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A Little Science Goes a Long Way

Giving Omaha's Kids a Smart Start in STEM

On July 19th, first time business owner, Margertha McLean, purchased Omaha’s most innovate childcare facility – Smart Start Learning Center. Located just north of the 72nd and Blondo streets intersection, Smart Start focuses on enriching early childhood education with art, science, nutrition and fitness activities. A former engineer with degrees in Cellular Biology, Biochemistry and Nutritional Sciences, McLean is looking forward to implementing more STEM-focused programs to help give Omaha’s kids a head start in math and science.

It may seem like science and childcare wouldn’t mix, but both fields are not all that different, and McLean would be the first to tell you how children can benefit from a STEM education. An early start leads to a better grasp of more than just biology, chemistry and physics, as it trains children to think and observe in more comprehensive ways. McLean advocates that a STEM curriculum will help parents to expect and see certain milestones and keep their kids engaged. “A lot of centers don’t have a set curriculum,” McLean says. “It’s a benefit to have one so parents understand what kids have been taught. There should be a learning trajectory and measurable goals.”

With the assistance of her Curriculum and Education Manager, assessment tests will be developed to help meet each child’s individual needs, from toddlers to preschoolers. There is a need for more readiness programs for pre-kindergarten children, and McLean would like to introduce them to robotics and engineering in the form of special building blocks and math brain breaks. Nutrition is equally important, and a basic education in agriculture will go a long way, says McLean, and children at Smart Start will learn where food comes from to help them understand and read nutrition labels.

Former owner, Jayne Buck, had similar ideas when she bought Smart Start in 2012. What was originally intended to be an investment quickly became a project of passion. “I wanted to provide the same services and activities that my own children had when growing up,” says Buck. Programs for school age children were developed, including before and after school care, school transportation and school break programs with field trips and special activities. Children ages 3 and up are exposed to art, dance, soccer, story time and more to provide a well-rounded experience.

It’s an ambitious start for McLean, who has already spent her first few weeks meeting most of the parents and getting to know the kids better, and she has a knowledgeable staff to help in her transition to ownership. “The teachers have lots of experience – over 20 years’ worth – and have been essential in my coming on and learning,” says McLean. While management is a newer experience for McLean, her enthusiasm and ideas, and support from Buck, will help her to see the center grow and prosper. One day soon, we may see Smart Start popping up across town, ensuring that Omaha’s kids have a leg up in science and math.

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