I started working in city-subsidized, Washington, DC child care centers in 1995 and I couldn’t believe how depressing they were. Located in decrepit strip malls, strewn with broken glass outside, parents walked their toddlers into these small, overheated spaces. Television blaring, children sitting on the floor, staring blankly at Elmo, they looked abandoned. Teachers sat in the back on break, the smell of microwave popcorn choking the room. Children were crying from their cribs, others wandered aimlessly around the room, with little to do. There were few books, and the toys were old, many broken leftovers. I was appalled. I wasn’t sure I could keep going back. But this was my job.
For nine years I ran an early learning arts and literacy program called Inner City-Inner Child, which took new books, artist teachers and professional development programs to the city’s poorest child care centers. Washington’s elite has never seen these parts of DC.