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Question-and-Answer Session With Teachers at the Shiloh Child Development Center

May 09, 1989

The President. Well, tell me how it's going. That's what I wanted to find out. And it seems -- where are we? What are we in?

Ms. Omachonu. This is in the chapel -- --

The President. The chapel?

Ms. Omachonu. And this is a special place where many of our youth come -- --

The President. I see.

Ms. Omachonu. -- -- on Sundays.

The President. Lovely, isn't it? Then the big church is right on this side?

Ms. Omachonu. It's right on the other side, yes.

The President. I haven't been here in a while, but I've known your pastor for a long time. Tell me about how it's going. One reason we wanted to do this is that I do feel that there is a role, a national role, for the kind of child care center that you all have run for -- what, how many years? -- some years.

Ms. Omachonu. A long time.

The President. Yes, a long time -- because I do not want to see the Federal legislation erode out this kind of participation -- in this instance, by a church. And I worry that some of the legislation up there would say to a church, if you want to get Federal help, you can't have a religious underpinning to your day care center. And I don't think that's good.

But anyway, that's the Bush view. But I'm anxious -- more interested in listening and getting your views on this. Who wants to start?

Ms. Omachonu. First of all, I would like to say that the traditional philosophy of the center is based on meeting the direct needs of young children. And this developmental program is designed to meet the child's physical, social needs. And we do plan activity in different learning areas, and also we do celebrate religious programs -- for example, Christmas. And children do learn that Christmas means sharing, caring, and loving, besides celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. And also we encourage our children to say their grace before each meal. And we have show-and-tell period: when they come to school on Monday, they tell us about their experiences at the Sunday school; they have opportunities to sing religious songs on Monday morning.

The President. Well, that's good, that's very good. Are the kids that come here all -- their families all parishioners of Shiloh?

Ms. Omachonu. No.

The President. Not necessarily. Who else?

Ms. Nickerson. I believe we have one minister's child in the 4-year-old group. But we recognize and we also respect religious philosophies from -- --

The President. Diversity, yes.

Ms. Nickerson. Yes. We have different backgrounds -- --

The President. And do you have kids from different -- obviously, nondenominational. But do you have kids that come out of religions that are not Christian? I mean, like -- --

Ms. Omachonu. Yes, we do. We have two children whose parents are Muslim. We also have another child whose parents belong to the Jehovah Witness, the whole family. But we do sort of -- with activities, we seek their permission that their children participate in the activities or exclude them out of activities. They've been very supportive. They say, "Go ahead, let them participate."

The President. Well, it's a concept that is so important. And I believe strongly in separation of church and state, and so does the pastor; but we're not talking of that here. We're talking about your right to diversify -- to do it in a diverse way and not have the central government dictate exactly what you can do on this. And you know, our -- I won't go into detail on the proposals, but my thought is choice, to help the parents with choice. If they want to send a kid to this facility, fine. Give them a little help -- those that need it the most. And if they want to go to some other kind of facility where there's no religious reference, fine, let them do that, too. But I worry that if we have one piece of legislation that defines all the standards and leans over so far backwards on the separation of church and state, that you just erode out the participation of one of the best forces in the community for teaching these kids values.

You didn't have a say. I've been doing too much of the talking.

Ms. Johnson. I'm Ms. Johnson, and I have the 2-year-old class. And I teach them finger play, a lot of songs -- have to keep them busy, because they don't keep still at all. But you have to really keep them busy. And, you know, I love them -- I love them.

The President. What's the time now, what do they do? Parents go into work, mother will bring the kid here -- or dad -- and leave them off at what time?

Ms. Omachonu. Okay, around 7 a.m.

The President. Seven?

Ms. Johnson. Yes, we open at 7 a.m.

The President. And then do they pick them up at different times or -- --

Ms. Johnson. Yes, they have different times. They start picking them up around 4:30 p.m., and we close at 6 p.m. So between 4:30 p.m. and 6 p.m., they're picking the children up.

The President. Yes. And they pay -- I think my briefing paper -- what did it say?

Ms. Johnson. Fifty-five dollars a week.

The President. Fifty-five dollars? And they have a meal in there?

Ms. Johnson. Yes, they have hot breakfast, and they have hot lunches. Nothing packed. Everything is straight from the stove.

Ms. Omachonu. And a 1:00 p.m. snack.

The President. -- -- p.m. snack? What, end of the day kind of thing?

Ms. Omachonu. End of the day.

Reverend Gregory. I think this is so important, too, because the focus is on the whole person. And our center strives to emphasize health and wellness, nutrition, skills development, and also values clarification -- values education, so the children will learn the difference between right and wrong. And most of all, the community I think is so important, and they have a sense of identity -- who they are -- and the opportunities -- --

The President. Oh, yes.

Reverend Gregory. And the community becomes like a extended family member.

The President. Some probably have -- like in any part of the society -- divided families, so they get an extra dimension of love here that they might not be getting at home.

Reverend Gregory. Exactly.

Ms. Nickerson. Well, the parents are pretty supportive in our program also. They help out in whatever way -- whatever we teach is extended to the family setting. So, moral standards are a very strong criteria that we concentrate on in terms of social skills; they're going to need to develop these in the future.

The President. What's the oldest kid -- age -- that you get in the day care, or child care?

Ms. Omachonu. Up to 5 years of age.

The President. Five would be -- then they go off to regular?

Ms. Omachonu. Regular school. But we do have an after-school program where they come here in the afternoon.

The President. The little guys -- I mean, 6, 7 years old? That kind of thing?

Ms. Omachonu. Yes.

The President. What's your end of all of this madhouse?

Ms. Gerald. I'm Ms. Gerald, and I work with the 3-year-olds.

The President. Three-year-olds?

Ms. Gerald. Yes. And we have our daily activities. In the morning, we have our opening. We do reading and sharing. And they have math -- we do numbers. We do our finger plays and our songs. We just have -- go through the day.

The President. Do most of the kids that come to your center -- do they have a family that goes, if not to Shiloh, to some church, or not? Is there a church -- like a religious theme that runs through these various families, or some of them just totally out of that?

Ms. Omachonu. I wouldn't say totally. They are definitely from religious families.

The President. They are?

Ms. Omachonu. Yes.

Reverend Gregory. Mr. President, would you like to see some of the children?

The President. I'm kicking myself. I should have brought a couple of the little puppies out of that basket.

Ms. Johnson. They would have loved that.

The President. Except I wouldn't want to clean up your rugs around here. [Laughter] I should have done that because kids just love those little fuzzy things. And we're about to -- I was telling the Reverend, they're about to leave home.

Note: The President spoke at 10:45 a.m. in the chapel of the family life center. Participants in the session included: Florence Omachonu, director of the center; teachers Yvette Nickerson, Joan Johnson, and Justina Gerald; and Rev. Henry Gregory III, pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church.

George Bush, Question-and-Answer Session With Teachers at the Shiloh Child Development Center Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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