.

Luper said she is definitely likely to continue using the program, if not for childcare then for after-school care if her child goes to preschool.

“I’m not worried about things that you hear about day cares on the news, like mistreating or neglect. I can see my child on campus all the time. And even if your child is on a different campus, the kids are always under the supervision of teachers,” Luper said.

Contact Olga Robakat