Local companies offering new, modern forms of child care

Local companies such as Seventeenth Radish and...
Local companies offering new, modern forms of child care
Kaleem Caire, founder, president and CEO of the new One City Early Learning Centers.

Whether you’re a freelancer, a member of the gig economy or an employee who clocks odd hours, you’re in good company these days if you don’t work the “standard” 9 to 5. In fact, the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that more than 53 million Americans–or one in three workers–now earn income from work not done during that once-typical eight-hour span.

While flexibility is often an asset for families, nontraditional work schedules can make it difficult to secure child care, as many centers require long-term commitments or don’t offer part-time care.

That’s exactly the conundrum that led Allison Plumer to open the Seventeenth Radish. The children’s activity studio–with locations in Verona since 2014 and Waunakee since last fall–offers flexible, temporary, part-day and drop-in care for kids ranging from 6 months to 6 years old.

“It’s just what was needed,” Plumer says. “We really want to create something that’s a modern approach to child care.”

Both sites accommodate up to 28 children and in total work with about 130 families. About 80 percent of kids are regulars; the remaining 20 percent are drop-ins. All participate in activities based on 10 rotating science curriculum themes–from astronomy to zoology–and seasonal topics.

Plumer believes the Seventeenth Radish differs from most child care options across the country. She’s now developing a model to replicate her studios elsewhere, whether within corporations that want to offer on-site child care, in day care settings in under-served communities or other places where modern approaches to care are needed.

Sound Off with Kaleem Caire, founder, president and CEO of the new One City Early Learning Centers

Local companies offering new, modern forms of child care

Why did you decide to start One City?
I was working with the board of the former Child Development Incorporated, or CDI, day care center to try to keep it opened before it closed in July 2015 under the weight of financial challenges that were revealed during its latest audit. That center had been around since 1969 and was once the most visible and supported nonprofit organization in Madison. It was a staple in South Madison. When it closed, it left just one accredited childcare center to serve families in the 53713 ZIP code, Head Start. While they do great work with children, Head Start is limited to serving children whose are at 100 percent of the poverty level or less. Also, the majority of children they served were in half-day programs. I understood the significant need there is for high quality, full-time child care in South Madison.

Additionally, our community’s extraordinary school achievement gap has been weighing heavily on my soul for more than two decades. As a native Madisonian who was raised one block from CDI, and who saw how many of my peers missed the opportunity to realize their potential, I had to do One City. I could not turn away from it.

When CDI closed its doors, I made their board and the parents who attended there a promise. We would start a new and improved center there again, and one that would work hard to ensure their children are ready to succeed in school and life. That’s when we created One City.

The same day CDI announced it was closing (July 30, 2015) was the same day we filed articles of incorporation with the state to start One City. The official founding date of the school is the same day, July 30. That day is also my birthday–I turned 44. I didn’t know whether to cry or celebrate. We also held our first fundraiser on that day.

What is the center’s premise and how does it differ from other childcare options in the area?
One City is unique in several ways.

First, our vision is to cultivate a community of healthy, happy, thoughtful and resourceful children who possess the capacity and commitment to empower others and change the world, their families and communities for the better. We want our children to develop from the start a desire and drive to learn all that they can so they can one day help others.

Second, our mission is to prepare young children from birth to age five for success in school and life, and ensure they enter grade school reading-ready. Many child care centers will tell you they share this same purpose, but is it in their mission? It is our primary purpose for being.

Third, we will achieve our vision by taking a two-generation community impact approach to cultivating young children. Children aren’t the only ones who enroll in One City; parents do as well. Through our Community Resources Office and our Institute for Child Development, we will offer informative, insightful and inspiring seminars, workshops, special events and other activities for parents and the entire family. The Institute will provide a forum for parents, volunteers and community members to learn and work together to foster the positive growth and development of children in their homes, organizations and neighborhoods, and ensure that they are ready for, and thriving in, grade school and the community. One City will also assist parents with accessing education, employment and other learning opportunities for themselves and their children, and grow their network of support in the Greater Madison community.

Fourth, the only five-star (high-quality) early learning center in South Madison is Head Start; however, 90 percent of the children they serve must come from households at 100 percent of poverty or lower. More families are at 101 to 200 percent of poverty ($24,251 to $48,500 for a family of four). One City will become a City of Madison-accredited five-star center, and increase the number of seats available in high-quality preschools in South Madison.

Finally, we are designed to provide high quality for low cost. The cost of tuition in our center is slightly below the median cost of tuition at accredited early childhood group centers in Madison. We will continue to provide affordable, accessible, and high quality preschools that prepare young children for school success.

Your previous work on Madison Prep served as a catalyst for many people in Madison to engage in helping to close the achievement gap. Are any elements from Madison Prep in play at One City?
The two-generation focus is similar, and the emphasis on preparing children to thrive in a global society and be positioned to change the world for the better is the same, too. Also, behind Madison Prep was the intention to create a movement–a movement for change in education and real opportunity for all children. Behind One City is a similar agenda–to expand high-quality and accessible early childhood education so that all families can afford to enroll their children and have their children and the community reap the short and long-term benefits.

Just like I had promised the Urban League Board of Directors before they hired me, that if they did, we would make racial equity one of the top two agenda items in Madison, and we did; it is my intention partner with my colleagues in early childhood education to do the same. In five years, early childhood education should be one of our community’s top three priorities.

Education and life sustaining jobs for families are the bedrock of individual and family success in our country. We must have it. We are determined to do our part to ensure every child has access to these opportunities, and are taking advantage of them.

Empowerment and change seem to be themes of One City. How do you apply those to young children?
First and foremost, we apply our philosophy of change and opportunity through our teachers.

Our teachers have three priorities: Ensure our children are safe, excited and happy about learning every day. Ensure our parents are well-informed about their child’s development, success and needs as we see them at our center. And everything we do and expose our children to should support our mission of ensuring all of our children are ready to succeed in school and life by the time they reach kindergarten.

Our philosophy is captured in this Info Graphic. We know that a high quality and substantive education is the bedrock of individual, family and community stability and success, and the driver of stability, innovation and success in business and government as well.

We also apply them to young children through the partnerships we have with their families and the community. Employed parents are empowered parents who can, in turn, empower their children. By helping our parents access community resources and support and provide them a safe, nurturing and high-quality place for their children to develop and learn while they work, we are helping these parents move their entire family forward. What families can and will do for and with their children is empowering.

How crucial is early education in ending the achievement gap in Madison?
Absolutely critical. For example, the Madison Metropolitan School District’s data shows that only six percent of Latino (16 of 266) and 11 percent of Black children (28 of 211) are reading at grade level in the six elementary schools serving south Madison. Children show up to school in kindergarten often already one to two years behind their white and middle-class peers. We have to equalize this advantage by ensuring that children have all that they need to develop into the strongest, wisest and most intelligent people they can be during their first five to seven years of life.

Your website states that South Madison is “a desert for early learning,” with only 34 percent of children there enrolled in high-quality early childhood centers. Why are there so few in this part of the city?
There are three reasons why. First, many parents cannot afford the highest quality of day care and preschool for their children. The Wisconsin Council on Children and Families reported that 74 percent of Black children were living in poverty in 2011 compared to six percent of white children. They simply cannot afford it. And the state’s Wisconsin Child Care Subsidy Program does not provide enough funding for families to afford to send their children to many accredited child care centers/preschools that cost more.

Second, high-quality preschool is not accessible to under-resourced parents near where they live. According to Community Coordinated Child Care of Madison, the majority of the families who make up that 34 percent reside in South Madison, the 53713 ZIP code, take their children to high-quality centers outside of the ZIP code every day.

Third, many families use whatever care they can find that they feel is safe and affordable for their children while they work. Having a place for their children while they work is vitally important. Because of the lack of availability and affordability of high quality group centers or home day cares in the communities where they reside, families are making choices based on other things that may not serve their children as well as they’d like.

As parents’ work schedules and demands change, how can, should and do childcare centers respond?
Actually, there needs to be a response from childcare providers, employers and the local community.

We believe that early childhood education should be free to all families, rich and poor, in this country. The lives of newborns should not be susceptible to their parents’ ability to pay for childcare and preschool. Early childhood education represents one of the biggest free-market scams in American history. If your parent can afford a great preschool for you from birth through kindergarten, then you win the lottery. If they can’t, then you show up to school already one to two years behind the kids whose parents won the lottery.

To address this, government needs to find ways to fund preschool education so that every child can benefit from a full-day program from birth to age 5. Right now, they need to provide resources that support the high-quality professional development of early-childhood educators–who often lack a breadth of such opportunities–and provide greater financial support to families who enroll their children in high-quality, accredited early childhood education programs, either in a home or group setting.

Early childhood centers need to be willing to open their doors to serve more disadvantaged children, and must ensure their teachers and school community is prepared to work in partnership with families to move children forward–and with high expectations.

Additionally, employers should find ways to offer subsidized child care to their employees, particularly those who earn below a certain level of wages. Doing so would have a huge impact on children, their parents, the community and the employer’s ability to retain a quality workforce.

When did One City open?
We opened in a temporary location at Fountain of Life Covenant Church at 633 W. Badger Rd. on Madison’s South Side on September 8, 2015. Presently, we are serving 18 children and our enrollment is growing. We need high quality teachers, assistant and substitute teachers and other staff to help us grow our enrollment and keep our promise to work with families to fulfill our mission.

Our future home at 2012 Fisher St. on Madison’s South Side is under renovation and we will begin serving children their in June 2016. We are still raising money to cover the full cost of the renovation, so anyone interested in helping us can give us a call at (608) 268-8004 or visit our website at onecityearlylearning.org. At our future location, we will be able to grow to serve more than 100 children. We won’t enroll more than 24 in our current location. Those talented and passionate people who might like to work for One City should visit our website and apply for one of our positions as well.

What are you most excited about in One City?
Showing the world that our children are as smart and capable as anyone else, and giving them the wings to fly from birth to adulthood so that they can create a more equitable, safe, peaceful and just world for us and future generations.

Mini but Mighty: a Q&A with Kaitlyn Kirby, founder and editor-in-chief of Mini, a Madison-based online parenting magazine

How, when and why did you start Mini?
I started Mini in the spring of 2011 when I was just in my second year of journalism school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I was a longtime lover of the Conde Nast publication Cookie–for its design and modern, style-based approach to parenting content–but it had since closed and I noticed there was really nothing else like it, especially in the digital space. Having learned the basics of magazine design in a journalism course, I went home from class one day and began mocking up covers.

I threw the idea out onto Twitter, creating an account for our publication, and had interest on day one. People wanted to know where they could buy it and if we had a website. I, of course, had nothing in place and spent the next six months researching how I would launch a digital magazine, curating content and designing a website. We launched our first “Preview Issue” in December 2011 to 10,000 readers at the end of the month (we can now reach as many as 200,000 views per issue) and we’ve been growing ever since.

Why is parenting a worthy topic, and how do you approach it?
The parenting space has really blown up within the last few years. We’ve seen dozens of new websites pop up, existing sites take on the kids category and major publishers launch spin-off parenting magazines. It’s a huge market with tons of information available–it’s just a matter of curating the pieces that people want to see.

We take a style-based approach in that we tailor our content to modern parents looking for well-designed and innovative kids and baby gear, fashion for both expecting and new moms and interviews with inspiring parents (for instance, the moms behind the Fridababy and Puj brands) that give them a glimpse of how they keep all of the plates spinning. We also love to give our audience the insight that celebrity parents are just like them–they’re sleep-deprived, they put their car keys in the refrigerator, they too are in the process of just figuring it out–which is always great to read.

You’ve featured some major celebrities in the magazine. How have you done that and what’s that been like?
We’re very lucky to have worked with celebrities like Jessica Alba, Christina Applegate, Kourtney Kardashian, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Tamera Mowry-Hardrict, to name a few. Over my five years running Mini, I’ve made numerous connections and friends in the industry that have been more than happy to collaborate with us on producing features. It’s huge to have their support, and it’s played a major part in Mini‘s success thus far. But really what I find most surprising is that many of our celebrity moms and dads have already heard of Mini!

What are some of the highlights of working on Mini?
I wear every hat. I am the founder and editor-in-chief, but that also involves being art director, copywriter, web designer, photographer, social media manager and blogger. I love being able to work every aspect of the business and the opportunities to work with such creative and inspiring parents, both celebrity and otherwise. If I find a great product or brand or fashion label, chances are there’s a parent in the mix, and being able to interview them about career and life will never stop being one of the coolest things about my job.

What have been the biggest challenges?
Just as I said I love being able to wear every hat, there are days where I’m playing art director and social media falls behind. Finding the right balance is always a challenge, as is remembering to “sign off,” if even for a few hours. Being an entrepreneur means you’re on call all day every day, especially in an industry where consistently fresh content is king.

The inability to be several places at once is also a struggle. For one issue of Mini, we may have four or five photo shoots planned from Los Angeles to New York, and some of them within hours of each other. Mini has an incredible team that helps get it all done, but unfortunately, I’m not able to be everywhere I’d like to be at any given time.

How would you characterize media coverage of parenting, and how is Mini different?
Much of the parenting coverage in the media focuses on the “right” way to be a parent, as if it’s black and white. Is it “right” to breastfeed your toddler? You remember that Time cover. Is it “right” to co-sleep? Mini is more about introducing you to many different types of parents, how different parents tackle the same challenges like being a working mom, how they manage a busy schedule, how they design a nursery. Each interview is personal, and our readers can take what they find useful.

What’s it like doing all the work you do from Madison?
It’s difficult at times, as we do a lot of work in Los Angeles and much of the Mini team is located there. In fact, many people assume we’re located on one of the coasts and are always surprised to hear we’re based in Wisconsin. It’s a lot of Skype-ing, nonstop emails and phone calls, but we make it work!

What’s next for you and Mini?
Mini is launching a new website early this year with much more content available and we’re gearing up for our first 2016 issue this spring!

Child Care and the Labor Force Statistics

13,251 The number of people in the Dane County labor force who were self-employed in 2014. The total labor force was 297,631. Source: U.S. Census

6% The percentage of Dane County’s population in 2014 that was younger than 5 years old, according to U.S. Census. The total population was 516,284. Source: U.S. Census

65% The percentage of parents who have passed up a job opportunity, stopped working or switched to a less challenging job to tend to their kids, according to a 2015 Washington Post poll.

“The annual cost of infant care in a center [in Wisconsin] is $11,579, which is over 30 percent higher than the cost of tuition at a state four-year public college.” – Child Care Aware of America, a nonprofit that works to advance affordability, accessibility and development in child care.

Mini is more about introducing you to many different types of parents, how different parents tackle the same challenges.” – Kaitlyn Kirby, founder and editor-in-chief of Mini, a Madison-based online parenting magazine.