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New daycare is family affair

April 23, 2013

Brandy Pohl, director of the new Max’s Playhouse daycare on State Road 10 in Culver, is seen at the facility, the second of only two licensed childcare centers in all of Marshall County, with daughter Addison (7) and son Tyler (3). Husband Brian is not pictured.

CCHS GRAD LAUNCHES ONE OF ONLY LICENSED CHILDCARE CENTERS IN COUNTY, HOPES TO MATCH FLAVOR OF CULVER COMMUNITY

Culver is poised to be home to the second licensed child care center in all of Marshall County, and daycare director Brandy Pohl hopes the facility -- dubbed Max's Playhouse in honor of nearby Lake Maxinkuckee -- will fill a number of local needs.

The new daycare, at 18561 State Road 10, is undergoing finishing touches in preparation for a Saturday, April 27 open house (from 9 a.m. to noon), preceding a probable May 13 opening day. Pohl encourages everyone to come meet the staff (two full-time and two part-time members in addition to Pohl herself), enjoy some light snacks, and tour Culver's newest business venture.

Max's Playhouse (www.maxsplayhouse.net or facebook.com/maxsplayhouse) will include two separate rooms: one for infants and toddlers (aged 6 weeks to 36 months), which can accommodate up to eight children; and one for 3 to 6 year olds, which may include up to 20 children. The new outdoor play area is larger than the daycare building itself, notes Pohl, at about 2,500 square feet of natural playscape (the concrete visible there as of this writing will be replaced by green sod by opening day, she points out).

Hours are Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and the daycare will provide hot lunches served daily via the Culver Academies dining hall as vendor. And those hours will include summertime, something Pohl sees as important.

"While we value the Academy and many employees need childcare only during the school year, there's also a lot of people who need a center open all year around," she explains. "We saw people scurrying find someone to take their kids in the summer. You should be consistent as a childcare center."

She says Max's Playhouse will welcome "drop-in care" during the months of Culver's seasonal crowd, should parents need to run errands or need "an adult day on the lake or whatever."

Drop-in care, according to Pohl, is part-time care not requiring a weekly, pre-arranged schedule, similar to the Culver Boys & Girls Club's summertime approach for older children. Initial paperwork, including immunization records, will be required at the outset, but afterwards, any open spaces should be ready for registered drop-ins of preschool age.

The daycare will be transporting youngsters to Wesley Preschool (which Pohl says "has a great preschool program") daily, and the center will also accept CCDF (Childcare and Development Fund) vouchers, with relevant specifics spelled out on the Max's Playhouse website (which is also the best vehicle to contact the daycare with questions, she adds).

A LICENSED CHILDCARE CENTER

To qualify as a licensed childcare facility, Pohl says head teachers must have a child development associate's degree or early childhood development degree, or be in such a program within a year. She notes one full-timer at Max's has done a 100-hour internship at Good Shepard Montessori school in South Bend.

The Montessori educational model will inform the approach at Max's Playhouse, though it will not be a formally "Montessori" daycare.

"I liked the idea of a Montessori-inspired curriculum," she explains, "and you pretty much have to drive to South Bend to find that around here. My daughter went to a Montessori school for about a year, and I really was impressed with that way of learning and how responsible the children were. It's child-based learning; they try to instill self-discipline in kids. You also use all the senses in your learning.

Most preschools are teacher-based, whereas with Montessori you introduce a certain type of work and the child will decide when they want to work and begin to master a certain subject, and they also help other children learn...it's a really different, old school way of teaching."

Pohl also toured five daycares in South Bend and eight in Columbus, Ohio, in preparation for Max's Playhouse.

"I put a lot of care into what the rooms would look like and who I wanted to hire," she notes.

Pohl started the process of licensing in February, 2012.

"A lot more goes into it than most people know," she explains. "People think it's just babysitting, but it's really a small school. You have to have a food and nutrition program, you have to pass a health and safety program, and you have to have physical sign-off from the department of health. You have to be ADA compliant, fire marshal inspected -- there are 11 steps to become licensed, including 6 approvals."

Pohl says there's a "vast difference" in licensing versus other of the three total types of formal daycares operating in Marshall County: ministry, or church-based; home centers; and licensed childcare centers, which are the most stringent.

"It makes sense," she says, to have a formally licensed center in Culver.

"We're a small town, yes, but Culver has the biggest employer in Marshall County (Culver Academies). There are so many people coming into Culver each day. If you can offer something different in childcare, maybe that will bring children here rather than another community, so our community can benefit from that."

GENESIS

Pohl, who recently took over the post of Culver Chamber of Commerce secretary long held by Chamber veteran Bobbie Ruhnow, is no newcomer to Culver. A 2000 graduate of Culver Community High School, she later earned her Communications degree from Purdue, where she met husband Brian. The two resided in Columbus, Ohio, for six years, though they'd been married in Culver.

"I always wanted to move back," she says. "I just didn't know how it would work out with our jobs."

Pohl gradually realized a calling to work in the field of education, fostered in part perhaps working under Janice Nelson at the Leiters Ford branch of the Fulton County Public Library, where Pohl led story times, crafts, and did other child-centered work.

She took teaching courses at Ohio State, beginning long-term subbing work at virtually all grade levels in a private school nearby. Before her degree was finished, she was asked to be administrator of a brand-new daycare and preschool program. Between that and caring for her young daughter and son, Pohl says, "I have experience in public schools, daycare centers, and at home."

Unlike some who work in education, she says her background in communications was such that she "didn't mind the marriage" of working with children and the amount of state paperwork required behind the scenes.

"I've always had an entreprenurial spirit about me," she says, "but this (Max's Playhouse) is the first business we went and put forth and owned."

A shift in employment for her husband, a commercial airline pilot, to Chicago's Midway airport, meant the Pohl family could return to the Culver area, where Brandy has been substitute teaching in the local school system.

Planning and preparation for Max's Playhouse has "been a family affair," Pohl says, with 3 year old son Tyler helping test new manipulatives at the daycare and her husband and daughter sanding cubbies.

"They're all excited about it," she says.

Pohl herself will split her time between the daycare's infant and toddler, and preschool rooms.

"I just had a lot of ideas about how childcare could be," Pohl adds, "and I was hearing a lot of parents around here didn't feel like there was enough childcare that was year-round -- that was the biggest complaint. I wanted to fill (that) need...and I didn't feel there was enough childcare for parents on the CCDF voucher system; that was definitely a need in Culver. On the outskirts of town (there are options), but not in town.

"I wanted to create a space where parents can know with 100 percent of their being, that their children are safe and can have high quality educational experiences for their children."

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