CHILD CEN­TER WANTS AN­SWERS

Lit­tle An­gels forced to shut doors in En­gle­wood with de­nial of fund­ing

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY MANNY RAMOS AND SAM KELLY Manny Ramos is a corps mem­ber in Re­port for Amer­ica, a not-for-profit jour­nal­ism pro­gram that aims to bol­ster Sun-Times cov­er­age of Chicago’s South and West sides. Sam Kelly is a CST Wire re­porter.

An early child­hood learn­ing cen­ter in En­gle­wood for 26 years was forced to shut its doors for the fore­see­able fu­ture af­ter the Chicago Depart­ment of Fam­ily and Sup­port Ser­vices de­nied its pro­posal for fund­ing.

More than half of Lit­tle An­gels Learn­ing Cen­ter’s oper­a­tional bud­get came from city fund­ing. Par­ents and staff of the learn­ing cen­ter, 6701 S. Emer­ald Ave., have been en­gaged in a nearly year­long fight to get the city to ex­plain why Lit­tle An­gels’ $300,000 pro­posal was turned down and for the city to re­store fund­ing.

The learn­ing cen­ter was pre­vi­ously awarded more than $3 million from the city and state to build a new fa­cil­ity on a va­cant lot across the street from the church base­ment it works out of now. But Lit­tle An­gels can’t break ground with­out guar­an­teed day-to-day fund­ing.

Ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Nashone Greer-Adams said she wants to find a so­lu­tion to the fund­ing prob­lem, but city of­fi­cials haven’t kept com­mu­ni­ca­tions open with them. Two meet­ings with the mayor’s chief of staff and the deputy mayor for ed­u­ca­tion and hu­man ser­vices were abruptly can­celed last week.

“We’ve been in this fight for al­most 10 months now ask­ing for trans­parency, ask­ing for clar­ity and, as of this date, we still haven’t received [any] clar­ity,” Greer-Adams said. “We know that [Mayor Lori Light­foot] is con­cen­trat­ing on high-qual­ity pro­gram­ing, so we don’t un­der­stand why our high-qual­ity pro­gram­ing is be­ing ripped away from us.”

Greer-Adams said the cen­ter’s re­ten­tion rate is over 90%, and 87% of its stu­dents go on to se­lec­tive en­roll­ment schools. A his­tory of suc­cess, she said, is why the city awarded the cen­ter the money to ex­pand in the first place.

Lit­tle An­gels orig­i­nally lost fund­ing in 2019 when the Depart­ment of Fam­ily and Sup­port Ser­vices launched a new ap­pli­ca­tion process for early learn­ing cen­ters that pri­or­i­tized pro­grams that ad­vanced kinder­garten readi­ness and had lower child-to-adult ra­tios, higher teacher salaries and a more strin­gent staffing qual­i­fi­ca­tions.

The city had said more than 150 learn­ing cen­ters city­wide ap­plied, and those pro­pos­als were graded on a point sys­tem. Only 101 were granted some fund­ing, to be­gin in De­cem­ber 2019. Many of the oth­ers were forced to cut ser­vices or shut­ter. The Catholic Char­i­ties of the Arch­dio­cese of Chicago closed three of its learn­ing cen­ters as a re­sult of un­der­fund­ing.

Although Lit­tle An­gels’ ap­pli­ca­tion was de­nied, it received fund­ing through a City Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion that helped 25 early learn­ing cen­ters re­main open un­til the end of June.

On July 1, that fund­ing dried up, and Lit­tle An­gels was forced to close its doors.

Quen­jana Adams Olayeni, spokes­woman for the Depart­ment of Fam­ily and Sup­port Ser­vices, said the city has worked closely with Lit­tle An­gels and other cen­ters that lost fund­ing. She said the depart­ment’s ef­forts in­cluded the fund­ing that got these cen­ters through June, as well as con­sult­ing ser­vices to help them pre­pare for when the fund­ing ul­ti­mately dried up.

“[Depart­ment of Fam­ily and Sup­port Ser­vices] has a team ded­i­cated to as­sist­ing fam­i­lies with find­ing al­ter­nate pro­grams if they’re faced with lim­ited avail­abil­ity within their cur­rent pro­gram or neigh­bor­hood,” Olayeni said.

But look­ing for al­ter­na­tive pro­grams doesn’t sit right with par­ents who re­lied on Lit­tle An­gels over the years.

For weeks, par­ents and ed­u­ca­tors with Lit­tle An­gels have camped out in front of Light­foot’s Lo­gan Square home de­mand­ing a sit-down con­ver­sa­tion. Lately they’ve been hold­ing classes out­doors near Light­foot’s home to show that Lit­tle An­gels isn’t just a day care.

Cherelle Bi­lal, a par­ent or­ga­nizer, said not only did Lit­tle An­gels pro­vide qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion for her chil­dren but also helped her sur­vive do­mes­tic violence.

“They helped me es­cape that violence and es­cape that com­mu­nity and flour­ish,” she said.

Bi­lal said she was able to go back to school and work on an early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion de­gree. She said the learn­ing cen­ter’s wrap­around ser­vices, such as fam­ily bond­ing classes and ca­reer growth pro­grams, will be missed if Lit­tle An­gels is forced to stay closed.

“If you take this out this com­mu­nity, you will be tak­ing away a safe haven,” she said.

Lakiesha Veal, 22, said she would have been lost as a young mom at 17 if it weren’t for Lit­tle An­gels. There, she learned to con­nect with her baby

“I didn’t know any­thing of how to re­ally be a par­ent — I was a kid hav­ing a kid,” Veal said. “Be­ing here with Lit­tle An­gels has taught me a lot, and it has opened my eyes a lot on the par­ent­hood side. I’ve learned the value and the sig­nif­i­cant mean­ing of what it means to bond with your child.”

AN­THONY VAZQUEZ/SUN-TIMES PHO­TOS

Ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Nashone Greer-Adams stands out­side the Lit­tle An­gels Learn­ing Cen­ter on Mon­day.

The tod­dler class­room and play area at the Lit­tle An­gels Learn­ing Cen­ter in En­gle­wood.

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