PITTSFIELD — When Melissa Fawcett and her husband were looking for options for their young son, the child care programs they found kept coming up short.
So, the Fawcetts set out to make the program they were dreaming of: an all-day child care facility equally focused on fun and learning and with the kind of structured instruction meant to prepare kiddos for kindergarten. The end result was Ready Set Learn Preschool.
In the six years since, they have expanded from a residence on Virginia Avenue to the once-vacant St. Martin’s Episcopal Church on Dalton Avenue. With a waitlist of more than 35 kids this year, Ready Set Learn is expanding again.
The preschool is working with Mill Town Capital to renovate the former American Legion post on Wendell Avenue. The property, now owned by Mill Town and Scarafoni Financial Group, will be leased to Ready Set Learn for five years once renovations are complete and the preschool opens this fall.
The new location will have room for 80 students across two 3-year-old classrooms, a prekindergarten class and a kindergarten class. The second preschool will more than double Ready Set Learn’s current capacity.
“I wouldn’t have thought that I would open a second location,” Fawcett said. “But, we definitely want to offer as much as we can to the community at large.
“I think there’s a growing need for quality early education, and I think there are families that are aware of that,” she added.
The new location helps serve a growing need.
Melissa Fawcett is the owner of Ready Set Learn on Dalton Ave., a preschool that is expanding to a second location at 42 Wendell Avenue in Pit…
Ready Set Learn is one of 60 licensed child care providers in Pittsfield, according to a registry maintained by the state’s Department of Early Education and Care.
In 2019, the American Community Survey estimated that Pittsfield was home to about 2,000 children younger than 5. That means that there is about one child care provider or program for every 33 children.
Fawcett said the gap between program space and the number of children only has been exacerbated in recent months as some programs have had to shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I don’t think we’re going to have any issue [filling this new location],” Fawcett said.
Fawcett said she was considering expanding the program before the pandemic, but those plans were delayed when her own program had to shut for several months under state health guidelines.
When a waitlist of more than 30 kids popped up this year, Fawcett said, she knew it was time to revisit her plan. The couple reached out to Mill Town to talk about leasing one of its properties in Pittsfield. That’s when Mill Town and Ready Set Learn agreed on the former American Legion post.
“We view this as an opportunity to turn a vacant building into a productive facility that fulfills a significant, unmet need in the area,” Tim Burke, CEO and managing director of Mill Town, said in a release. “We are excited to have Melissa and her top-notch operation as a tenant and partner.”
Fawcett said the new classrooms are taking shape out of the American Legion’s former banquet hall. She said the aesthetics of the new learning areas closely will match the look of the preschool in the St. Martin’s building.
To staff the new building, Fawcett has hired several former Pittsfield Public School teachers. Those educators are key to Ready Set Learn’s curriculum, which aims to send students off to kindergarten with the ability to read and do basic math.
Children start the day with reading practice, have outdoor play, weather permitting, then end the day with math practice. The preschool builds out its curriculum with monthly field trips to places like the Berkshire Museum, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and the Springfield Science Museum.
Fawcett said enrollment is open for the new Ready Set Learn location for the period of September through June.