When Lexington mom Rania Burke sought a preschool for her two children, she wanted them exposed to as much variety as possible.
She hit the jackpot when her students enrolled at Child Development Center of the Bluegrass on the UK campus.
Founded in 1958 and expanded in 2012 when it moved into a new building near Commonwealth Stadium, the Center serves preschoolers with special needs side by side with typically developing children who comprise 60% of enrollment.
The two populations are fully integrated in the classroom and in all activities. And that’s just the way Burke wants it for her 4-year-old son, Caiden, who is a so-called typical.
“We wanted a place with lots of diversity, different ethnicities, and kids with different abilities,” said Burke, whose 2-year-old daughter, Isla, also attends the preschool.
“Caiden has developed in a way so that he reacts to all kids from a place of understanding.”
That reflects the mission of the Center, where students learn from each other.
“Now he understands that some people don’t process information the same way that he does,” Burke said.
“We’ve had good conversations about that and I’m appreciative of those conversations.”
Comments like that are gratifying for the Center’s director, Erica Tipton, who joined the staff two years ago.
Her 22-month-old son, Graham, also attends the preschool.
“All the kids learn from each other,” she said. “Some of our kids with special needs do have aids, but they have interactions with peers and are integrated with their friends throughout the day.”
Every day the Center serves 165 children up to five years old. That is quadruple the number of children served at the Center’s old location near Lafayette High School.
Approximately 40% of those children receive therapy services.
In addition, the Center each week treats 200 children up to 18 years old with outpatient occupational, physical and speech therapy services.
Included among the staff of 95 full- and part-time employees are 10 therapists.
The 22,000-square foot building is especially designed for preschoolers and children with special needs, and includes three large therapy gyms and three small treatment rooms.
Along with special services, the Center is a top-rated preschool with low student-teacher ratios.
It emphasizes school readiness, including academic and self-help skills.
The Center is one of only a handful of preschools in the area that is both 4 STARS-rated by the state and accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
That’s what attracted Tipton, who was selected the state’s Director of the Year in April, to the Center.
After college she worked for the Child Care Council of Kentucky and the YMCA before teaching English in Ethiopia for five years.
After returning to the States and working for the Dallas YMCA and as a Medicaid case worker, she was hired by the Center.
“I’m proud to work here because of the commitment to quality,” she said. “We have a well-rounded, safe place that is meeting a big need in the community.
“There is a lack of appropriate care for kids with special needs and parents are desperate to get that care.”
And grateful when they do. Just ask Rania Burke.
“My children are learning that helping others is something natural to do,” Burke said.
“The school teaches compassion and understanding. The whole Center is built around accepting where kids are at, whatever level that is.”