“Man, we came home, brother. This feels like a homecoming. It feels good,” says One City Early Learning Center President Kaleem Caire. “Having been there when it closed and then seeing all that has been done to revive it and make it look good … this feels good. It’s great to hear the children yell, ‘Hey, Mr. Kaleem!’ every morning.”
After months and months of construction and remodeling, One City Early Learning Centers officially opened this week, and Caire could not be more excited. Located in the heart of Madison’s south side right next to the Boys and Girls Club on Fisher Street, One City looks to be a game changer as it prepares young children from birth to age 5 for success in school and life and ensures they enter grade school reading-ready.
For Caire, it really is home — he grew up in a townhouse right at the top of Fisher St. across from Penn Park just a block away from the current One City Learning Center. “I joke with people that I have truly come full circle,” Caire laughs.
Does he ever get déjà vu roaming around his old childhood area?
“I do, man, all the time,” Caire says, smiling. “I just feel like it was meant for me to be here to do this and for [my wife] Lisa [Peyton-Caire] to be here to do this. We both have had our strong feelings about Madison and our challenging feelings about Madison, but to see the amount of work that people in this city are putting in to change things is amazing. We like to be a part of this new emerging desire for equity in our community … to be able to do something bricks and mortar to help solve the problem in my old ‘hood … that feels good.”
It’s been almost three years since Caire initially decided to revive the old South Madison Child Development Incorporated (CDI), a child care institution in South Madison since the 1960s, which had to close its doors over funding problems. Plenty of people told him not to do this. “They thought the optics of leaving the Urban League might be in the way,” Caire remembers. “They thought with what happened with Madison Prep … that they might shoot me down again – Don’t do this, Kaleem. The other part was that this was on the south side. There wasn’t a lot of belief that this could happen in that area of town.”
In March 2015, One City launched its Capital Campaign to secure financial support for the renovation and opening of its first preschool in South Madison. “We’ve had over 900 people involved in this institution and we’ve had a little over 200 volunteers who have come and put sweat equity in this … so it’s been huge,” Caire says. “I’ve been overwhelmed by the support we’ve gotten.”
Caire says that the curriculum they are using at One City is really focused on promoting creative thinking and innovation. “We don’t just want kids to sit, we want them to design and do. We want them to construct and deconstruct their work and explain it to you – why they did this or that,” Caire says. “We want our kids to have a strong academic foundation and those high-level cognitive skills will give them that.
“We also want them to have all of those important social skills that they get from interacting with other kids, interacting with adults, and interacting with the world,” he adds. “We want our children to be very well rounded and our program is built around that.”
One City provides affordable, accessible, and high-quality preschool that partners with parents and the community to prepare young children for school success. They have a two-generation community impact model to build stability in families to ultimately cultivate healthy and successful children. “We’re going to build upon what we’ve already done so far to help families access new opportunities for themselves,” Caires says. “If parents are trying to get a job promotion or are looking for additional support or contract opportunities or have their own business … we are trying to be a help to the whole family.”
Caire says that they will be able to serve 110 children ages 1-5 at full capacity as they finish remodeling and build out the bottom level of their facility. “Our plan is to be there by 2018, if not sooner,” he says.
One City believe in the “village concept,” that it truly takes a village to raise a successful child. The launching of One City will give the greater Madison community an extraordinary opportunity to be the best village in the country for raising healthy, happy and successful children.
“We’re trying to start another movement. I’m really hoping that we can help drive change in this city,” Caire says. “Everybody needs to be involved as we build this pipeline from birth to career. It’s an exciting time right now.”