Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Look at Boutique Childcare and Preschool: Grab your yoga mat and hang on to your Sippy

Right Steps childcare and preschool is new in Philadelphia, but its creators Regina and John Reydler are no strangers to the business. Still, when I met them at the corner of 16th street and Locust and took a look at the mural of international landmarks stretching up the 28 foot walls of their new location’s foyer and great room, I had to think: this is their favorite child.

Not in the sense of parenting, because we parents never play favorites, but in terms of a teacher or mentor who after years of work had finally found the perfect union between their own talents and the subject in whom they could be fully developed.

Here it was, a former bank and historic landmark in the Rittenhouse Square section of the fifth largest metropolitan area in the country, minutes away from the Kimmel Center for the Arts and Philadelphia Museum of Art, in an area with an international population and a student body often coming from, as the Reydlers have discovered, bilingual homes. What better place to create their latest and most ambitious center dedicated to what they call a philosophy of “global education.”

It’s not just global, it’s trendy. And why shouldn’t it be, given it just opened and the Reydlers exude a kind of artistic panache?

I wanted to know more about Right Steps not because my own kids might be heading there, but because it sounded to me like an example of what’s to come both in the Philly area and in preschools and daycare centers around the country. My own kids are sorting beans and following the structured freedom created by Maria Montessori. I believe nonprofit Montessori schools will endure, but even I know it's been 141 years since Montessori was born.

What did a twenty-first century, urban, boutique childcare and preschool look like?

First, there’s the mural, which in some ways feels like a link to an artistic past. Philadelphia based artist John De Vlieger spent about ten months on scaffolding bringing the Eiffel Tower, St. Basil’s Cathedral, the Taj Mahal and hot air balloons to the lobby. That transformation was stalled, John Reydler told me, by a large and seemingly intractable bank vault that proved to be as secure as its builders probably intended.

Removing the vault was supposed to take “three to four days.” In the end, it took five weeks.

One flight up on an elevator, one finds a hall of classrooms. These were staged like the nursery of a couple heading into their 40th week—eager for occupants. Without them there, I had the advantage of seeing all of the eco-friendly furniture and low bookcases with translucent panels designed to allow teachers to observe the little hands working behind them. I also saw the room for infants whose new cribs and environmentally friendly mattresses reportedly sailed through a recent inspection.

The room for older children had a SMART board, and more important, a teacher who knew how to use it, and wireless headphones for a Phonemic Awareness Program.

Students will be served four meals a day made from organic and locally grown food, (changed seasonally) and designed by Jeanie Subach, a registered dietitian and board certified sports specialist dietitian who created nutrition programs for the Penn Wood and Glen Acres Schools (in West Chester, PA for those who don’t know) and who is also the nutritionist for the Philadelphia Eagles and 76ers (professional sports teams you probably do know.)

Regina Reydler has a background in elementary education and Right Steps is positioning itself to be a place of childcare (6 weeks) through Kindergarten, with a focus on education and enrichment through art, music, and yoga. They participate in Pennsylvania’s Keystone STARS, a quality rating system for early learning programs that gives publicly available ratings of schools based on a number of factors.

Brit Munsterteiger, the admissions director at St. Peter’s School in the Society Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia, about 1.4 miles from the steps of Right Steps, said a lot of parents come to her even before their kids are old enough to enroll at St. Peter’s.

“They are dual working, need the flexibility of an extended day, but are looking for an educationally based program first and daycare second. Right Steps is trying to fit that niche.”

Still, she said, “Philadelphia is not New York City in the early childhood education our benefit, it’s not the rat race feel.”

But it is a city. And one that is facing budget cutbacks and a potential change in the school district’s kindergarten program that might make the full day program a half day one. That could leave, as one article stated, 12,700 Kindergartners in need of “placement” for the rest of the day. How that affects the enrollment at a private center such as Right Steps is still to be seen.

But there was an aspect of the city environment that was apparent: security cameras in every room with footage streaming into two television panels in the director’s office. That office was a few feet away from the bank’s former conference room (soon to be parents' lounge) that had a wall of windows overlooking the muraled great room, giving even more opportunities to observe.

I was also told about the individual key cards that will be used for entry into the building, and the fingerprint check-in system that saves parents’ thumbprints and monitors drop off and pick up of students.

Along the lines of drop off,  John Reydler said something that probably goes to the heart of things.

“We offer parents the opportunity to feel good about dropping their child off at Right Steps instead of feeling guilty, because they know they (the child) will be well taken care of.”

If it takes a little locally grown organic spinach served after a yoga session conducted at the banks of an artfully painted Seine just before a session on the SMART board in the Kindergarten room in order to lessen that guilt, then the Reydlers are just the people to do it.

If anyone was feeling guilt, it was this stay-at-home mom who drove home from Philly wondering if my kids are less well taken care of because I stay home to take care of them.

But, that, as we all know, is a blog post for another day.....

Daycare expenses for dual working parents are not cheap, and "boutique" childcare and preschool is billed as an alternative to hiring a nanny. So what’s the comparison? When it comes to the finances, it’s most likely less.

M-F 7:30am -6pm for Infants: $1,668.33/month or about $83.41/day

M-F 7:30am -6pm for Pre K & K: $1,538.33/month or about $76.91/day

*based on tuition information for Right Steps I received in early May.


Tony Gates said...

Really- very nice school for pre education.........
Montessori Schools

Anonymous said...

My daughter was enrolled for 6 months from 2 to 2.5 years old. They did not support our efforts during potty training. My daughter did not need training pants at home, but I sent her to school with training pants on because she wet her pants everyday. Lots of turnover as a result, the student/ teacher ratio was impacted. I did like the lead teacher in that class, her support staff were not very effective. Within a week of starting the new pre-school, my daughter no longer needed to wear training pants to school and student teacher ratio is consistent.

Lunch Box Mom said...

Thank you for the comment. I am glad your daughter is doing well and you've found a good fit!

Anonymous said...

We just had to remove our son after 3 months from Right Steps. Lots of inconsistency with staff and not following protocol for the most basic and important things; feeding, diapers, supervision. The staff is all very friendly however that only goes so far when it comes to caring for your child. Now we are in the midst of finding a new school in Center City....any thoughts?

Lunch Box Mom said...

Anonymous: So sorry to hear you're searching for a new school--never easy. Could you send your email-I have a friend who may have some ideas for you.

Connie C said...

We really love Right Steps! Our 14 month old son has been here since he was 12 weeks old and the staff has always been great with him. Very responsive to our requests and his needs (for ex. following our feeding schedule). I know other people commented high turnover in the staff but I would generally disagree. The room which he was in until about 8 months old had a bit of turnover but nothing out of the norm. We have made friends with other parents and our son has really formed loving bonds with his caretakers. All and all 5 out of 5 stars!

Anonymous said...

Our daughter is three and started at Right Steps when she was 1.5. While their toddler care was good, the level of education in the preschool room went far beyond my expectations. She can sign all the letters of the alphabet and recognize most letter sounds (not just identify the letters)she can also hold a conversation in Spanish and comes home singing songs in languages I don't even recognize. In comparison to many friends who have their children in various preschools around the city, I feel as though she receives the most well rounded education possible! We couldn't be happier with our choice!

Anonymous said...

Right Steps "CAN'T KEEP TEACHERS" . There is always a turnover with staff and I as a parent I don't think that its fair to the staff and parents. I really love Ms. Chanell and Ms. KIsha as well as Ms. Christy well respected teachers and its sad to say that Ms. Kisha is the only left. I as a parent don't see consistency within Program Management and Staff. It may look good doing a tour visit, but I don't think its a quality care center. We have friends that has their child/ren enrolled, however we took our child over a situation that was covered up. Mary Beth, John and Regina should be ASAME of themselves.

Poor Quality
No Consistency

Lunch Box Mom said...

Many readers have commented on the turnover. And I am glad this has been a good forum for comments. It is so hard to find a good place for our children, and certainly hearing from others is helpful in the selection process. This blog post will be taken down soon, not to diminish comments, but so that it is not out of touch with the current facility.

Anonymous said...

Dear Lunch Box Mom

I really like your blog, however I'm a honest straight forward person. And I tell like it is. Poor Quality and Poor Consistency. That's why there are sites so we can express our concerns and views about Companies and Program Management. So I'm not on here to diminish anyone or the facility. Its a free country and we can express anything we want

Lunch Box Mom said...

Anonymous-I agree with you on the expressing concerns. Good point. What I was concerned about was that the post might have been seen as promoting Right Steps, which was not my intention. As long as that's not the case, then folks can give feedback, and they certainly should.

Fran Allison said...

Thank you for sharing the information! Being a parent, I must say it’s very difficult to settle on a preschool. It took me almost a year to find a good preschool for my 2 year old son. And at that point of time, I had no idea whether my child will be well taken care of or not. Now that he is happy, I am satisfied with my decision.