Child care in Austin is expensive and hard to find. Parents sign up on day care waiting lists long before their kids are even born. And the shortage is getting worse.
Escuelita del Alma offers something even harder to find: a chance for children to learn a second language.
“We’re like any other child care center, except that we do it all in Spanish for all the children, regardless of their background, their ethnicity,” owner Dina Flores said.
Inside, kids aged 2 months to 5 years are playing games, singing songs, learning words. Sometimes they cry while teachers comfort them. More often, they laugh and scream.
Most of the children are native English speakers, but many come from homes where Spanish is the first language.
Behind the main building, shielded from the view of the highway, students run around on a shaded playground. Misters cool them off.
“They made such a difference,” Flores said of the misters on a triple-digit day last month. “They make it possible for us to have the kiddos outside [later] in the summertime.”
Flores taught for decades at public schools in San Antonio and Austin. Eventually, she wanted to do her own thing. As a bilingual educator, the choice was obvious.
“It just makes so much sense to introduce young children to other languages,” Flores said. “We learn languages when we’re little.”
Now, the I-35 expansion through Central Austin is forcing the day care to relocate, throwing the child care arrangements for 200 kids into uncertainty.
TxDOT plans to start next year constructing two lanes in each direction from Ben White Boulevard to U.S. 290 East. The 8-mile stretch will see bridges rebuilt, sidewalks added and more than 54 acres of Austin absorbed into the highway.
Those acres include the land where Escuelita has operated since 2008. The upper decks are coming down, so the highway will be widened into spaces now occupied by homes and businesses.