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The Americanization of Mary Poppins

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"When you say, 'Nanny,' the first thing that pops into people's minds is Mary Poppins," observes Mary W. Mackie. "The second thing that pops into their minds is some starchy, stiff lady who raises children."

But Ms. Mackie, who is the director of The Nanny School in Philadelphia, said the old-fashioned concept of the nanny, a European tradition dating from the Edwardian era, is undergoing an Americanization.

"An American nanny, like every-one else," she says, "only carries an umbrella when it rains. She doesn't fly with it."

The Nanny School, run by the Children's Aid Society of Philadelphia, a voluntary social-welfare agency, is one of about a dozen such schools around the country. Since its October opening, Ms. Mackie says, four students have graduated; another five are enrolled in the school's second 12-week session.

"We were planning to open a day-care center," Ms. Mackie says, "but we found that a lot of families, either through preference or work schedules, preferred to have in-house care, especially for younger children."

"We're training nannies to go into your home and independently plan your child's day to take into account all of his growth and learning activities," she explains.

The potential nannies, who have ranged in age from 18 to 56 and in education from high-school graduates to people with master's degrees, learn "child-care skills, from diapering and burping a baby to planning play and learning activities," Ms. Mackie says. They also complete courses in health care and child and family relationships, and field work in private homes and day-care centers.

Upon graduation, the nannies can expect to earn between $9,000 and $15,000 a year, according to Ms. Mackie. So far, about 130 families have expressed an interest in hiring a nanny from the school.

"It's a whole new child-care career," she says. "We thought of using names like 'para-parents,' 'in-home child-care workers,' and all kinds of dull things like that. I think we're competing against an old-fashioned idea, but we borrowed the name 'nanny' because it does describe what a person does."

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