(NewsNation) — Monae Joyner was a senior in high school and pregnant when she walked through the doors of Advance Preschool for the first time. She was looking for child care, but says she found so much more: education, a career, parenting help and what has become a family.
In fact, more than a decade later, Joyner is working toward becoming a director at Advance Preschool. The school, located in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, offers a unique program training young, single or poor parents, providing not just a job but free certifications or college degrees, free child care, help with transportation costs and even paid time to do homework.
“It really cultivated a more mature woman in myself,” Joyner said. “This opportunity opened the door for much success to follow.”
Parents looking for child care can also opt to apply and interview for a job. Once someone is hired, owner Kimberly Bianchini works with them to create a schedule to fit in working and taking classes.
Meanwhile, the kids are learning skills to help them socially and mentally prepare for kindergarten. Advance also has before- and after-school program for kids 12 and younger that works with local schools to reinforce what’s being learned in classrooms.
Creating such a program was not in Bianchini’s plan when she opened in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, in 1999. Yet she began noticing a trend: Many of the families were facing challenges that could affect how well a child performed in school in the future.
“We have a diverse population of low-income families, we do have a lot of single moms, we have some teen moms, we have a lot of English as a second language, we have some (who’ve experienced) domestic violence,” Bianchini said.
These parents didn’t just need child care, she said. They also needed secure and flexible jobs that let them be parents first. They needed to finish high school or college degrees. And they needed a community that would support them and their children during life’s hiccups.
“Children can’t learn until they’re comfortable and safe,” Bianchini said. “Our whole goal is to ensure that families achieve self-sustainability and achieve a positive home environment that will hopefully produce some very good citizens later on.”
Renee Dayment began working at Advance in 2005, after she dropped out of college due to family financial issues. When she had her son, she relied on the wisdom of other workers.
“I’m a single mother … (and) I didn’t have a maternal figure there to help me through those early stages,” Dayment said. “The ladies who worked in the infant room, who had been there for so long, who could give me advice or tips or just someone to talk about it with … it was a great network of women.”
Today Dayment is the preschool’s assistant director, working toward an associate’s degree at Harper College, and considering getting a bachelor’s degree after that. She’s one of many staff members taking classes in early child education. Her classes are online, but professors have even come to the preschool to teach.
Dayment says all the services the preschool offers families make obtaining an education attainable. The program is funded through a mix of state and local government grants that support early childhood education, as well as scholarship programs for adult students.
Key to the success is the passion of Bianchini, who is also a bit of a grant writer and social worker in addition to her role as director. Without someone taking on multiple responsibilities, it might be difficult to re-create this model, and many workers said the culture in their workplace is uniquely special.
The efforts are paying off for the kids, too.
“What we’ve been able to track from the teachers at their receiving schools (is that they) have been amazed in the way that our children are prepared,” Bianchini said. “Children that go and attend our facility are more well prepared, more socially developed, and able to move into a kindergarten or first-grade program more easily.”
According to data provided by Advanced Preschool, over the last 10 years the facility’s kids have scored 82% above average for kindergarten readiness, and 78% of students with special needs experience significant growth in their area of need.
Further, 84% of their kids graduated high school, although they’ve only had two years of data to analyze.
The preschool has also earned a gold quality rating, which is the highest given by the State of Illinois, and is planning to open a new location soon to meet the needs of their growing “family.”
“We’ve been here so long now … a lot of the children that I serviced 20 years ago are now bringing their children back or are now employees,” Bianchini said.