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Everyone loves ‘water days' at Sugar Grove Developmental Day School.
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Originally published: 2012-10-01 12:53:52
Last modified: 2012-10-01 12:53:52

Developmental Day School provides integrated approach

by Sherrie Norris

For nearly a decade, Sugar Grove Developmental Day School has served families in western Watauga County in a unique way.

The facility is a four-star day care providing five-star service, said Karen James, longtime member of the school's board of directors. 

Licensed for 44 children, from birth to 5 years old, the goal of SGDDS is to provide a developmentally appropriate program that meets the individual needs and abilities of its students, James said.  

"We use an integrated approach to curriculum, based on hands-on activities that incorporate each area of development -- one in which children are encouraged to think for themselves, make decisions and learn through play," she said. 

Known for embracing a partnership between home, school and the community it serves, the school is the only public day care in the High Country that offers sliding-scale tuition, based on the family's earnings and related factors.

Currently, with 39 children enrolled -- from 6 weeks to 5 years old -- 24 receive financial subsidy; seven are on a sliding-fee scale; and six are listed as private pay for full tuition.

"When SGDDS raised tuition in 2005 to meet the Department of Social Services Market Rate, sliding-scale tuition was implemented for those families who didn't qualify for DSS subsidy," James said. "Virtually, every family served who was not eligible for DSS subsidy was eligible for sliding scale reduced rates." 

The day care has been able to "squeak by" financially "with small grants from local and regional foundations and donations, James said. "We have not been able to raise the salary of our staff members, who are significantly underpaid," she said. 

The success of the school is measured in various ways, she said, and the examples are many.  

At one time, a 21-month-old with spina bifida, whose parents were told he would never walk prior to therapy that he received at the center, now walks. 

A year prior to his enrollment, a 28-month-old Hispanic boy wasn't walking or talking, but was soon running and talking in two languages after receiving physical, occupational and speech therapy. 

At one time, of the 44 children enrolled at SGDDS, 11 had disabilities, including developmental delays.

Another little boy with spina bifida started at SGDDS when he was 18 months old. He couldn't walk and his doctors were skeptical about him ever being able to do so. He made progress and is currently in the More at Four Program at Cove Creek. 

A little girl wasn't running or making any sounds when she came to SGDDS at age 2. She entered the More at Four Program at Hardin Park this year, physically active and talking.

Need sets precedence

The need for quality child care in western Watauga County was identified much earlier with The Valle Crucis Day School, in existence from 1982 to 2003. After closing due to problems meeting state water standards for child-care centers, members of the group formed a new board of directors two months later.

Adequate space for a day care facility was discovered in the Historic Cove Creek School, which had been preserved by a concerned group of citizens determined to protect the community landmark from demolition.  

After a renovation project that involved several individuals and businesses, the child care center opened on June 1, 2005. 

Since 2006, SGDDS has received some funding from High Country United Way, but without the generosity of the community at large, through grants, fundraisers and sweat equity, the school would not be able to operate, officials said. 

"Our very dedicated teachers, many with degrees in early childhood education, work for a minimal wage, much less than they would make in the public school system," James said. "The bookkeeper and the grant writer perform their functions as volunteers." 

Fundraising makes the difference

Rather than depend upon the school's "three or four smaller annual fundraisers," James said, she made arrangements for one big event to benefit the center this year.

The process of bringing The Oak Ridge Boys to Boone wasn't as easy as it sounds, James said, but on Thursday, Oct. 4, the multi-award winning group will be performing a special concert for SGDS. 

In her "plea" to the country music stars, James not only described the ongoing financial plight of the nonprofit center, but also shared the impact on the operating budget of "costly circumstances" -- including weather-related plumbing problems dating back more than two years ago that resulted in significant unforeseen expenses and loss of revenue for SGDDS, she said.

Additionally, she said, the state budget constraints have resulted in a freeze in accepting applications from single parents who need daycare for their children while they complete their education or work to support their children. That too, she said, resulted in loss of revenue from the department of social services. 

"The daycare has cut back everywhere possible, including teacher work hours to save expenses," she said. "But, we must retain sufficient staff to care for the children who are enrolled."

In its seven years, SGDDS has proved to be good a good steward of its funding, having repaid $60,000 in loans from regional utilities that were necessary to renovate the facilities to meet state requirements for licensed daycares. 

Attributable to the loan repayments, ruptured pipes, and effects of the economy, SGDDS has barely been able to keep up with day-to-day financial responsibilities, "let alone establish any financial reserve in case of future unforeseen emergencies," James said.

Hopefully, she said, "the upcoming concert will provide the funds needed now and enable SGDDS to be financially sound for the foreseeable future."

The primary goal of the benefit is to enable SGDDS to continue to provide tuition assistance for middle-income families in the form of sliding scale tuition, James said. 

For more information or to make a donation, contact Sugar Grove Developmental Day School at PO Box 453, 207 Dale Adams Road, Sugar Grove, NC 28679; call (828) 297- 4226 or visit

See The Oaks

The action begins at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 4 at the Holmes Center in Boone when the Oak Ridge Boys come to town with an opening act by the local group, Carolina Crossing. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Sponsors for the fundraising event include Cracker Barrel, which has donated one of its trademark rocking chairs to be signed by the Oak Ridge Boys and raffled at the concert.

Financial sponsors include Cove Creek Preservation and Development, Skyline & Skybest Telephone, Boone Tourism, Mast General Stores, Wells Fargo Bank, Appalachian Hospitality Management, Appalachian Regional Healthcare, Appalachian Brian Estates, Blue Ridge Pediatrics, Mast Farm Inn, Plunket & Associates. 

Advertising sponsors include Mountain Times Publications, WATA, Todd's Calendar, Ray's Weather; additional supporters include WAME Country Legends, Air Haven Limousine, Reid's Catering and Enterprise Rental Car.

Tickets, starting at $25, are available at the Holmes Center at or by calling (828) 262-6603.