After expanding its pre-K program by opening it to all four-year-olds, Palestine Independent School District needed five additional classrooms at Washington Early Childhood Center. The classrooms serve an added 88 students, pushing enrollment in PISD's Pre-K program this year to 268.
The school district offered a daycare program at Washington ECC, 1020 W. Hamlett St., for almost 10 years. This summer, the daycare for teachers and school district staff, serving 40 children, moved to a renovated church building on Murchison Street, the former home of Dogwood Community Church.
Employee daycare is a benefit few other Texas school districts provide. Grapeland Schools opened an employee daycare this year, but such programs are the exception.
PISD began offering daycare at the Washington Early Childhood Center, after prospective teachers had difficulty finding daycare placements for their infants and young children. Up to this year, the full-service daycare operated alongside Washington ECC's Head Start and Pre-K programs.
Palestine ISD spokesperson Larissa Loveless told the Herald-Press that district maintenance staff remodeled the former church building in just two months. Completing most of the renovation with in-house staff, the building offers improved security, energy efficiency, and new furniture and play equipment.
Mary Brooks, the new day care's director, has cared for children for 41 years. She served as assistant director for nine years, under Principal Sheila Bradley, at Washington ECC. Brooks provided valuable assistance with the new facility's interior design and the purchasing of furniture and supplies.
“This is a blessing to have everything new,” Brooks said.
The repurposed sanctuary allows space for a large indoor playground, visibility, and proximity to the children, and much-needed shelter from the Texas heat. Outside water play is offered on Fridays in months with high temperatures.
Costs at the new facility are lower than some other local daycares. Parents pay $105 a week for infants and toddlers, and $80 a week for three-year-olds. By comparison, daycare at Evangelistic Temple costs $120 per week for infants, $115 a week for children 13 months to two years of age, and $110 per week for three-year-olds.
Palestine High School teacher Shana Hansen said the new daycare center combines quality and low cost. She loves the building's design, which offers large classroom and indoor play areas. The absence of walls, Hansen said, helps children learn rules and boundaries. “They're having to learn to be responsible for themselves,” she said.
Though daycare provided by the Palestine and Grapeland districts is available only to employees, all four-year-olds who live in PISD's area qualify for the Pre-K program at Washington ECC. For information on how to apply, call 903-731-8030.