Stilling their restless little bodies and putting on their best smiles, 45 little "gappers" in a variety of sizes and complexions faced the audience and waited for their cue. The electric piano struck a chord and 45 voices trilled away: "We are little gappers in all sizes big and small. We are little gappers learning, growing great and tall. We are little gappers needing your helping hand. So, come along with us and help us to be just the very best we can."
The little gappers are 2 to 5 year olds who attend the GAP Community Child Care Center, an unusual child-care operation in the Marie H. Reed Learning Center, 2200 Champlain St. NW.
The occasion was a graduation ceremony. Attired appropriately in miniature white caps and gowns, the year-old center's first eight graduates matriculated to kindergarten. Proud friends and families filled the tables and chairs in the center's spacious room to see each graduating gapper march up to receive a diploma and pin.
The center is a place where toddlers, representing a rainbow of races, share their various cultures through daily interaction. They sing songs and learn phrases in Spanish, Swahili and other languages as well as sample foods from their respective African, South American and Asian countries. They are taught math, science, social studies, pre-reading, writing and social skills. Some of the bilingual GAP instructors teach conversational English and Spanish.
The GAP center's name is an acronym from the last names of its founders, Monica Guyot, Aisha Abubakar and Juana Puentes, who are white, black and Hispanic, respectively. They said they believed Adams-Morgan needed a center that guaranteed top quality care and represented its ethnic mix.
"If we can provide top quality child care that combines excellence with a lot of love and stroking and all the things a child needs at a cost that parents can afford, then I think we have a good thing going," said director Guyot, a former legal services office employe.
Both Abubakar, a credit union employe, and Puentes, who works as a companion for the elderly, have kept their jobs but serve on the GAP board of directors.
The GAP center opened its doors last October with just one student, one teacher and one aide, but the word spread quickly. The center now has 46 children and a staff of seven, including Guyot.
The program is based on a philosophy of "motivate, challenge and stimulate the children, showing them that learning is fun, exploring is exciting and that new concepts can be an adventure," according to its literature.
Elizabeth Lee, mother of graduate Kimberly Lee, 5, said she enrolled her child at the GAP last October when the program was new.
"When I first brought her here, I didn't have a job, but by being able to bring her in at 6 a.m. and pick her up at 6 in the evening, it allowed me more leverage to work odd jobs," Lee said.
The center recently received a $10,000 grant from the District government to provide free child care for up to four months for children of unemployed parents seeking jobs. The one-time grant came from the city's Escheated Estates program, which manages unclaimed funds and estates of the deceased.
Donnie Green, a former football player with the Buffalo Bills, was the first qualified parent to apply for the assistance. However, in lieu of the grant assistance, he was offered a part-time job working at the GAP center three hours a day.
"I chose to work at the center because I enjoy working with kids and my schedule would still allow me the time to prepare myself so that I can return to pro football," Green said.
At the graduation, there was much hugging and kissing between the graduates and their younger schoolmates and teachers.
Guyot said, "I am so thrilled and so proud of everyone that helped us along the way."