Kemit Academy, Hyde Park’s newest daycare, celebrated its grand opening on July 31 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“We had probably between 80 and 100 people here throughout the day, quite a few families that came out,” said Kiley Russell, Kemit’s owner. “Even some of my old students are now adults in their 20s and had children of their own, so even they came out,” said Kiley Russell, the owner of Kemit Academy.
Kemit, which officially opened on Monday, August 2, at 5100 S. Dorchester Ave., has 10 teachers and functions as a pediatric therapy facility, with an occupational and speech therapist on-site.
“We have smaller class ratios, teacher-to-student ratios. We also have certified staff as well, which doesn't happen a lot of times in daycare centers,” explained Russell.
After growing up on the city’s far South Side, Russell moved to Hyde Park in the 1990s because of the diversity, she said, and found that it was a “great place” to raise her children. With a background in teaching and administration, she has over 20 years of experience teaching youth on the South and West sides of the city. And though she just opened Kemit in a commercial storefront, she has had a daycare for years, which she says was started out of a need for quality programs for children.
Her own approach toward running Kemit Academy is reflective of what she wants for her children and students in a learning environment. She said that Kemit, the ancient name for Egypt, represents the ethos behind her childcare philosophy. “We use African philosophies in terms of the way that we support student learning, growth, and development,” she said.
“For example, we use a lot of the principles of Kwanzaa to support what we do throughout our school day. Unity, self-determination, all of those different things. We want to make sure that people understand that there's a general principle that all people should live by.”
These ideas are just one part of what separates Kemit Academy from other daycares, Russell said.
“We want to make sure there is enough space, adequate space for kids to play, grow, learn and develop. I didn't want cramped classroom spaces,” she said. “It lets us pay special attention to the therapeutic needs of our children.”
According to Russell, children with special needs have undiagnosed or unmet therapeutic needs. She said that’s particularly true of children of color (a pair of 2019 studies found that students of color are less likely to be diagnosed with disabilities than their white peers).
Russell says many families like to address the issues when the children become school-aged, but that can make it more difficult to deal with. Sometimes these unmet therapeutic needs can be masked by behavioral problems that can cause misdiagnoses by school staff as a child becomes older.
The daycare set-up is also accessible for children who need accessibility accommodations. “All of our bathrooms, including the children's bathrooms, are wheelchair accessible,” Russell said. “Our classrooms are large, we have modified seating arrangements for all children. I tell people school’s for everyone, not just for abled children.”
Inclusion is an important theme throughout Kemit Academy. Russell says their staff is reflective of their attendance and includes Black, Latino, and white educators.
The daycare is open from 6 a.m. – 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and accepts students from the age of 6 weeks to 6 years old.