Starting in 2007, the mission of The Village (Village of FPC) has been to provide no-cost childcare and preschool to the children of single-parents attending school full-time to make a better life for their families. Soon, a California University of Pennsylvania senior needed childcare so that she could finish school and graduate.
By 2008, we had fundraised enough to pay rent for six months, recruited two volunteers, and boldly signed a three-year lease. We then added subsidized and paying clients and we were recognized as one of the state’s best providers of early childhood education (4 out of 4 Keystone Stars) and earned accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).
When enrollment neared forty in 2013, we found a larger location in downtown California. While we still operate that center, we also collaborate with PennWest California (previously Cal U) to operate the Rutledge Institute for Early Childhood Education. The Rutledge Institute offers preschool and pre-k classes at no cost to qualifying families. Income is a consideration, but the guidelines are quite generous. Funding is provided by a $4.3 million gift to Cal U from the Karen and Tom Rutledge Family Foundation. That gift also includes university scholarships for 40 students (10 per year) pursuing early childhood education careers.
Learning starts at birth so that’s where our programs begin. Science and research have demonstrated that we learn the most in our first year of life and learning continues for the rest of our lives but the amount we learn and retain decreases every year. The Village staff are teachers with professional portfolios and lesson plans. They make sure the children are safe, secure, and cared for and then they focus on educating. Children are grouped by age, they are encouraged to learn through creative play and exploration of their ideas, and their progress is reported to parents daily using a state-of-the art App called Brightwheel. (We learned about Brightwheel when it was introduced on Shark Tank, and we were among the first users.)
COVID-19 forced us to close for six weeks in 2020 and we have been rebuilding our enrollment since then. More children are coming, but we are also seeing more issues that concern us. Negative behaviors, impulsivity, and cognitive lags are much more prevalent than in the past. While we don’t know if the societal upheaval caused by the pandemic is the root cause of the issues, we know more kids are having more problems. We’ve also found Mondays have become a much rougher transition day for the children. While full-time care is not right for all families, we see that many children benefit from attending a high-quality early childhood education program five days per week.
Our mission of providing no-cost care for single-parent full-time students remains and we are working on ways to make high-quality early learning affordable for all families. We embrace and support the notion of early childhood education and we are committed to advancing the profession.
In 2021, our board of directors voted unanimously to recognize the success and professionalism of our teachers and communicate our desire to retain them by:
- Raising salaries by 27% to make them comparable to local elementary school teachers
- Launching a quarterly bonus policy that escalates with length of service
- Providing a Benefits Allowance for use by each teacher to select the benefits they want/need – health care, retirement, additional time off or salary supplement.
The Village started small in the rural suburban community of California PA, but it and The Rutledge Institute are at the forefront of early childhood education.