ON DAY CARE CENTERS AND TREES … If Trees Grow In Brooklyn, Why Can’t Children?

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Who will be the leaders of tomorrow if the day care centers are closed today?, came the cry to us from Bedford-Stuyvesant’s  Alonzo Daughtry Day Care Center #3  about the push to close 15 day care centers (11 in Brooklyn including Alonzo) by the end of June.   
“If Mayor Bloomberg knew what actually occurs in our child care centers he would reconsider this hasty decision,” one teacher told us.

The parents, teachers and administrators of the highly praised Duffield Children’s Center -- one of 15 day care schools in the City reportedly slated for closure in a few months -- see buildings going up just a few feet from their Fleet Place school in Downtown Brooklyn. Center Director Betty Stromberg says, “Our children should be given a chance to grow up and stand tall in this city.” Like Kaylah, at left, whose mom Saundra Washington enrolled her on Monday.

We wondered if America’s Sustainability Mayor had visited any of the centers he plans to close, and if he talked to the parents, the teachers and observed the students.   We wondered if visits to each of the centers on the chopping block would inspire a reprieve strategy, one as effective as his brilliant master plan for increasing the number of trees in New York City, one whose marketing outreach revs full blast this April Earth Month and most likely will compete with the roar of people like the Daughtry lady who tearfully told us on the steps of Borough Hall last Monday afternoon, “These day care centers can’t be closed.  They grow leaders!”
Earlier in the day, we visited the Duffield Children’s Center located where Fleet Place and Fair Place form a cul-de-sac, one block north of the old, sturdy Department of Health building. 

Just a few feet from Duffield’s doors, backhoe loaders and bulldozer excavation machines were hard at work preparing for yet even more tall skyscrapers – and an esplanade – to join the family of steel and glass residential towers near and around Flatbush Avenue and Myrtle. 
Though the sound of engines splitting and trucks pushing dirt drowns out humanity, inside Duffield there’s something  – probably and hopefully multiplied by 15 throughout the city – that New York can be proud of.  It’s an oasis of great educational programs, creative arts, excellent science and earth programs.  Betty Stromberg, center director, took us on a tour of the site and introduced us to its students and teachers.
It’s bright, “green” and student-friendly, something so in need of being sustained, it’s hard to understand why the concept would be on the cutting board in the first place.  The school’s happy faces tell a story of why the city should take another look at how it cares for its children.  And the message it sends to families and children.
Says Norma H. Martin, Assistant Executive Director, Brooklyn Bureau of Community Services, the nonprofit that administers the center, “Duffield Children’s Center provides quality early childhood education services.
“It serves 140 children every day, not only in ACS-funded preschool but also in Head Start and After-School programs.  We use the nationally recognized, evidence-based Creative Curriculum to be sure our children are prepared for success in school.  Parents support our program and they are here with us today to say so!
Closing Duffield would mean returning half a millions dollars to the federal government every year in direct Federal funding for the Head Start program. “And it would mean turning back to private donors about $30,000 in funding every year for our literacy initiative,” she adds.
“The city may think that there is little to no need for publicly funded child care in the Fort Greene area.  But about a third of the families and children served at Duffield live there, within walking distance of the center.  They are all income-eligible for publicly funded child care.  It won’t be easy for those parents to find alternate child care services, since the City plans to close five centers in the neighborhood.  And we provide after-school services to about 40 children every day.  There is no Out of School Time program in any of the public schools in our end of Fort Greene.  There’s no other option for our children.”
She also noted that other parents choose Duffield not only because of its high-quality program, but also because it’s convenient to their employment in downtown Brooklyn. 
Douglas Brooks, BBSC Director of Children & Family Services, spoke compassionately on behalf of Duffield.  “It dispels every myth or stereotype that poor children and children with disabilities can not learn and are destined to an unhappy life.  We have the data showing our children are well-prepared.  Children do so much better in a literacy-rich environment where creative curriculum is utilized. Our mission is to strengthen families and help all children-poor, rich – reach their full potential.”
On the Borough Hall steps, Monday (12), the Daughtry and Duffield Center parents, teachers, administrators and teachers rallied for their children and all of the sites and spoke to news crews and print reporters. 
Brooks said, “We understand the city is in crisis, and some centers may need to close down.  But why close the ones that work?”   Maybe it’s a case of  not seeing the trees for the forest.