This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Mayor Kenney visited Pee Wee Prep Education Center, a West Philadelphia preschool, to celebrate its new partnership with PHLPreK, the city’s new initiative to make free, quality pre-K more accessible starting in January. The school added 60 seats to accommodate new students set to arrive next month.
The PHLPreK initiative is partnering with child-care providers throughout the city to increase access to free preschool. The plan is to add 6,500 new seats over the next five years using the revenue from Kenney’s soda tax. “I’m excited to visit our new pre-K partners that will soon be educating our city’s youngest learners,” said Kenney. “And I encourage families to take advantage of this amazing opportunity while seats are still available.” Stacy Phillips, owner and executive director of Pee Wee Prep, started the school in 1990 to take care of her twin infants after a child-care provider left her kids unattended. She wanted to keep the school open for five years, until her children were elementary school age, but Pee Wee Prep became a fixture in the neighborhood.
“I thought when they turned 5, I was going to go back to work,” Phillips said. “They were going to go off to school, [and] I was going to shut the business down, because that was the whole point. And 26 years later, that didn’t happen. I fell in love.” West Philadelphia parent Pamela Buck has been sending her children to Pee Wee Prep since 2004, two biological children and six foster children. “A lot of people find it strange when you never had a problem with day care,” she said. “[But I] never had a problem.” She also said that because the PHLPreK program is free, it will be good for parents who can’t afford day care or are unemployed. “That’s what [the city] needs,” she said. “So some of these parents don’t have to worry about child care. Then they can get up and find jobs. You know your child is safe.” The school holds 170 students and has graduated about 1,300 students since opening. For parents who want their children to continue in the Pee Wee Prep system, Phillips founded West Philadelphia Achievement Charter School, which teaches kindergarten to 5th grade.
“We have them from infancy until 12 years old,” Phillips said. “Every graduation is a cry-fest.” PHLPreK is now enrolling for classes starting Jan. 4. For more information, go to www.phlprek.org.