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The Lynch/van Otterloo YMCA plans to open an early learning and childcare center in Swampscott

SWAMPSCOTT — The Lynch/van Otterloo YMCA is aiming to address the shortage of high-quality childcare in the three main communities it serves by expanding its early learning and after-school programming into Swampscott.

The Lynch/van Otterloo YMCA, based in Marblehead, plans to open up the Swampscott Education Center at the former St. John’s Elementary School on Blaney Street in September.

The center will include four early learning center classrooms and feature the Y’s expanded after-school programming, which will offer five learning rooms with a focus in science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM).

“Currently, we have close to 100 families on our waiting list for early education and childcare,” said Gerald MacKillop, executive director of the Lynch/van Otterloo YMCA. “One of the best parts of what the YMCA does on a daily basis is we adapt to meet the needs of our community. Our communities of Marblehead, South Salem and Swampscott are faced with a shortage of high quality childcare.”

MacKillop said part of the center will serve as an expansion of the YMCA’s early learning center, which will include two preschool classrooms and two transitional kindergarten classrooms for children who just missed out on kindergarten.

At the main campus, he said two additional infant care classrooms and one additional toddler care classroom were created during the Lynch/van Otterloo expansion last year, but there was not enough space to bring in additional classrooms.

Jean McCartin-Cocuzzo, director of child care operations for Lynch/van Otterloo YMCA, said last year’s expansion allowed them to take 20 children off the waiting list of about 60 families, but that list has only grown since then.

By being able to move the preschool and transitional kindergarten children off the main campus to the Swampscott Education Center, Lynch/van Otterloo now has space to repurpose classrooms on its main campus to create additional space for infants and toddlers, MacKillop said.

MacKillop said two more infant and toddler classrooms will be created on the main campus in Marblehead, which will bring the total number of rooms in that age range to nine. He said the longest wait list they have is for infant and toddler childcare.

MacKillop said their after-school children will rotate through the five distinct STEAM-based learning rooms. A sixth room will be a pre-teen middle school learning drop-in center, which will be a safety net for those students who need care the day of.

“What we’re most excited about in the new center is this is going to allow us to offer an after-school program that is rooted in STEAM,” MacKillop said.

The big change for the Y, McCartin-Cocuzzo said, is Swampscott Education Center is now a dedicated space, meaning that it will be exclusively used for education. At the Y, she said, they are only able to have so many after-school children, which mix with members and other programs.

MacKillop said the goal for this year is to be able to serve an additional 125 families between the combination of after-school programming and the expansion of its early learning center.

MacKillop said the YMCA childcare facility provides a substantial amount of government assistance and accepts government pay and vouchers. Everything the Y does, from its memberships to programming to childcare, is income-based, with some families receiving substantial financial assistance. The goal, he said, is to make quality early childhood education attainable.

They signed the lease for the facility at the former St. John’s on Tuesday and $130,000 worth of renovations is already underway, according to MacKillop. Another part of the investment into the site, he said, is in its adjoining lot, which features a parcel that is grown over.

He said the YMCA envisions something for out there, which would be a combination of playground space and partnering with the parish club for gardening. He said there’s already an effort to take a yield of produce and serve the food pantry in the parish — the children could work with the garden clubs in the parish to add more raised beds and contribute more food to those who need it.

The YMCA services families from kindergarten to eighth grade with its childcare.

“The reason why (the expansion) is so important is we’re doing this in response to community need,” MacKillop said. “That is the honest truth. This doesn’t happen unless a community presents a need as great as it is in childcare. So (we’re) glad the Y is in a position to respond to that need.”

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