Each day, long before the school bell rings at what the little ones call the “big” school, 15 to 20 children begin to arrive at the center. Several older kids come by yellow bus after school lets out.
An old African proverb declares “it takes a village to raise a child.” Dubbed “Ponce” by the kids, Sheryl has been part of that village for hundreds of children and dozens of parents who go to work each day with the assurance that their children will be happy and safe under her care.
The wall just inside the door is lined with pictures of each year’s class. Some of the tiny little faces with broad smiles belong to children who are now in college, some are high school students. Scholars, athletes, musicians and children with their own unique talent have passed through these doors. Sheryl says her greatest reward is knowing that she had a hand in their success.
“Every child is different,” Ponce says. “Some are leaders, some are followers, some are shy, some are outgoing, but they all have special needs and we try every day to meet those needs so nobody gets left out.”
She touches each child every day, whether it’s tying their shoelaces, adjusting their hair, providing a hug or just a pat on the back to let them know they are loved and appreciated.
Her career choice changed after she married Tommy Ponce 20 years ago and before Sean, 17, and Seth, 12, were born. Sheryl worked for a doctor, mostly with elderly people in her home town of Schulenburg.
Before taking over the day care center, she earned a certificate in child development and each year she takes continuing education courses.
“The most difficult thing is keeping up with state requirements and making sure we are compliant with every rule,” Ponce says.
When she first opened the facility, state inspectors could find nothing to report.
“The inspector looked up and saw some mistletoe high in the trees,” Ponce said. “She told us to remove it so we cut it down with long clippers. That’s how attentive to detail they are.”
Ponce says she has been fortunate to have cooperation from parents.
“We watch the children and we listen to what they’re saying, too, so that we can redirect anything inappropriate and contact parents if we need to. We hear a lot,” she says with a chuckle.
One of the greatest rewards came unexpectedly when she accepted a disabled child.
“At that time the schools were not set up like they are today to accommodate children with special needs,” Ponce said. “The child was three years old and still crawling. We worked with him every day and in two weeks, he was walking. That was very rewarding.”
Her employees are also key to the center’s success. It takes four adults to man the center, Linda LaFrance, Missy Abila, Minnie Rodriguez and Ponce.
“Minnie Rodriguez has been with me for 14 years,” Ponce said. “She is very dedicated to the children.”
Rodriguez, who recently was diagnosed with cancer and hospitalized for treatment, returned part time to the delight of the kids.
“She missed the children and they missed her,” Ponce says.
If laughter is the best medicine, Rodriguez is in good hands at the center. Laughter and squeals spread across the playground outside, shoes laces need to be tied, others have to go “potty.”
With 20 active children under the age of five, a dull moment is nonexistent at Kids Day Care Center.