Family Ties

November 01, 1989 3 min read

Located in a 3,000-square-foot space on the first floor of a threebuilding complex, the St. Paul facility offers part-day kindergarten for 4- and 5-year-olds, with child care for the remainder of the day.

The bank is providing rent-free space, while the district supplies staff and materials, and pays for building renovations.

The staff members include a kindergarten teacher and an aide from the city school system, as well as two child-care professionals from the district’s “Discovery Club,’' which offers extended-day care at seven city schools. The school offers two and a half hours of kindergarten for all students, another two and a half hours for 5-year-olds, and Discovery Club for both groups.

David Bennett, superintendent of the St. Paul schools, says that the project meets many different kinds of needs. It allows the district to test an innovative concept, he says, while also helping it cope with a shortage of classroom space and save on building and transportation costs.

Moreover, the school will benefit downtown workers and help lure prospective employees, notes Barbara Roy, the bank’s assistant vice president of community affairs. The bank sees the school as a way of extending its “family-sensitive practices’’ and fostering “community good will,’' says Roy.

A similar school launched about two years ago in Dade County, Fla., has already yielded major benefits to the firm that opened it in conjunction with the local school district. According to Phillip Sharkey, senior vice president of human resources for the American Bankers Insurance Group, the company involved, the project has reduced staff turnover, absenteeism, and tardiness. “When you eliminate these, there is a tremendous increase in productivity,’' he says.

In St. Paul, bank employees had first priority to enroll their children, but the school was also opened to the children of other downtown employees. Eight of the 21 students are children of government employees and other downtown workers.

The state’s new open-enrollment law enabled the school to sign up children whose parents work in St. Paul but live in other areas. The policy, which allows pupils to transfer to public schools outside their home districts, made the school possible, Bennett says.

Parents have been attracted both by the potential quality and security of a program associated with the public schools and by the convenience of not having to transport children elsewhere for child care. The program also allows them to spend more time with their children--during their ride to work and their midday break.

“They can have lunch with the child, or buy those new shoes they need,’' Roy says. “They can be there in a minute if the child doesn’t feel well, or if they need to meet with the teachers.’'

Barbara DeVahl, a commercialbanking assistant whose child is enrolled in the school, says the arrangement enables her and her husband, who works nearby, to spend more time with their daughter, and gives her a better feeling for their workplace. “It will also allow us to be more actively involved in the education process,’' she says.

The district pays for the kindergarten component, while parents pay $75 a week for day care for 4year-olds and $70 a week for 5-year-olds. Those rates are “on the low end’’ of the market rate, district officials say.

Anne Mitchell, an associate dean at the Bank Street College of Education in New York City, praises the worksiteschool, child-care concept as a positive development, but warns that it could be problematic “from the perspective of equity and desegregation.’'

“Unless you can assume that all workplaces are integrated,’' she says, “you will have a select group of people’’ enrolling their children in workplace schools.

Program officials note, however, that they have worked out a way to tap county funds to provide reduced rates to some low-income parents.

“When you are dealing with very large companies with such a diverse employee base, it becomes a microcosm of the metropolitan area,’' Bennett says.

--Deborah L. Cohen, Education Week

A version of this article appeared in the November 01, 1989 edition of Teacher as Family Ties