OLD SAYBROOK — Just two years after opening its doors, Bright & Early – a daycare and private preschool – in Old Saybrook is expanding. On November 1, five additional classrooms for a total of 44 new full-time students from infants through preschoolers will be added to Bright & Early’s current enrollment of 138.
More than half of those not-yet-available spots are already filled.
“My director Kara said to me we are completely filled and we have a waiting list of 13 families and another 12 families that are pregnant,” said April Lukasik, the president of Bright & Early. “Our neighbor Godiva Chocolates decided to leave and the landlord called me and asked if I was interested and I said absolutely.”
Renovations of the former Godiva Chocolatier, at 139 Mill Rock Road, began this week and will take about two months. The additional space will provide not only new classrooms, but also a second indoor gym for toddlers to take music and movement classes.
“The surge came in like a wave and we couldn’t keep up with the demand,” Lukasik said. “I had a woman in my office crying today, my Old Saybrook director told me, when I heard that story I knew we had to renovate and we had to expand.”
Lukasik said this sort of continuous, rapid growth was quite different from what she experienced when opening her other four centers. Part of the reason, she said, is because there is not much competition.
Before Bright & Early opened in Old Saybrook in 2017, there was no large, high quality center in the region. The majority of daycare and pre-kindergarten facilities were small or family home-based, most of which lacked the kind of curriculum that is offered at Bright & Early.
“Most of our families are from Old Saybrook, but some of them are also driving West toward New Haven and drop their kids off on the way,” Lukasik said. “We have Chester, Killingworth, Essex and Old Lyme and much of the shoreline.”
Bright & Early will not remain the only larger option in the region for long, however. This fall, a free public pre-k program is launching in Old Lyme, with 55 students currently registered, and parents contacting the schools every week to express interest, said Ian Neviaser, superintendent of Lyme-Old Lyme schools.
“We have two additional classrooms with about 31 new kids compared to our previous peer to peer program,” Neviaser said. “We are hearing all the time that people are moving here for the pre-k specifically.”
2-1-1 Child Care, a statewide child care resource and referral agency supported by the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood, estimates that full-time child care costs families on average $15,756 every year for each child. According to Beth Bye, commissioner of Early Childhood, that’s part of the reason that a free high-quality option can be a great draw for parents.
Expanded pre-k in Old Saybook?
The Town of Old Saybrook is also discussing whether to institute an expanded pre-kindergarten program for 4-year-olds, potentially for the 2019-2020 school year. That program, unlike Old Lyme, would not be provided to all families without cost.
“We are doing our best to follow the position the State seems to be taking to address education for our youngest students,” said Jan Perruccio, superintendent of schools in Old Saybrook. “So far, we are working to make our existing early childhood program more accessible to all by applying for Care 4 Kids eligibility status.”
Care 4 Kids is a childcare subsidy program administered by the Office of Early Childhood that helps low to moderate income families pay for childcare expenses. The program offers subsidies to families with infants and children up to age 13 with a household income up to 50 percent of the state’s median income. In 2019, a family of four earning up to $56,275 would qualify.
If Old Saybrook’s expanded pre-kindergarten program is able to accept Care 4 Kids funding, it will offer an option for those families.
Bright & Early already accepts children with Care 4 Kids subsides, and helps guide families through the application process. Lukasik said she does not see a nearby free public option as threat to her business.
“I’m not at all concerned about public pre-k. We offer care from 6:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Once they have their baby with us and their toddler they choose to stay because they know the level of care and attention their children get,” said Lukasik. “Our preschool program is very academic. It is an individualized curriculum system that observes developmental stages in each child. We are the boutique child care center.”
Old Lyme will be providing before and after care at Center School, in the same location as pre-kindergarten classes. After care is also offered by Grasshopper Green Preschool, a private preschool in Lyme. The Westbrook YMCA also provides before and after care.