ImagiNation Learning Center

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By Dominique McIndoe

Now, more than ever, child care and childhood education in the United States are hot-button issues, and Virginia is often at the center of the discussion. During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, children all over the country took part in virtual learning for the first time. Homeschooling became a norm rather than an alternative, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 Household Pulse Survey (homeschooling rates increased by 5.6% between the spring and fall of 2020).

Two years have passed, and as we, in one way or another, learn to live with this virus, parents are slowly trickling back into their workplace offices, and children have already made their way back into the classroom.

A few factors stand out when caring parents decide where to send their children in their early years: safe, healthy environments conducive to learning, creativity and play, and affordability. Fortunately, for Northern Virginia parents with infants through preschool-aged children, ImagiNation Learning Center perfectly fits the description.

The History of ImagiNation Learning Center

The non-profit organization was originally founded in 1987 as Westfields Play and Learn Children’s Center. Westfields business community was in the midst of expansion, and the center’s primary goal since then has been to fulfill the “overwhelming need for child care solutions that would combine affordable child care with a quality educational experience,” says Lisa Matteson, Director of ImagiNation Learning Center.

Westfields Play and Learn Children’s Center officially changed their name to ImagiNation Learning Center in 2011 and expanded their facility outside of their Chantilly location into Gainesville. What started as a bold initiative blossomed into a close-knit community. ImagiNation serves approximately 200 children annually and has enrolled thousands since its inception. Prince William is their major hub, but families come from all
over Arlington, Fairfax, Fauquier and Loudoun counties, and the city of Alexandria.

The Compass

Combining affordability and quality is no easy feat when it comes to child care, which is why ImagiNation is not just your average daycare. They make it so even families who may not typically be able to afford child care are still able to enroll their children and give them the opportunity to benefit from their programs.

ImagiNation Learning Center offers a specially curated STEAM curriculum called The Compass, and it’s tailored to each unique child and their natural bent, learning style and interests. Programs aim to develop each child socially, emotionally, cognitively and physically. Language and literacy, math, music, science and the arts are just a few of the subject areas the children learn to stimulate their brains in a nurturing environment.

“Our Mission at ImagiNation Learning Center is to fulfill our foremost responsibility of providing the highest quality care and educational services to the children, families and communities we serve, and enriching the lives of the children entrusted to us,” says Matteson, who’s been working with ImagiNation for 28 years.

Their method of child care and development has proven successful, as children who were once a part of ImagiNation have revisited the learning center many years later as high-performing, functioning, productive adults in society. They’re now doctors, lawyers, teachers, entrepreneurs and sports-industry staff, just to
name a few.

Their childhood success has “culminated in those same children coming back to work for the company as young adults, or [they bring]their own children back as they have entered the workforce,” says Matteson.

Children whose enrollment is subsidized through the state or county have parents who are also seeking to build a better life for themselves and their children through advancing their education or working a full-time job as a single parent, says Matteson. They know their children are safe and intellectually challenged at
ImagiNation.

Parent-Teacher Teamwork

The bright children who pass through their doors every day accelerate the learning center’s positive trajectory. An equally important piece to the puzzle is the collaborative effort taken on by the parents, who make up the board of directors, and the teachers.

The members of the board, mainly parents whose children are enrolled at the centers, come from all walks of life and work. They are “instrumental in turning the visions of our management teams into reality… The ability to combine all of these unique perspectives is what allows us to be successful on a broader community level.” says Matteson.

Similarly, the teachers are a crucial part to achieving the center’s mission. “It’s not enhancement programs like Spanish, or science, or art that set us apart from other centers,” says Matteson. “It’s the time that our highly qualified staff put into building lifelong relationships… These are degreed teachers with strong early
childhood backgrounds, who hold the future of our families and society in their hands.”

It is a major goal of the nonprofit to create an exceptional work environment that motivates their employees and encourages the growth and professional development of all employees by valuing their unique ability to contribute. This will, in turn, translate into happy and well-rounded children. “The most challenging part of working for any high-quality early childhood program is hiring amazing nurturers and educators and knowing that no matter what you do, you can’t possibly compensate them for what they deserve,” says Matteson.

Challenges and Steps Forward

ImagiNation Learning Center has survived everything from the Great Recession and rebranding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Since COVID began, our company has utilized opportunities to receive funding from a variety of different sources including the Payroll Protection Plan [PPP], Build Back Better, and the Cares Act,” says Matteson. “We had challenges bringing in operating revenue and necessary supplies at the beginning [of the pandemic]. We continue to have challenges with the day-to-day operations when COVID infections impact our teachers and families.”

Despite these challenges, the ImagiNation Learning Center mission remains the same and the non-profit continues to be resilient. ImagiNation also takes their fiscal responsibility and accountability very seriously. They’ve partnered with Leadership Prince William and Smart Beginnings of Greater Prince William, and they seek to expand their reach even more.

“We want everyone — or at least as many as possible — to have the opportunity to attend ImagiNation Learning Center,” says Matteson. ImagiNation opens its doors to all, regardless of race, family structure or socioeconomic status. “Those early foundations of learning and nurturing will be carried through a child’s whole life. Why wouldn’t we want to share that? Every child deserves to be a success story.”

For more information about ImagiNation Learning Center, visit imaginationlearning.net.

Dominique McIndoe (mcindoe@princewilliamliving.com) is an assistant production editor at Rowman & Littlefield and a longtime writer.

 

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