“The smart parents don’t take the kids out of my program to put them elsewhere in pre-K.
When the kids leave me at age five, they are reading and writing and doing what they’re supposed to do at the kindergarten level. They are prepared and ready to learn.”
So declares Ms. Simmons, who for the past 22 years has run a group family daycare in her home in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, as part of LSSNY’s Family Child Care Network.
Monday through Friday, nine to five, she cares for and educates 14 children ranging in age from newborn to five years old.
Says Ms. Simmons, “My program consists of reading, writing, and math but we also do circle time and play little games. Strictly educational.” She also provides the kids with a balanced diet, serving them breakfast, lunch, and a snack.
A teacher from the island of Saint Vincent, she came to America and worked on Wall Street as a filing clerk, then typist, then assistant underwriter. She had no intention of teaching until she had twin boys.
“I saw what the educational system was doing to these kids, and I decided to open a daycare center,” she says. Her house had all the required “bells and whistles” — a main entrance and a big backyard.
For the past decade, one of her now 36-year-old twins has worked alongside her at the daycare. (Her other son got a bachelor’s and master’s degree in public health but chose to work for a nonprofit that serves the homeless struggling with drug addiction.)
“The kids in America are different from the Caribbean children. They’re more vocal,” says Miss Simmons.
“In the Caribbean, we call it ‘back chat.’ You cannot talk back to a teacher. You listen and obey and you follow instructions.”
At LSSNY’s Family Child Care Network, children are encouraged to move around and express themselves in an organized and respectful way.
Ms. Simmons instructs them with this memorable exhortation: “Sit like Oprah! Sit like Oprah!”
“Children need to be trained to go out into the world,” she explains.
As for where in the world they end up making their mark? The majority of children she has served have done very well, working as a journalist at BET Networks, as a policeman, an editor, and a schoolteacher.
“I lose very few,” she says. “They came out well.” She adds that these are children from low-income families.
“Ms. Cecilia Simmons exhibits an unparalleled commitment to her community, coupled with soaring aspirations for the achievements of the children who graduate from her program,” says Sheraliz Velazquez, LSSNY’s Director, Family Child Care Network. “With a remarkable span of 30-plus years, she has steadfastly delivered childcare services, resulting in many of her children attaining elevated income levels in their adult lives.”