Great Expectations For Your Child Preschool Readies New West Bucktown Location
Long-time West Bucktown resident Stephanie Sellers calls herself the proud mother of five – she has three daughters (ages 9, 8 and 5), an almost 4-year-old preschool, and a brand new business venture due any day now!
The owner of Lincoln Park’s popular For Your Child Preschool, Sellers is in the final push to open her second location right here in our neck of the woods. For Your Child II is nearing completion at 2601 Armitage, at the corner of Rockwell.
“In so many ways, these preschools ARE my babies,” Sellers laughs. “They require constant love and attention, can be incredibly demanding at times, and often keep me up at night. But they bring me so much happiness in the process!”
An educator first and businesswoman second, Sellers spent 13 years at a private Chicago preschool as a teacher-turned-Director before striking out on her own to found FYC in November 2010. “Early childhood education has always been my passion,” she says. “My preschools are a business, of course, but I consider it a privilege to be able to make a living doing what I love.”
New preschools have been cropping up all over the area in recent months, but Sellers hopes her commitment to early childhood education will allow hers to stand out among the rest. The original FYC location typically has a waiting list, but parents are always encouraged to come in for a tour. “You never know when a spot will open up,” she emphasizes. "I hate turning people away."
The secret to Sellers’ success? It likely lies in her preschool’s overwhelmingly positive reputation for providing a childcare experience that goes above and beyond what is simply required by state regulators.
Take the very location of the original FYC, for example. Sellers spent months searching for just the right spot – a corner building with big picture windows and tons of natural light, plus enough space for extra large classrooms. And she’s just as picky when it comes to her staff, requiring a bachelor’s degree in education or a related child development field and a minimum one-year commitment from all new hires.
“Staff turnover and teacher burn-out can be real problems in early childhood education,” Sellers notes. “That’s why I look for people who consider this a true career, not just a job. My full-time employees are salaried with benefits, paid vacations, and sick time. Nearly 80 percent of our revenue is funneled back into our teachers in some way, such as staff development like CPR training and first aid, as well as continuing education. I think it’s absolutely critical to be personally invested in my staff because I know they are the very heart and soul of what we offer here.”
And her investment seems to be paying off. Sellers enjoys an impressive teacher retention track record that has enabled her to consistently maintain better student-teacher ratios than the state mandates. She’s also a big proponent of managing from within. She recently promoted the very first teacher she hired almost four years ago to replace her as the Director at FYC – a move that has freed her up to focus her attention on the new location.
“We’re in the home stretch,” Sellers says of her nearly 10-month project to convert a building that formerly housed Park Custom Furniture to a preschool. And like any expectant mother-to-be in the late stages of pregnancy, she’s starting to get a little antsy. “We’ve had our initial DCFS site visit and submitted all the required paperwork for final state licensing, which includes a visit from the State Fire Marshall,” she explains. Even though she’s at the mercy of the system, she’s hopeful to have DCFS approval for a late August opening.
Like its older sibling, FYC II will boast a great corner location, fabulous natural light, high ceilings, and a large, open floor plan. When it officially opens, Sellers expects to have hired 3 teachers (in addition to herself) to cover a combined infant/toddler room and preschool/pre-K classroom. She will grow as enrollment expands, ultimately topping out with a staff of about 20. FYC II will be similar in look and feel and follow the same play-based teaching philosophy as her original FYC location.
“It’s been a longtime dream of mine to be able to build something like this right in my own backyard,” she says of her new West Bucktown digs. “My family has lived here for more than 10 years, and we’ve watched the neighborhood grow and expand and become more vibrant with every passing day. There are kids everywhere now! And to think that I might be able to play some small part in getting some of those kids started down a path of lifelong learning feels really, really good.”
It takes more than a few sprinkles — or even a full-on downpour — to keep a good neighborhood down! Despite Mother Nature's fickleness, West Bucktowners came out in droves to celebrate our third annual summer block party on Sunday, August 3 at Lucy Flower Park. Kids loved the bike parade, face painting, hair chalking, water play, tattoos, and firetruck, while young and old alike took great pleasure in dunking some really goodsports (including 1st Ward Alderman Joe Moreno) in the dunk tank.
Here are just a few photo highlights from the day — you can see the complete album here. The full album will also be made available on the WBNA website.
Many thanks to our fabulous sponsors for making this our biggest and bestest party yet!
1st Ward Office * Boulevard Sports Lounge * Bucktown Music * Canine Crews
Cortland Preschool * Cup & Spoon * Duck Duck Goose Drop-In Playground * Miko's Italian Ice
True Blue Tattoo * Twisted Scissors * Senor Pan * Urbansitter * West On North
Last month's official ribbon-cutting ceremony at Lucy Flower Park with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and 1st Ward Alderman Joe Moreno was like putting a big read cherry on top of a whipped-cream-and-fudge-sauce-laden West Bucktown sundae. Incredibly delicious!
This renovation project was a long time coming, and the wonderful women of the Maplewood & Lucy Flower Park Advisory Council (MLFPAC) deserve the lion's share of the credit for making it happen. They put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into lobbying the Chicago Park District and raising the necessary community funding to push this project along. Without their vision and perseverance, we wouldn't have had our beautiful new park to enjoy this summer. Feedback on the new Lucy has been overwhelmingly positive — and we think she looks quite smashing, if we do say so ourselves! Kudos to everyone who contributed in no small way to this wonderful West Bucktown addition.
During the renovation project, we took an almost daily photo of the ongoing construction progress. So now, as we prepare to draw this chapter in our neighborhood's history to a close, we thought it seemed only fitting to share this "time-lapse" video of Lucy's transformation with everyone:
The next issue of the WindowBox is tentatively scheduled for distribution in October.
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