Snugly tucked in a corner of the 4th floor at Central Campus is a place called Teddy Bear Town, population 20 beautiful babies and toddlers.
“I love it here!” said Tiana Turner, and she could as well have said we, judging by the smile on the face of her four-month-old son Deshawn, who’d just awakened from a nap.
Teddy Bear Town is an onsite daycare facility, operated jointly by Scavo Full Service High School and Children & Families of Iowa (CFI). As of last week, that’s officially the Five Star onsite daycare facility, as designated by the State of Iowa’s Quality Rating System.
Five stars = A+.
“This is big,” said Lyn Marchant, Scavo’s Community School Coordinator.
“This is awesome,” said Principal Rich Blonigan.
Iowa’s QRS is a rating system for all types of childcare providers including private homes, licensed childcare centers/preschools, and programs operated by school districts. Five star status is hardly the norm. It’s conferred only after a thorough application/assessment process that culminates with an onsite review and inspection.
“We started the process over a year ago,” said CFI’s Sam Harms-Kedley, who’s in charge. She’s essentially the mayor of Teddy Bear Town, and chief mood-setter. “The application’s over a hundred pages. We finished it in February, the state visit was in early April, and on April 30, we were notified that we got five stars. I screamed.”
Not that she was surprised, or that anyone familiar with the place was.
In the private sector workaday world, free onsite childcare is a trendy, first class perk. Imagine a school district that provides it for teenage moms. Besides “big” and “awesome”, it’s lifesaving.
“I am more motivated with my schoolwork now,” said Turner, a senior who expects to graduate in August. “I can come down here to see Deshawn when I have free time during the day, even though I know he’s in such good hands. And I have new friends here. We all help each other.”
Aleah Johnson dropped out of school last September while pregnant with her two-month-old daughter Arie. She’s also a senior, too close to graduation to let it slip away.
“I got back in school after Arie was born,” she said. “Everyone here supports each other.”
Johnson refers to Marchant as “Aunt Lyn” and Harms-Kedley as a surrogate mother for Arie.
There is a distinct one-big-happy-family vibe about Teddy Bear Town, which also provides GRADS (Graduation Reality and Dual-role Skills) classes.
“Someone from the Young Women’s Resource Center is here regularly to teach the GRADS classes,” said Marchant. “Students learn parenting skills and get tips on managing their time and juggling responsibilities.”
The good hands that Turner feels so at ease about leaving Deshawn in every morning include Makia Coughlin’s. She graduated a year early in 2016 with the help of Teddy Bear Town after she became a mom while still in high school. Harms-Kedley told her then that she was going to hire her, and she did earlier this year when a staff vacancy arose. CFI is also helping Coughlin continue her education.
“In the fall I’m going to start classes (at DMACC) in Early Childhood Development,” Coughlin said while cooing at Deshawn so he’d smile at a photographer.
Marchant says that by the time they graduate, 13% of Scavo students have benefited from Teddy Bear Town. There are 55 currently enrolled in GRADS class, all of them either pregnant or already a parent.
Teddy Bear Town’s not a lifelong sort of place. It’s a temporary one where brand new lives get off to five-star starts and still young ones get five-star boosts. Usually, towns take pride in their schools. In this very special case, it’s the other way around.