■ BY MARGUERITE TREMELIN
The Boca Grande Child Care Center opened a new chapter in its three-decade history Monday when it announced a new name and a new chapter in early education for island kids. With an energetic logo featuring tropical colors and lively fish, The Boca Grande Preschool wants everyone to know it is far more than a play place for little kids. The logo was created by Adam Bartolata and ROI Media of North Port.
“Scholars tell us that emotional and social development in early childhood has a direct effect on the adults these children will become,” said Boca Grande Preschool Board President Angela Steffan. “That’s why the need to invest in very young children is so important, especially on our island with a community that so values education and enrichment. And that’s why our board is so excited about living up to our true identity as a preschool providing exceptional early education for island kids.”
The Boca Grande Preschool is where many island kids take their first steps in discovery and learning. Thirty children from age one to five years old are nurtured and taught by a staff of three teachers and two aides, along with Boca Grande Preschool Director Kimi Harms, who has been with the preschool for 18 years. Unlike most preschools with limited hours and September-to-May schedules, the Boca Grande Preschool is open every weekday all year to accommodate family work schedules.
All of this may be news to many islanders. Unless one has a child or grandchild there, the goings-on at the Boca Grande Preschool are not front of mind. Indeed, it’s easy to drive up and down Park Avenue all season without noticing the quiet building next to Our Lady of Mercy Church where “the magic is happening,” as Harms describes it.
The magic she refers to is the journey from infancy through toddlerhood to becoming kindergarteners with a firm foundation in friendship, manners and the education cornerstones of math, reading, science and more. When it’s time for elementary school, these children are ready to thrive.
Even board members are regularly surprised by that magic.
“We recently heard that even the youngest children there, at 12 to 18 months, are learning sign language so they can express things, needs and feelings even before they can talk,” Steffan said. “Imagine being able to communicate so clearly with a child so young.”
Among those very much in the know about Boca Grande Preschool are the parents. From the fire station to the Community Center, in restaurants, shops and salons, you can find parents who treasure bringing their children to the island with them. The children are happier knowing parents are close by, and it goes both ways.
“For our family, having my son so near to my work is one of the best things about Boca Grande,” explained Debbie Frank, a parent and programming director at the Community Center.
Not surprisingly, island businesses value this program as a critical factor in getting the best employees to come to Boca Grande.
The program began some 30 years ago as a gathering of mothers with young children. Two years in, Fr. Jerome Carosella came to Our Lady of Mercy, and he embraced the Child Care Center as a critical need in Boca Grande and an ideal mission of outreach for the church. The Boca Grande Preschool is non-denominational, but it benefits greatly from association with Our Lady of Mercy and being an accredited agency of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc.
Boca Grande Preschool runs independently, overseen by a board of community volunteers. Father Carosella continues to champion the cause of early education as board chairman.
A long-standing mission of Boca Grande Preschool is that it remains affordable to all. This goal is helped greatly by Our Lady of Mercy providing the building rent-free. Another key element is a very generous Boca Grande community which, through charitable giving, makes affordable tuition possible. At the fundraising event Monday, 150 people gathered to celebrate and support BG Preschool.
“It was a humbling and joyous night when so many answered our call to provide a firm financial foundation going forward,” Steffan said. “It allows us to remain affordable, while expanding curriculum, teaching tools and professional development opportunities.”
The Boca Grande Preschool board invites everyone to take a look inside an island treasure by watching a new video about the school. You can find it online at blitzstudios.video.