Twenty-seven years ago, Southampton resident Kathleen Tillett Davis started a special day-care program in her home for the preschool children of working parents.
David called it “Fountain of Youth,” but unlike Ponce de Leon’s apocryphal quest for healing waters that would turn older ages young, Davis obviously saw her mission the other way around — to ensure that young children who otherwise might not have a chance at early education as play would drink up activities and learning experiences that could provide them with essential cognitive and social skills to compete successfully in later life.
Since January 2001, the center has been located at David White’s Lane in Southampton. Though Davis died last year, her vision to establish and sustain “safe, nurturing, low-cost daycare services” goes on, under the leadership of director Rachel Copt, a former public school teacher with a Masters in Art Education, K-12, and an enthusiasm that’s apparent as soon as she says hello.
Copt, who has just completed her second year as director, says that “special” indeed applies because the enterprise, now called the Southampton Day Care Center Fountain of Youth (SDC), is the only not-for-profit provider of full-time day care in the local area — five days a week, 7 a.m.–6 p.m., year round. In addition to Copt, the staff includes two certified teachers, three teacher’s aides and a part-time bookkeeper. A diverse 10-member board, all year-round local residents, oversees policies.
Adjustable parent fees make up 44 percent of revenue, government contracts 39 percent, with village, town and county grants accounting for 12percent, and local fundraising activities 5 percent. And then there are volunteers who continue to assist by way of donating goods and services. “This is truly a community effort,” Copt says. Still, she’s surprised that even after so many years, she’s sometimes asked if SDC is a drop-off, babysitting kind of place. No way!
SDC is maxed out at 30 children who are divided into a toddler room, approximately 10 children (ages 2-3), and Pre-K (ages 4-5), and welcomes children “of all races, creeds, colors and national origins.” Approximately 25 percent of the children are Latino, 20 percent African American and the rest white. Keeping it small keeps the sense of community, Copt says, noting that all the families know each other. Through flyers, and now the internet, SDC lets the community know about its good work, though the main source of information seems to be word-of-mouth, especially among working single mothers. The full-day children get breakfast and snacks (parents provide lunch), and the preschoolers get bussed in by way of a transportation arrangement with the Southampton School District.
Whether parents opt for full- or half-day care, they can expect an age-appropriate curriculum at SDC that focuses on language development, social skills, fine motor skills (learning to use writing and cutting instruments), large motor skills (athletics in the new playground), and music and art, with attention to “child-initiated projects” and “child-choice activities.” The idea is to develop the whole child, a philosophy articulated by the National Association of Education of Young Children that says play is “one of the most profound means available to children for refining and integrating their knowledge, language development, social skills, self-esteem and individuality.”
Some parents now opt for half-day care since the Southampton schools have instituted Pre-K. If children need services beyond those provided by the center, such as special speech or physical therapy, SDC works with the Department of Social Services of Suffolk County to connect them. Overall, Davis’s vision is being realized. Miss Charlene, a toddler head teacher says, “We provide the setting for learning, and it’s amazing to see the growth happen by the time children enter the Pre-K room.”
This “fountain of youth” has become a font of knowledge!