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Woman opens new Gainesville preschool offering flexible hours
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Kristen Holtzclaw, 6, plays with toys Friday at Pre-K Preparatory Learning Academy in Gainesville. The school is a nonprofit and received its license four weeks ago. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Arbendette Van quit her job of nearly 25 years to follow her passion: early childhood education.

Last month, she opened Pre-K Preparatory Learning Academy at 438 Prior St. NE in Gainesville, a preschool, day care and tutoring services center.

For the last “24 and a half” years, Van worked in accounting. But, with a degree in early childhood education, she also ran an in-home day care.

“It’s my passion,” she said. “When I turned 50 I said, ‘I’m going to do what I want to do.’”

She purchased the old Magic Years of Learning day care building near Brenau University, which operated in the area for more than 50 years. She invested all her savings in renovating the building, and now her objective is to fill it with children.

There are currently four children enrolled, but the facility has the capacity for 100.

Van said she originally planned to be open typical day care hours, but heard from parents the greater need was for an evening provider.

“I went around the neighborhood, and actually over to Northeast Georgia (Medical Center), to find out what their needs were,” she said. “It seemed like every day care opened up when mine opened up. When I went there, they said they really needed someone who could do second shift or even holidays.”

Van said many health care providers, particularly those at the hospital, still have to work on the days their children have “snow days” from school. She realized there aren’t evening child care providers in Gainesville, and applied to Bright from the Start for an amendment to provide second-shift care.

“I heard from them today,” Van said Friday. “She said they have 30 days to get back to me, but she doesn’t see a problem with my application. We just have to go through the formalities, but now that is my goal.”

The school is nonprofit and received its license four weeks ago, opening one week later. Currently, Van is one of four employees, including her brother, who was a master teacher in Atlanta, and a sister who got her degree in early childhood education.

“But they’re currently waiting on me to get more students to make that transition,” she said.

The facility has three large, bright and colorful classrooms. The first is an infant to age 1 room, which can accommodate six infants or non-walkers older than 6 weeks and eight 1-year-old walkers.

The second classroom is a 2-year-old class adjacent to an outdoor playground. There’s also a 3-year-old classroom, a space adjacent to the lunchroom for 4-year-olds and a separate, large playground for an after-school program.

Van said teaching is an important facet of her facility.

“We do teach,” she said. “We are not babysitters. My goal is for all of our children, when they get to kindergarten, to be ready. My sister teaches kindergarten, and she said she has so many kids who don’t know their names. They don’t know their mothers’ names. They’d say her name is ‘Mommy.’”

Van already offers extended and flexible hours, including before and after school care, teacher workdays, spring break and summer enrichment hours.

She hopes to offer family development services such as parenting seminars, health and wellness workshops, fitness programs and counseling.

The school provides Christian learning, and its core values are faith, family and education.

For more information, go to http://preparatorylearningacademy.com or call 678-943-1237.

Van said she is hopeful more families will learn about the center and that adjusting to evening hours will help her better serve the community.

“I am qualified, I have a great facility and I offer a great service,” she said. “I have a heart to serve — I just need (to) let people know I am here.”

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