From shared classroom space, child-care program has grown into 3 buildings
Port Washington’s Community Learning Center has been around for 30 years, long enough to have generations repeat familiar patterns.
CLC Executive Director Gail Freitag said the passage of time becomes crystal clear when once-familiar faces show up in different roles.
“We have a lot of parents who first came here as children. Now, they are dropping off their own children or their parents are dropping off their grandchildren, following the same routines they remember from years ago,” Freitag said.
Several teachers on the 30-person teaching staff originally also came to the center as students.
That is not to suggest CLC hasn’t gone through a lot of changes since it incorporated in 1980.
Freitag, who came to the center only six months after its opening, said the program has undergone prolific
changes. So has the child-care industry, she said.
“We first opened in the kindergarten room of Dunwiddie Elementary School, which the Port-Saukville School District had closed to save money because of falling enrollment,” Freitag said.
The center’s primary goal was to provide child care for migrant families from Belgium, although the program was quickly expanded to meet the needs of other working parents.
That initial class included about 40 children. Today, CLC serves 180 youngsters, and it is licensed by the state to handle 216 children.
In 1983, a summer school-age program was operated from First Congregational Church, giving children ready access to the Port Washington library, swimming pool and athletic fields.
When enrollment rebounded in the Port Washington-Saukville School District in 1987, the school space was needed for classrooms. CLC took up temporary quarters at Portview Christian Center on Port Washington’s northwest side.
“We were in the process of putting up our first building but it wasn’t done in time,” Freitag said.
It was in August 1988 that CLC was able to move into its own building. It had an appropriate address for a preschool — 1234 Lincoln Ave.
“We were licensed for 80 children, but by the time we opened the building we were already full with a waiting list,” Freitag said.
In 1992, CLC erected a second, almost identical building. Seven years later, a third building was put up on the same two-acre lot across the street from Dunwiddie Elementary School.
“The idea was to save money by reusing the plans from the first building, but building codes changed over the years and room requirements differed depending on the ages of the children we were serving,” Freitag said.
“For example, the infant and toddler program has just eight children in a 30-by-30-foot room because children of that age often need a lot of space or you end up with a lot of biting and hitting.”
One building now serves infants and toddlers, another houses the program for preschoolers (ages 2-1/2 to 4) and the final building is home to the program for school-age children.
CLC is one of the private child-care providers offering 4-year-old kindergarten to students in the Port-Saukville School District.
To make navigating the three-building campus easier for students, parents and staff, the classrooms are identified by unique color names.
Since CLC’s early days, the State of Wisconsin has become much more stringent in the regulation of day-care centers and preschools.
“There was a time when they all used to be called nursery schools, but today’s programs do much more than baby sit. Our state license says what certifications our staff needs to have, and we spend a lot of time integrating curriculum,” Freitag said.
The center’s state license covers children from 6 weeks to 11 years. Staff members undergo annual background checks through the state’s Department of Justice.
The staff has a cumulative 175 years in child care. All staff members are trained in CPR and the detection of child abuse and Shaken Baby Syndrome.
CLC and other preschool programs will come under even closer scrutiny as the state implements standards under the Young Star initiative.
“Parents are a lot more informed on their child-care options, too. They spend a lot of time learning about the qualifications of our staff and our programs before deciding to bring their kids to us,” Freitag said.
“We find that once parents decide to bring their children here, we have them for the duration. Typically, we only lose children when families move away or if employment situations change, like the loss of a job.”
Despite the economy, Freitag said the center hasn’t lost many students.
As a private, not-for-profit program, decisions are made by an independent board of directors. Members typically are parents or former parents of students.
Tuition depends on the age of the children, with the higher cost for the more labor-intensive younger ages. The weekly charge for children in the infant program is $210, $205 for toddlers and $190 for school-age youngsters.
A before and after-school program is offered for $85 a week. Care is offered from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“To be honest, I have never checked out the rates of other centers. As a not-for-profit program, we adopt a budget and set our rates based on what it takes to cover our costs,” Freitag said.
She said rates can be kept stable because of the program’s tax-exempt status and the fact that it owns its buildings.
Although the center offers structure in the lives of many children, Freitag said it is the unpredictable nature of those youngsters that makes her cherish her job.
“I love the fact that every day is different,” she said. “When I get overwhelmed from spending too much time at my desk, I just drop in and spend a little time with the little ones.”
CLC will hold a 30th anniversary party from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, June 19, at the center.
COMMUNITY LEARNING CENTER in Port Washington has been offering trained child care for 30 years. For all of those years, teacher Mary Schultz, who frequently finds herself surrounded by young ones, has been on the staff. CLC has grown from a few classrooms in Dunwiddie Elementary School to three buildings on Lincoln Avenue. Teacher Nicole Merrill is an alumnus of CLC. Now, in addition to teaching at the school, she brings her daughter Addy to the center. Photos by Mark Jaeger