When Ascension Via Christi’s Child Development Center opened 39 years ago, Stephanie Ellison was one of the original teachers, caring for the children of associates ages 2 to 5.
On Friday, Aug. 2, she will take on a new role – that of a retiree.
“I was so excited to get a job here,” says the native Wichitan, who during her career has cared for high school classmates’ children and their children. “I had worked other early child development jobs but didn’t receive the same benefits or opportunities as I have at Via Christi.”
When the CDC originally opened in July 1980, its classrooms encompassed one floor of its current location immediately north of Ascension Via Christi St. Francis and was licensed to care for no more than 100 children. Since then, the CDC has grown to include the second floor of the building, is equipped with a full kitchen and now cares for approximately 200 children from newborn to prekindergarten.
Ellison is just one of four associates who have served at the CDC since it opened. The three other – Terri Wittrig, Gail Shumate and Jane Swindle – say that Ellison will be greatly missed, both as a teacher and a friend.
“This place is like a home away from home for many of us,” says Swindle.
Ellison says she believes the staff’s longevity and dedication are what set the CDC apart from other childcare centers.
“We’ve worked hard to maintain a good reputation with parents and their kids,” says Ellison. “Parents don’t seem to have a worry in the world when they leave their kids here.”
Ellison has always taken her role as an early child development advocate seriously.
“Kids can be a bit egocentric, so teaching them important manners before they leave my classroom is something I believe in, as well as the power of rewarding them with positive reinforcement,” she says.
She also is a strong believer in giving everyone a little grace.
“I’m not perfect but when it comes to teaching, I use my common sense and education,” says Ellison. “Most importantly, I always try to see things through the children’s eyes.”
As a grandmother, mother and educator, Ellison says the simple things make the most priceless childhood memories. “It’s not money or things – it’s the special time people take with you, that’s why grandmas are such a big hit,” says Ellison. “Taking time to teach them something new or understand their feelings makes their eyes sparkle and that means everything to me.”
Many of Ellison’s former students are returning to say hello before her last day. “It’s that family feel I love,” she says, adding, “I still receive Christmas cards from families that are grown and are having grandchildren now.”
Ellison says that while she’s excited to begin her retirement, she will miss everyone at the Ascension Via Christi CDC.
“I couldn’t ask for a better employer, coworkers, children or overall experience,” says Ellison.
The Ascension Via Christi Child Development Center provides care to the children of associates and their family members. The hours are flexible for associates and parents, opening at 6 a.m. and closing at 6 p.m., but allowing pick-ups until 8 p.m. to accommodate clinical staff working the 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. shifts. During the summer, it also has a recreation program for school-age kids through age 12.