I peered through the paned window, waving to Ms. Janet as she buzzed me in. Ms. Janet greeted me with kind eyes, a well-worn smile, and the enthusiasm of a child. “How are you?” she asked, with an immeasurable amount of energy.
Just down the hall, I was met with equal warmth by a large group of four and five-year-old children enjoying their breakfast at clustered tables. In between spoonfuls of Rice Krispies, the children grinned at me with their gap-toothed smiles and milk-stained upper lips.
“Hi Miss Parthena!” they shouted.
These eighteen gleeful faces belong to the oldest children at a Wilmington child care center where I have volunteered for three years.
The Guardian Angel Child Care Center – part of the Ministry of Caring (www.theministryofcaring.org) – was established in July of 1998 for children ages one to five with the goal of providing affordable child care for working families with incomes insufficient to purchase private child care.
This non-profit child care center survives primarily on grants and donations. However, due to various cuts in funding, the center has suffered the loss of two key programs.
Ms. Janet, the center’s director, said that the center lost both its Tech Stars for Tots and Jump Bunch grants, which provided computer lessons and exercise instruction respectively.
Through Tech Stars for Tots, children were instructed in small groups with the aid of a laptop or tablet. These weekly lessons occurred without fail for fourteen years, and just this month, they were cancelled indefinitely.
Anthea Piscarik, Grants Development Supervisor, explained that Tech Stars for Tots had been subsidized initially by the Red Clay School District.
“Over the last several years, the Ministry of Caring had to take over supporting the program financially. We’ve gotten a few grants, but never enough to keep going,” she said.
Piscarik said that the program costs around $11,000 a year. “That’s six dollars and fifty cents for fifteen minutes per student. It’s an expensive program,” Piscarik said.
While the program may be expensive, associate Professor at the University of Delaware’s School of Education, Chrystalla Mouza, said that the use of technology in the classroom enhances children’s education.
“Research suggests that when used appropriately, technology can promote cognitive development, foster social interaction, peer teaching and collaboration through the use of open-ended software programs,” she said.
An increasing amount of schools are taking advantage of the opportunities technologies have to offer. Mouza said, “Although research is still scant in the area of mobile learning, we see more and more schools investing in mobile devices such as iPads for all segments of the student population from early childhood to elementary to special education to Advanced Placement students. In Delaware, for instance, St. Edmond’s Academy has instituted an iPad initiative for the entire middle school.”
Mouza also explained that the use of digital tools is particularly beneficial for children who do not have access to mobile devices or apps at home.
While Ms. Tina mourned the loss of the Tech Stars for Tots program, she expressed deep frustration over the cut of Jump Bunch.
I stood with Ms. Tina in the dimly lit classroom littered with cots and small, sleeping bodies. Over soothing sounds emitted from the nearby boom box, Ms. Tina told me, “The weekly exercise benefited the children the most. They need a healthy routine and some teachers are not physically able to do the activities that the instructors can.”
Piscarik said that the grant for Jump Bunch was given by a private company as startup money, but that the Ministry of Caring does not have the funds to sustain the program.
She explained various obstacles the organization faces when searching for new funding: “There are three main factors: the time line, any imminent needs arising, and the operating deficit in general.”
Piscarik also said that applying for grants is highly competitive. “Three to six months can go by after applying for a grant, and even then, we can be rejected.”
While the Ministry of Caring may not always receive grants they apply for, Piscarik said that when funders have the opportunity to meet the children, they are instantly charmed.
“Whenever I bring any funder [to the child care center], they leave feeling on top of the world. The visitors are so overwhelmed by love projected from these children,” Piscarik said.
The warmth the children show is genuine and undeniable.
While the children of Ms.Tina’s class may recognize me after some years of volunteering, I am a received with the same enthusiasm that they showed the first day we met.
I now sit on the carpet with a group of five children from Ms. Tina’s class. Each one has large headphones covering their ears.
“Are you ready?” I ask them. “Yeah!” They cheer. I proceed to press play on the CD player which produces audio of a snorting pig. The girls giggle and bring their hands to their mouths while a boy beside me taps me on the shoulder. “Is it a pig?” he asks. I tell him it is, and he shouts “Yes!” jumping up in success.
Once we have identified all the animal sounds on the CD, someone asks, “Can we do it again?” rising to their knees, eyes wide-open, waiting for affirmation. I tell them yes, and the group rejoices.
As the Ministry of Caring searches for new funding sources, you can assist them in ensuring important early-childhood educational opportunities are available for all children in our community. If you are interested in learning more or supporting them, visit https://www.ministryofcaring.org/how-you-can-help.
Ms. Janet Chandler is the dedicated site manager of Guardian Angel Care, working to improve the quality of the program for the children.
Ms. Laytina James is the talented prekindergarten teacher at the site and has experience working with children for thirty years.
Parthena Moisiadis is a 2011 graduate of Wilmington Friends School and a student at the University of Pittsburgh studying English Writing and Communication.