Madison Heights

STEAM-focused early childhood center is ready, set to grow

When Shamara Rogers found herself facing underwhelming and overpriced childcare options for her now 3-year-old child, the mother of five decided to take matters into her own hands. 

“I was working full-time at St. Jude, and I started thinking if I have this need then I’m sure there are others that come in this area [with] that need as well,” said Rogers, who holds a Master of Education from Union University and MBA from the University of Memphis.

She launched Ready, Set, Grow Learning Academy, a STEAM-based early learning and childcare center, in December 2018. The center is located at 1418 Madison Avenue in Madison Heights, one of several neighborhoods in the larger Medical District. 

Rogers said she saw demand in the district's thousands of employees, which includes parents of young children. Many more commute to and from work through Madison Heights.

Rogers instinct was right, as most of the center's families do live or work in the Medical District, Midtown and Downtown, and she's anticipating a growth in demand as the area grows. 

Shamara Rogers (front) and supporters gathered for Ready Set Grow Learning Academy's ribbon cutting in December 2018. (Ready Set Grow)
“I think it’s a great neighborhood, and they are doing a lot," said Rogers. "At Methodist, they are bringing all these young oncologists’ families in [due to an expansion]. They are going to need somewhere for their babies to go when they move here. [Memphis Medical District Collaborative is] also developing apartment complexes so there’s definitely going to be a need,” said Rogers.

Methodist University Hospital opened the new 450,000-square-foot Shorb Tower in May, completing a $275 million expansion that started in 2016. The tower houses transplant, cardiology, blood and marrow transplant and oncology services.

Ready, Set, Grow accepts children ages six weeks to five years. They also offer before and after-school care, summer programs and a kindergarten readiness program.

Savannah Armstrong works at Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare as a lead patient coding analyst. Her husband, Scott, is enrolled in UT Health Science Center’s College of Medicine. Their daughter, Eloise, was born in September 2018 and was one of Ready, Set, Grow's first students.

Initially, the couple were drawn to Ready, Set, Grow because of its expanded early morning and evening hours and flexible drop-off and pick-up times that fit their family’s hectic schedule.

Ready, Set, Grow is open daily from 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., does not follow the Shelby County Schools closure calendar, offers weekend hours and is open for most holidays so that childcare is available whenever parents need it. They also host a parents day out and parents night out event once a month.

Armstrong said the flexible schedule helped with the decision, but it's excellent care that keeps Eloise at Ready, Set, Grow. 

“Over time, we have noticed the love and attention they give our daughter along with every other child attending, and it has made our decision to enroll Eloise at Ready, Set, Grow that much more positive,” said Armstrong. 
 

STEAM FOR TOTS

The academy's curriculum is STEAM-focused which gives children an early foundation in science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

Jobs with a STEM/STEAM focus are projected to be in a growth phase for the next 20 years, and educators are starting to support earlier introductions to core concepts.

“I know for us, I try to focus everything we do in the center [with] some type of STEAM focus," said Rogers. "We also want them to be learning through exploration, through play."

Akeidra WIlson works with Ready Set Grow's youngest scholars on color recognition and visual and tactile sensory development. The learning academy is STEAM-focused with time devoted to art lessons at every age. (Ziggy Mack)
STEM activities include using blocks to introduce building and engineering concepts, going on a "shape hunt" to find shapes in the environment, playing with counting cards and experiments with magnets. The center is outfitted with iPads and computer stations for technology lessons, and area medical students serve as volunteer instructors for many science lessons.

Preschool STEM programs in the area are unique and typically have years-long waiting lists. They can also be expensive. Ready, Set, Grow’s rates are decidedly affordable compared to average childcare cost in Memphis, clocking in at just $150 per week.

“I want to give kids that foundation without the parents having to pay college tuition [prices], " said Rogers. "Because when I was calling around, I was like, ‘Man, that is like college tuition.'"

Arts and language enrichment are also part of the academy’s lesson plans. A Ballet Memphis instructor teaches preschool students dance, and daily 30-minute Spanish lessons are taught for all students nine months of age and older. Kindermusik with Annette and Friends contracts for music programming, and even infants are given an early introduction to art and the concept of color creation through finger painting.

“They think they are just playing, but as they grow older we start using those foundations to build on," said Rogers. "They understand it and it starts [fitting] together then the activities get more in-depth and the conversations get more in-depth."

Trakisha Rogers prepares snacks for preschool-aged children at Ready Set Grow Learning Academy in Madison Heights. The center opened in December and has capacity for 60 children ages six months to five years. (Ziggy Mack)
Rogers said the educational structure along with steady interaction, play and affection also help build a child’s confidence and comfort in their surroundings, which further aids their development.

“[Eloise] has become a social butterfly since starting at the daycare," said Armstrong. "We are so thankful to the wonderful employees for taking such good care of her and helping her to flourish into the little girl she is becoming.”
 

Next Steps 

Though it's less than a year old, Rogers is already planning for the learning academy's future. In the short term, Rogers is adding a soccer program led by Happy Feet mobile soccer. Her longer-term vision is inspired by the waiting list for infant care.

Ready, Set, Grow still has spots available for older children but the infant room is at capacity. Rogers wants to turn the current location into a larger, infant-only center and add an adjacent building for toddlers and preschool children. She's also pursuing accreditation for a kindergarten program.

“A lot of our parents live right here. They work here. They own businesses here. It takes them three minutes to get here. The need is here,” said Rogers.
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