Preschool instructor Mattison Manning reads a book about Valentine’s Day to children enrolled in Blessings Christian Daycare at Elk Lake Elementary School.
Photo and story by Rick Hiduk
(originally published in the Susquehanna County Independent)
Daycare options are limited in rural communities, but the successful opening of Blessings Christian Daycare at Northeast Bradford Elementary School (NEBES) in 2020 motivated founder and CEO Katie Robinson to pitch the idea to the Elk Lake School Board in 2021. Blessings Christian Daycare opened at the elementary school there in November 2021 and is operating at capacity with the blessings of school officials and parents.
Robinson first contacted Elk Lake superintendent Dr. Ken Cuomo to inquire about the possibility of expanding the service into the Elk Lake School District, initially looking at the Meshoppen area for a location. There was no disputing the need for daycare in the ELSD, so Cuomo and Elk Lake elementary principal Mark Weisgold visited NEBES to see what the program looked like and ask NEB superintendent Bill Clark how it was going.
“He had nothing but positive things to say about the work they do at the school, how they serve the community and their working relationship,” Cuomo stated. “Our school board was very supportive of it, knowing that we had a need in our community.”
Blessings was provided with two full size classrooms and a small office to accommodate 30 preschool students ages 3 to 6 and 13 toddlers ages 1 and 2. Staff members include site director Paige Smith, preschool teachers Molly Smith, Mattison Manning and Tina Curly, toddler teacher Hailey Hollister and supervisor Samantha Weaver. The daycare is open from 6 am to 6 pm, though most students arrive with their grade school-age siblings around 7:45 am and depart around 3:30.
“They can keep them here all day if they need to,” Robinson said of the flexibility of the program. “Almost all of the children currently in the daycare have siblings elsewhere in the school, and many of their parents are Elk Lake faculty.”
Presently, about half of the daycare participants are children of teachers and other staff, with the remainder being from the community at large. “This had to be a win win for everybody,” Cuomo said of the 50/50 split. “We did not just want this to be a staff benefit, so we capped the number of staff members who could have children in the program.”
Blessings rents the space from the school district and operates as a separate entity. While the youngsters have access to the playground and the gymnasium when they are available, Cuomo noted that there is little to no interaction between the daycare and the school. “They have a system where they meet the parents at the door, so we don’t have parents walking down the hall during the school day,” he explained. “If we didn’t know better, we wouldn’t even know they were there.”
A typical day begins with breakfast served by daycare staff, followed by free play time. Then the day becomes more structured with Morning Circle Time, which includes songs, learning numbers and the alphabet, and a Bible-based lesson. Part of the agreement between the school district and the daycare is that the Christian elements of instruction must be kept in the classroom.
Snacks are served around 10:15, after which the preschoolers may work on crafts or worksheets that help them with common sight words – especially their own names.
“I asked the kindergarten teachers, ‘If there’s one thing that we could teach them, what would it be?’ and they agreed that it would be teaching them how to write their names,” said Robinson.
“On the curriculum side, they have worked to get to know what our kindergarten curriculum was like and help the children move from Blessings into kindergarten as seamlessly as possible,” Cuomo remarked. Sixteen children will graduate from preschool this spring and move into kindergarten next fall.
All of the children bring a packed lunch. A two-hour nap afterwards gives the daycare staff a chance to get caught up and enjoy their own lunch break. An afternoon snack is provided before 45 minutes of outdoor recess as weather permits. For the remaining time that they are there, the children are encouraged to discover and pursue their own interests, which may include additional crafts, or simply playing with toys.
A few things that Robinson wants parents to know about Blessings Christian Daycare is that children to not have to attend every day. Some are registered for only two or three days per week, giving staff members an average of 15 to 20 youngsters to work with each day. Income-based subsidies help many parents bring down the daily cost, which is $35 for preschoolers and $37 for toddlers.
“I figured that we would do well here since things had gone so well at Northeast Bradford,” Robinson noted, “But I never expected Elk Lake to blow up like it did. The staff here has been absolutely wonderful to work with.”
“It’s run incredibly smooth,” Cuomo concurred. “The biggest issue we have is that they would like to expand, and I don’t know if we can do that.”
Parents interested in enrolling their children in the daycare program at Elk Lake can contact Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or Robinson at 570-744-1877.