May 19, 2024 1:40 pm

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Lynnwood-based Mini Einstein’s Learning Center receives $1.85 million grant

LYNNWOOD—Lynnwood-based Mini Einstein’s Learning Center was the recipient of a grant by the Washington State Department of Commerce to provide a high-quality early learning space in South Snohomish County. The agency recently awarded $30.4 million in capital funds to 42 early learning facilities that serve nearly 2,500 children across 15 counties to create 2,422 new childcare slots, the Department says.

Students at Mini Einstein’s.

“Access to childcare is foundational for working parents and a critical component for equitable participation in the economy,” said Commerce Director Mike Fong in a press release. “Early Learning Facilities investments will bring high-quality childcare to Washington communities so that parents can work, knowing that their children are secure and thriving in a safe environment.”

Snohomish County-based recipients include Nova Family Resource and Childcare Center (Edmonds, $53,800), WorldKid’s Academy (Edmonds, $700,000), Cornerstone Medical Services Foundation (Bothell, $747,734), The Clearwater School (Bothell, $982,223), Boys & Girls Club of Snohomish County (Edmonds, $2 million), YMCA of Snohomish County (Marysville, $2,128,200), Machinists Institute (Everett, $2.5 million), and Mini Einstein’s Learning Center (Lynnwood, $1,847,370).

The Department of Commerce awarded projects in three categories: Pre-design ($21,605 award limits); minor renovation and pre-development ($216,052 award limits); and new construction and major renovation ($2.5 million award limits).

When making award decisions, Commerce and Washington Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) evaluated key project criteria including the number of early learning spaces for kids from low-income families, the project location relative to other early learning facilities, and projects located in rural locations and low-income neighborhoods, the Department said. Since 2017, more than $170 million to create nearly 13,000 childcare slots.

“We know that accessible, affordable, high-quality child care is a top priority for Snohomish County residents and employers. More work needs to be done by local, State, and federal partners to address this widespread need,” said Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers. “I welcome investments in child care from our partners at the State, and I am grateful to child care providers for their commitment to meeting the needs of our youngest learners and their families.”

Mini Einstein’s Learning Center

Mini Einstein’s Learning Center (MELC), the Lynnwood recipient, is a Christian based early learning center which is veteran-owned and offers discounts for veterans and members of the military. Its mission statement is to: “serve families in the community by providing high quality care for their infants, toddlers, preschool, and pre-k children in a safe, supportive, exciting, and nurturing environment so that they can grow physically, socially, emotionally, and intellectually, and will come to understand that they are created and loved by God.

After Samantha Sciacca, owner of Mini Einstein’s Learning Center, started her teaching career working in the SeaTac public school system which was “eye opening,” she informed the Lynnwood Times. She left the public sector to help build the necessary foundation at a company called Cornerstone.

Samantha Sciacca, owner of Mini Einstein’s Learning Center. Lynnwood Times | Mario Lotmore

At Cornerstone Sciacca filled in wherever she was needed, starting as a teacher for three-year-olds, working as a cook, as a janitor, and eventually Assistant Director and finally Director shortly before getting notice that their building, on 220th in Mountlake Terrace, was set to be demolished. Having nowhere else to go, Cornerstone inevitably shut down after 20 years of operation, leaving its seven teachers, including Sciacca, without jobs, its 30 kids with nowhere to go, and one fewer childcare center in Snohomish County.

Only about 44 percent of child care need is currently being met in Snohomish County. What’s more, Snohomish County saw a 25 percent drop in its early learning workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sciacca’s husband, William, was deployed at the time with the U.S. Army. She asked him how he felt about opening up a childcare center of their own when he returned and he replied: “sure without knowing what he was getting into,” Samantha joked.

“I didn’t have a business degree, all I had was a vision of what I think students need getting into kindergarten — and that’s an education,” said Sciacca. “And all of my teachers [at Cornerstone] said they were coming with me.”

One of the many classrooms at Mini Einstein’s. SOURCE: Mini Einstein’s.

In 2013 the foundation of what was eventually to become Mini Einstein’s started out at Woodway Elementary School, a vacant building at the time, where they had a license capacity of 76 kids. When Sciacca’s husband returned from active duty he assisted with operations and maintenance and from there they grew and grew. Today Mini Einstein’s Early Learning Center (MELC) has 136 enrolled students and operates year-round. 

“Our foundation is really about that education. We start our education at infancy. I have a lot of people discredit that just because a child can’t talk they can’t learn and that’s completely, one hundred percent, opposite. Students can begin to learn at such a young age as long as you give them the tools and the foundation to do so,” said Sciacca.

Playfield at Mini Einstein’s.

“That’s what makes us so different. We start so young and every year we’re building on top of each other, by breaking up our classrooms into two separate age groups—a younger and older —so we can hone in on those fundamentals and benchmarks so we’re not moving them too early if they haven’t met those standards, and possibly moving them early than projected because we’re seeing that they’re going faster than the others. We want to keep challenging and pushing our students to succeed.”

In 2015 Mini Einstein found, what they call, the “main campus” on 21020 67th Avenue West, in Lynnwood, Washington.

“I never once saw myself saying, when I was 18 going into college, that I’m going to be a businesswoman, I’m going to have 50 employees, that I’m going to own a school,” said Sciacca.

Ashley Morga, Operations Manager at Mini Einstein’s, and owner Samantha Sciacca. Lynnwood Times | Mario Lotmore

Ashley Morga, Operations Manager at Mini Einstein’s, first got involved with the early learning center as a parent enrolling her child. She informed the Lynnwood Times it was witnessing, firsthand, how her daughter benefitted from the school that made her want to be a part of Mini Einstein’s success.

“She started with the pre-K program but by the time she entered Kindergarten she was beyond ready,” said Morga. “She was bored the first two months of kindergarten because she said ‘Mom I already know all of this.’ She knew her alphabet, she knew her letters, her numbers, basic addition/subtraction, how to read. She could focus on getting to know her new friends, her new teacher, her new environment and wasn’t worried about the academics. I still see that in each group that comes out. It’s such a well-rounded program.”

Staff at Mini Einstein’s.

Snohomish County is one of the worst areas for child care access in Washington State, comparative to the number of children who need them. An estimated 80% of residents live in an extreme child care desert. According to Child Care Aware, there are 62 slots of child care in the county for every 100 infants, toddlers, or preschoolers which is far below the state average of 79 slots per 100 children.

Even if parents can find child care options in the county it’s seldom affordable, costing approximately $14,000 per year—more than an entire year of tuition at both the University of Washington and Washington State University.

Mini Einstein’s Learning Center will use the Department of Commerce funds to add 124 new childcare slots in Snohomish County by purchasing a second building next to its current located at 21020 67th Avenue W, in Lynnwood.

The new building is planned to open by Summer of 2024. MELC is currently awaiting a confirmed open date, pending licensing, to accept enrollment and has a waiting list for interested families to join the Mini Einstein’s family. For more information call 206-533-8896 or email melclearningcenter@gmail.com.

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