Steps Ahead
Right Steps Preschool & Childcare Center in Philadelphia helps infants, toddlers and preschoolers discover a path to a bright future
by Bill Donahue

Not even an unexpected departure from Center City was going to keep Melanie L. from having her two children benefit from the nourishing environment at Right Steps Preschool & Childcare Center. From her Roxboro home to Right Steps’ doorstep in the city’s Rittenhouse neighborhood, she faced a 35-minute commute, but she knew the sacrifice of her time would pay dividends for her “greatest treasures,” Sammy and Eden.

“When we first started looking at Right Steps, I think it was late 2011 and we had looked at other daycare facilities in Center City,” says Melanie, a public health attorney. “We were blown away [by Right Steps]. They had such an amazing thing to offer compared to everyone else.”

She was particularly impressed with Right Steps’ robust curriculum designed to develop each child’s intellectual, emotional and social potential, offering everything from art, science and music to math and foreign languages, plus other “enrichment” activities, such as dance and tumbling. She also considered the facility’s spaciousness—five stories, approximately 15,000 square feet—and soothing design, as well as the “huge convenience” of having an area designated for in-house stroller parking.

Then there was her No. 1 consideration, aside from the curriculum: an in-house kitchen to ensure her children would have healthfully and lovingly prepared meals, such as challah French toast with organic fruit, teriyaki tofu with organic vegetables and seasoned orzo, and oven-baked tilapia.

“We used to live six blocks away [from Right Steps],” Melanie says. “Despite the fact that I now live far away, it’s worth it knowing how the kids spend their day.”

Fellow Right Steps parent Melissa G. could not agree more.

“From the first time we went to Right Steps, we saw the immediate difference in our son, Matthew,” she says. “It was such a positive environment with bright, natural light; everything was new and colorful, and the food coming out of the kitchen was organic and natural. They’re doing all the extra things to exceed my expectations.

“For my son to come home and say, ‘I saw baby chicks hatching out of their eggs,’ that’s not your typical daycare,” she continues. “They have exercises like yoga, Zumba, tumbling—all these extra things that go above and beyond what you would find anywhere else. For Bastille Day, [Right Steps] took the kids for an excursion to Parc restaurant for lunch, and Matthew came home with a beret. It’s a very diverse environment, with families from different countries. It’s a nice way for him to get to know the world.”

‘A Personalized Experience’

John and Regina Reydler founded Right Steps in 2004 after being dissatisfied with the quality of local childcare options for their own children, who they wanted to provide with a global, multicultural education. The foundation of Right Steps’ philosophy incorporates the Reggio Emilia approach, which cares for the entire child by immersing students in a warm and nurturing community that encourages exploration, self-discovery and strong academics.

In addition to the Rittenhouse location, Right Steps has two childcare centers in Bucks County. The Rittenhouse location serves infants as young as six weeks old, as well as toddlers and preschoolers, with separate rooms and programs to focus on the development of each particular age group; the locations in Churchville and Richboro offer the added component of a kindergarten program.

Considering the metropolitan nature of Right Steps’ Philadelphia location, students hail from countries around the globe—namely, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, China, France, India, Israel, Italy, Russia and Vietnam, among many others. Naturally, the design of the Rittenhouse facility reflects the diversity of the student body. This is perhaps most apparent in the spacious downstairs playroom, which doubles as a gathering place for special events. The room has 30-foot-high ceiling and a wall-to-wall, hand-painted mural featuring landmarks from around the world—the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the pyramids of Giza, Egypt, Boathouse Row in Philadelphia, etc.—to ignite the imagination.

“We want our kids to walk away from here with confidence as they enter kindergarten or a grade-school setting,” says Mary Beth Cunningham, co-director of Right Steps Philadelphia. “We stress the well-roundedness of the curriculum, not just the academics. The letters and numbers are very important, but so are the arts and a child’s physical development.

“We also provide a personalized experience for each child and each family,” she continues, adding that each younger classroom has a minimum of three teachers. “The administration is heavily involved to make sure every family is given exactly what they want from the center, whether nutrition is your main component, or academics or socialization. Whatever is most important to you we focus on with your child.”

Right Steps participates in Keystone STARS, an initiative of the Office of Child Development and Early Learning of Pennsylvania, which aims to improve, support and recognize “the continuous quality improvement efforts of early learning programs” throughout the state. Right Steps is among a small percentage of daycare centers involved in the initiative to have earned four stars, which is the highest possible rating. Regina Reydler suggests this is a direct result of the unwavering commitment and passion of Right Steps’ staff.

“Getting qualified people is a challenge throughout the childcare industry, and we are grateful to our teachers and other staff members for maintaining our high standards of quality,” she says. “Parents are more educated and involved in their children’s lives, now more than ever before. They are very educated, very demanding, and their needs are clear. We want the same thing those parents want—to make sure their children are happy, healthy and on the right path for the future.”

‘A Good Fit’
When Michael M. and his wife moved to Philadelphia from New York City, they sought a suitable replacement for the daycare center that their daughter, Olive, had adored. When they brought Olive to Right Steps for a tour and she immediately started playing with the other children in the communal play area, it “felt like a good fit.”

“It’s not just a place where we drop her off and pick her up at the end of the day,” says Michael, originally a native of Roxboro who now lives in Logan Square. “There is core time where these kids learn skill sets that are appropriate for their age. Olive’s vocabulary is fantastic for her age. Sometimes she will sing [and count] in Spanish ... and we’re not teaching her Spanish at home.

“She was two years and three months old when she started at Right Steps, and now she’s two years and nine months, and we’ve seen a huge development in that six-month window,” he continues. “From the teachers to the curriculum to the enrichment programs, with everything they’re doing there, we’ve seen the noticeable development of our daughter. It’s been fantastic.”

Michael cites another advantage of having their children educated at Right Steps: community. Parents of Right Steps students commonly forge close relationships with each other, and John Reydler suggests are underway to increase efforts to bring parents together.

“There are common interests among parents who bring their children here,” John says. “These are parents who appreciate the environment we’ve created and understand the importance of education and its impact on early development. It has been proven that the time between six weeks and six years is the most important on the development of the human brain. The parents of our students understand that Right Steps is not about babysitting services. They want their children to have the best schools, to go to good colleges. The foundation is here.”

For parents such as Melanie L., whose son has moved on from Right Steps and whose daughter will soon “graduate” to kindergarten, the choice was an easy one.

“For any parents looking for a facility for their children, I would direct them to Right Steps,” she says. “[Right Steps] may be more expensive than some other options, but they have been worth every penny. I trust them with my greatest treasures. I don’t know what else a parent would want to hear other than I trust them with my children.”

Right Steps Boutique Preschool & Childcare Center

Rittenhouse Square
1535 Locust Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102

29 Tanyard Road
Richboro, PA 18954

48 Churchville Lane
Churchville, PA 18966

Photograph by Allure West Studios