Zarin sees his mother, Anna Sims, as she walks into the early childhood center, "Science Sprouts." (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

The Discovery Center is opening 30 new child care spots this year in response, in part, to the Springfield Daily Citizen’s and KY3’s Child Care Crisis series.

The Child Care Crisis series is a reporting project that looks at the sustained challenges facing working families, and potential solutions to one of Greene County’s most complex — and high stakes — problems. 

“While we have been listening to parents over the phone, online and through Facebook messenger for years now, the stories definitely pushed me into doing it this way,” Rob Blevins, executive director of the Discovery Center, said in an email Friday morning. “I’m truly saddened by what I’ve learned these past few years and by what I’m reading.”

The Discovery Center is a 60,000-square-foot science center and children’s museum filled with hands-on and engaging educational equipment located in Downtown Springfield. 

The Discovery School at the Center, which is embedded inside the center, will soon be enrolling pre-kindergarten students, and the Science Sprouts Discovery School, which is located at 3447 W. Farm Rd. 168, will now be accepting 1-year-old children all the way through 6-year-old pre-K students.

Science Sprouts Discovery School is located at 3447 W. Farm Rd. 168. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

Blevins sent out a news release announcing the changes. 

“As a community-funded nonprofit for over 25 years, The Discovery Center has consistently sought to listen, identify mission-driven programming, and meet the needs of the community,” the release read in part. “With waitlists for child care in Springfield, Missouri and Greene County often stretching from 6 months to a year or more, the Discovery Center has once again moved swiftly by expanding programming and adding capacity to their child care program, Science Sprouts, and to their private K-8 STEM school, The Discovery School at the Center.”

The Center is adding spots for 30 more children, bringing their overall school capacity to 120.

Blevins said on Friday morning that the center can fill those new spots immediately because the center did not have a waiting list — yet.

One of many play things inside the Science Sprouts Center. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

The cost is anywhere from free to $250 a week.

“Child care wasn’t a great situation before COVID, and what we’re seeing and hearing now is that it’s creating desperate families and that it’s going to have lasting impacts on our kids educational outcomes, cause poverty rates to rise again, and lead to a less safe community for years to come,” Blevins said in the release. “None of us live in a vacuum. We should all be extremely concerned about what this community will look like 20 years from now if we don’t go upstream and start fixing these problems now.”

Staffing during the pandemic has not been as challenging for the Discovery Center, the release said. Child care lead teachers start out at $15 an hour with benefits, and the Center’s leadership team consistently seeks to treat their team members how they would like to be treated.

“We try not to ask anyone to work overtime,” Blevins said in the release. “Sometimes people volunteer to do it, but we aim to give them that time back later. We have a culture of care. These are the people we trust with our kids, so they need to be treated like the incredibly valuable people that are. Their work is important. They are important.”

For information about the child care spots, visit www.discoverycenter.org/school (which has information about all programs) and www.discoverycenter.org/preschool.

A staff member at Science Sprouts feeds baby Zarin. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

The Discovery Center shifted gears during the pandemic

The following is from the news release:

The Discovery School opened in August of 2020 as a response to COVID-19’s impact on local students and their families. After serving the community through groundbreaking child care and learning support, the Discovery Center took those same safety models and created an in-person learning experience paired with their innovative STEM education. 

Initially, the goal of the school was to provide adaptive in-person learning through the COVID-19 pandemic and support families who were experiencing frequent changes to their children’s schooling experience. 

Thanks to partners like the Ozark Area Community Action Corporation (OACAC), the Discovery Center has been able to serve 30 percent of the school population who come from families living at least 125 percent below Missouri’s poverty line. 

Students have access to the science center in addition to opportunities like partnerships with NASA, local universities, the Smithsonian, visual and fine arts instruction, foreign language, and physical education. 

In 2021, the Discovery Center won the prestigious Yass Prize in Education presented by the Center for Education Reform and Forbes.

The Discovery Center pivoted multiple times during the ongoing pandemic to serve local families. 

The Center has offered free child care to healthcare workers and first-responders; launched Learning Support Care for students in Springfield Public School’s blended learning model; created a tutoring program to help struggling students and families get current on school assignments; opened a new private STEM school, the Discovery School, which focuses on project based, strengths based, and adaptive in-person learning through full COVID safety models; launched a high quality, education intensive STEM based preschool called Science Sprouts Discovery School; started classrooms to provide drop-in care to full-time virtual students.

(Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

Jackie Rehwald

Jackie Rehwald is a reporter at the Springfield Daily Citizen. She covers housing, homelessness, domestic violence and early childhood, among other public affairs issues. Her office line is 417-837-3659. More by Jackie Rehwald