This summer, the youngest learners will start at Lycée Manuel.
What were once administrative offices have been transformed into classrooms for infants and toddlers, equipped with cribs, changing tables and small chairs. A small auditorium has been divided up and transformed into preschool classrooms filled with new toys.
A new Day Early Learning child care center is opening in a wing of the high school, hoping to serve 80 children ages 0-5 on the south side of Indianapolis.
The program is part of a vision to transform what was once one of Indiana’s worst-performing schools into an educational center for all ages, from infants to adults pursuing workforce certificates.
“The fact that it’s this structure, where we can serve infants through great-grandparents on the same campus, really serves and benefits the whole community,” said Sarah Weimer, director executive of Christel House Indianapolis.
Christel House, one of the oldest charter networks in the state, has run Manual since 2020, after a decade-long state takeover saga. Manual was among five schools seized by the state in 2012 and turned over to outside companies in what was ultimately a failed school improvement experiment.
Three of the schools have closed; Manual and one other school have returned to Indianapolis Public Schools and are each under new management.
Manuel is no longer just a high school. After a $5.5 million renovation, Christel House moved its entire south campus into the building this year, integrating its existing K-12 school alongside the last remaining classes of manual high school students. It also moved to its free adult high school for students over the age of 18 seeking to complete their high school diplomas.
It is now called Christel House at Manual. Once so underutilized that the third floor was closed, Christel House expects 1,800 pupils to fill the school during the day and another 250 pupils to come for evening classes.
When the Charter Network took over running Manual, people at public meetings expressed broad support for the childcare offering, Weimer said.
“It got the most cheers from every single person in the community,” she said. “That’s what we’ve heard over and over again is that they need more seats.”
Christel House decided to turn to an established child care provider: Early Learning Indiana, an early childhood education nonprofit that operates early learning centers.
The organization was interested in expanding to serve the south side of town, where it can be difficult to find vendors who meet the state’s highest quality standards. In the south side area bordered by I-70, I-65, and I-465, there are only 10 high-quality providers, according to the state guard services map. Many of them are clustered around the University of Indianapolis, and there are few more just beyond the freeways.
“What we would like to be able to do is say that we can serve you wherever you are,” said Maureen Weber, president and CEO of Early Learning Indiana.
To create the child care spaces in Manual, Early Learning raised approximately $2 million for construction, with significant support from United Way of Central Indiana.
Registration fees range from approximately $350 per week for infants to $250 per week for preschoolers. The center accepts On My Way Pre-K vouchers and federal child care assistance, in addition to offering tuition assistance to families at about 300% of the federal poverty level, Weber said. This equates to a family income of $83,250 for a family of four, for example.
Pre-kindergarten students will have guaranteed places in Christel House Kindergarten, avoiding the citywide registration lottery.
About half of the Day Early Learning at Manual places are filled. Although the program is open to all, all families have so far had some connection with Christel House.
Burgandie Tyson, a graduate who attended Christel House from kindergarten to 12, hopes her two children will have the same kind of experience as her. Christel House still feels like family to her, she said, with caring teachers and close friends from small grades.
When she heard about the daycare opening, Tyson asked the college and career counselor at Christel House, who keeps in touch with alumni, for more information.
“I always knew I wanted my kids to go to Christel House,” Tyson said, “and then when they opened the early learning center, it was just perfect for them to start. even earlier and that they start this routine.”
Classrooms are still awaiting finishing touches, such as the installation of soap dispensers and paper towel holders. White walls are bare as teachers wait for children to make art to put up. The first students start this week, with further start dates staggered throughout the summer. Part of that is due to the need to hire more staff, Weber said.
The partnership with Day Early Learning also includes providing drop-in childcare to students. Childcare is the biggest hurdle for adult high school students, who officials say often don’t re-enroll or drop out again because they couldn’t find reliable childcare during their classes. of the evening.
Earlier this week, a few kids hung out in drop-in classes while their parents worked on finishing welding certifications. A baby is napping in a crib. A 3-year-old played with wooden toy trucks. A girl practiced writing her name with a pencil. A boy talked on a toy phone to a preschooler holding a cup to his ear, connected by an imaginary line. He ordered a fake lunch: pizza and sushi.
The four children in the room have been playing together all morning. The two preschoolers are among the first to be enrolled in daycare.
Weimer noted the benefits of having children of all ages sharing the same building. She said sometimes these older students can act as “reading buddies and playground helpers.”
“You don’t often get that in school,” she says. “It also puts a bit of pressure on older children to make sure they step up when they are in public spaces. They have to watch their language, they have to watch their interactions with their peers, because my best friend’s little sister is watching me.
Helen Rummel is a summer reporting intern covering education in the Indianapolis area. Contact Helen at [email protected]
Stephanie Wang covers education in Indiana, including pre-K, K-12 schools, and higher education. Contact Stephanie at [email protected]