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For many working parents, finding the right daycare for their children can be difficult on many fronts.

Not only can finding a daycare that is licensed, safe, and staffed properly take lots of time and effort, finding one that is also affordable and flexible in hours can force parents to make tough choices.

Locally, the difficulty of that process is apparent to many families and community members.

“There are some very difficult examples and anecdotal stories within our community here that I have heard from people trying to come in and move in and take a job here, and for those who exist here currently and have had to do some drastic things to take care of their children while they work to try to provide for them,” Garry Clark, executive director of Greater Fremont Development Council, said at a recent Fremont City Council meeting.

At the same meeting, Councilmember Susan Jacobus shared a similar story.

“I know of several families that have chosen not only to not become employed here, but they’ve actually moved out of Fremont and into Omaha because these types of facilities exist there and they don’t exist here,” she said. “With our community growing we have to have someone to watch our kids.”

That’s where Pearl Academy comes in.

With help from a $71,121 Local Option Economic Development Loan from the City, the new early childhood education and care center is looking to help fill the local childcare gap and help working parents throughout the area.

“(Businesses) are losing out on high quality young professional employees because the families come in and see such a gap, there is such a gap that Fremont leaders have even created the Daycare Gap Committee,” Myra Katherine Hale, owner and operator of Pearl Academy said. “We really want to support parents, I raised my babies when my family was not around so I know what it’s like not having a trusted place where you can take your kiddos.”

The Local Option Economic Development Loan that was granted to Pearl Academy by the city is split into two portions.

The first is $35,561 in a forgivable loan that is subject to Pearl Academy maintaining operation over a 5-year period and while also employing seven full-time staff and two part-time staff over that time.

“We will have to maintain those performance standards otherwise we sign a personal guarantee and we are liable, so it is a very minimal risk for the city,” Hale said.

The second half of the loan, $35,560, is repayable at a 2 percent interest rate over a five-year period.

Pearl Academy’s mission began on Monday, as the childcare center opened and cared for 15 local children at the facility located at 1950 East 5th Street.

According to Hale, her new business will help working parents in several ways.

“One is convenience,” she said. “We are opening half an hour early and closing half an hour late for what parents pay regularly.”

Pearl Academy opens at 5:30 a.m. and care runs daily until 6:30 p.m. for children from six-weeks of ages until six years old.

“By opening a half hour early we are really trying to help serve parents whose shifts start at 6 a.m.,” Hale said.

Along with extended regular hours, Pearl Academy will also offer 24-hour care.

“We have not have any requests for overnight care yet, so we will hire when that comes,” Hale said. “We are investing in a camera security system, because at home I want to be able to look in and see what’s going on, especially when that overnight care is involved.”

Pearl Academy also offers a program called Friday Night Five during which parents can drop off their young ones for five hours on Friday night at the cost of $5 per hour.

Another unique practice that Pearl Academy is implementing is providing flexible care.

“Most places you have to pay for full time care, whether you need it or not,” Hale said. “For example we had a family that came today where the parents jobs overlap by like two hours, so we had children from basically 1-3 p.m. So it works perfectly for them because it’s inexpensive for them and then they can also have their kids home when they are.”

Pearl Academy also uses an open-room model at its facility that creates lots of interaction between the entire staff and children.

“We are a one-room school and the children move around in stations, so there is a lot of free-play, a lot of play-based learning,” Hale said. “I think having the open room holds us to a higher standard of care because you are always being watched and held accountable. That is really important to me.”

Through the Local Option Economic Development Loan, Pearl Academy has been able to purchase outdoor play equipment for the children and will be using a portion to purchase rubber tiles for the outdoor play area at the facility.

Hale was also able to purchase Investigator Club curriculum that is recommended by the Nebraska Department of Education’s Step Up to Quality program.

“Because we are in partnership with the city we were able to purchase this incredible curriculum, and it was nearly $5,000 so most startups would not be able to make that investment,” she said.

While Pearl Academy served 15 children on its first day of business, the facility has a capacity of 45.

“We have a lot of room to grow, but a really good start so far,” Hale said. “It’s an incredible thing when people put their trust in you, and we plan to work hard to earn it and to keep it.”

More information about Pearl Academy can be found at its website pearlacademyfremont.com or on Facebook. Those interested in inquiring about services are encouraged to call 402-720-1257.

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