BURRILLVILLE – With more than 20 years working in the industry, Jessica Wilhelm says that for her, child care and education is more of a calling than it is a job.
Wilhelm, a Glocester resident, opened the Burrillville Children’s Academy this week, bringing a new option for day care to area families.
Located in Echo Plaza on Church Street in Pascoag, the new business has been fully renovated to hold play space and classrooms for young learners. The academy opened on Monday, Dec. 5, and is now accepting children age six weeks through school age.
Wilhelm, who notes she’s been working in child care since her first job in high school, previously spent 17 years at a large child care center in her home town of Glocester.
“I broke away and never thought I would open on my own,” she said.
After leaving the longtime employer, Wilhelm entered the corporate world, but says she couldn’t shake the feeling something was missing in her life. She notes it was last Christmas when best friend Ashley Dubey – now the academy director – brought up the idea of opening their own center. Discussions began and soon after, Wilhelm found the Pascoag space, large enough to eventually accommodate up to 75 kids.
“I felt like this was home,” Wilhelm said. “I realized I have a calling here, and I wanted to open my own academy.”
That feeling of “home,” she notes, was important to her for the type of business – and the experience she hopes to create for parents.
“You’re dropping off your pride and joy to us, and you want to make sure you’re in the right place,” Wilhelm said. “It’s really important to me that the parents who put children here are comfortable.”
The owner says she chose the space in Burrillville because there’s a lot of need for the service in town, including before and after school care – and also because she didn’t want to create competition for her former employer. She notes that in Burrillville, the academy will accommodate children of all different needs and developmental levels, with a focus on sensory output and gross motor opportunity.
“We believe that children learn through hands-on, purposeful play,” Wilhelm said. “We engage children in their interests, and incorporate learning through that.”
Parents, she said, will find that BCA operates in some ways as a traditional day care, and in others as a bit more innovative.
“We are outside the box thinkers,” said Wilhelm, noting that often, even young kids are expected to arrive at daycare knowing skills such as how to sit in circles and wait their turn. “I think we forget that those are learned things. We have to teach them.”
Sometimes, she notes, a child may not be able to sit still on a particular day – but that doesn’t mean they can’t learn. For example, she said, when a group of children recently had trouble paying attention during story time, the staff sang and did movements from the lesson instead.
“They learned, and they had that learning engagement experience,” she said. “We want to make sure these children are still children, and enjoying all of the fun things of being a child.”
At the preschool level, she notes, the academy does focus on kindergarten readiness.
“By the time they leave our preschool setting, they do have the ability to sit and wait,” Wilhelm said.
BCA follows the Rhode Island Early Learning and Development Standards as well as Creative Curriculum, and partners with early intervention and local school district, along with other state resources.
“Our goal is to make sure the children meet their developmental milestones,” said Wilhelm, pointing to BCA’s curriculum and lesson plans.
She notes that the center accepts subsidies including CCAP, and she’s happy to point parents who need it in the direction of resources.
“Some parents don’t know what is available for their child,” Wilhelm said.
The academy was initially scheduled to open in June, but the business owner notes that finding contractors and materials in the current market has been a challenge. The space previously held Stonewall Veterinary Center and construction saw some areas stripped down to almost the beams.
“It was a learning curve,” Wilhelm said of the long wait and construction process. “We tried to stay positive.”
Many parents initially scheduled to enroll in June eventually went elsewhere, but BCA still opened this week with ten children to start. And while she’s still finishing work on some of the classrooms, Wilhelm’s new center already has capacity for 40 kids, with space for 75 once it’s complete.
The academy is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
“I know there’s a need out there for working families,” Wilhelm said.
To learn more, or enroll your child, stop in at 9 Church St.; call (401) 854-7529; or email firstname.lastname@example.org.