Still filling large need for pre- and after-school care
By Gretchen Parisi, Special to The Times
In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a “war on poverty,” the St. Louis Cardinals beat the New York Yankees 4-3 in the World Series, Mary Poppins was in movie theaters and “Beatlemania” was taking over the nation. Locally, 1964 also marked the opening of the Tick Tock Early Learning Center in Avondale, which is celebrating its 50th year of providing affordable, reliable child care and quality early childhood education for the children of low-income workers in Southern Chester County.
The idea for Tick Tock began when the Race Relations Committee of the Kennett Friends Meeting voiced concerns that some of the area’s disadvantaged students were struggling in school. The Committee recognized the need for educational outreach before children reached kindergarten, so with little fanfare and a great number of dedicated volunteers, Tick Tock soon was founded and moved into its home in the former Tic Toc Bar in Toughkenamon. It has been evolving and expanding ever since.
Today, Tick Tock is a private, nonprofit corporation that serves children ages 18 months through 7th grade, including before and after-school care for school-age children. In addition to preparing preschoolers to succeed in kindergarten and beyond, Tick Tock helps low-income working families receive quality child care at rates they can afford. The current cost for full-time care ranges from $84 to $214 per week, based on a sliding scale, Tick Tock Executive Director Jackie Maas explained. “The scale is based on the income in the home and the number of people in the home, which addresses the reality of the family situation,” she said. “All of our parents work and all of our parents pay.”
With its student body near maximum capacity (105 students) and dozens more children on a waiting list, it is clear that Tick Tock fills a burgeoning need in the community. “I am grateful for the forward-minded women who started Tick Tock knowing that if families were going to set down roots in this area, mothers would need support in caring for their children while contributing to their family’s income,” said Marianne Maye, president of the Tick Tock volunteer Board of Directors.
Tick Tock maintains its original mission but has modified program to accommodate area families’ needs. When the demographics of the Center moved from largely African American to Latino, Tick Tock’s leadership embraced the change. “We have been flexible and responsive to the community over the years,” Maas said. “At first all of the students spoke English, but as our population evolved into a primarily Spanish-speaking one, we’ve added bilingual staff, now provide certified interpretation in parent meetings, and have invested in bilingual educational materials.”
Pedro Cruz, a teacher at Tick Tock since 1975, was the first bilingual teacher hired. “There has been a lot of change over the years – in the beginning we were in a small building with no computers, and now we have a larger building with more modern educational tools,” Cruz said. He noted that although the specifics of the Center’s operations have changed, the Center’s goal has remained the same – getting children ready for academic success. “Children are more comfortable when they go to school because they are prepared,” Cruz said.
Tick Tock is not only a “safe place for kids to be” – it also creates “a sense of community and belonging for the kids and parents,” according to Rosa Quintana, a former Tick Tock parent, as well as a former Tick Tock employee. “I appreciated the fact that it was a bilingual child care with a focus on education,” Quintana said. “Everyone was always friendly, welcoming and open to any parent concerns,” she added. Quintana, who now holds a master’s degree in social services and law and policy, is an active member of the Tick Tock Board of Directors, “because I wanted to give back what I was given.”
Maye remarked that Tick Tock’s English-immersion approach, “as well as the acceptance of all cultures, personalities, backgrounds and practices, is woven into daily practice in the way I believe it should be in the larger community. These children are learning to be responsible community members who value education.”
At present, Tick Tock has many accomplishments to celebrate. These include:
• Raising the funds to buy its building several decades ago;
• Making investments in staff, many of whom have worked for Tick Tock for more than five years (standard industry turnover rate is 30 percent);
• Encouraging volunteers, from youth groups to high school students to adults, to contribute to Tick Tock’s mission and success;
• Advocating for children, early childhood education and family issues at the local and state levels;
• Earning a STAR 4, the highest rating awarded by the Pennsylvania Keystone STARS Quality Child Care Assurance Initiative; and
• Building a new, state-of-the-art outdoor learning space.
Next on Tick Tock’s wish list are a kitchen renovation (the kitchen was last renovated when the Center served only 50 kids) and a building expansion to better serve the existing students.
To celebrate Tick Tock’s 50th birthday and help raise funds for upcoming projects, on May 31 the organization is hosting a “Party in the Preserve,” a casual celebration at the Natural Lands Trusts’ ChesLen Preserve from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tickets are $75 per person or $125 per couple. For additional information, please call (610) 268-8134.