Popular local preschool closing after 20 years
New childcare center to open at same location
– For the past 20 years, Ella Porter has rocked babies, comforted toddlers on their first day of childcare, and soothed the hearts of anxious parents returning to work after giving birth. But this month, S.T.A.R.S. Preschool on Golden Hill Road in Paso Robles is closing. Owners Ella and Jim Porter have sold their property. In its place, The Learning Tree Golden Hill, a new childcare center, is slated to open in June under the direction of Kelsey Sullivan, who also owns and operates The Learning Tree Preschool in Atascadero.
In 2002, Ella’s dream was to open a childcare center and preschool. At a projected cost of over $1 million, the childcare center and preschool would serve children aged six weeks to five years, with an emphasis on those with disabilities. Her vision for S.T.A.R.S. (Successful Transition and Resource Services) germinated while working as an assistant educator at Bauer Speck School in Paso Robles. Jim encouraged Ella to quit her job and fulfill her desire to make S.T.A.R.S. a reality.
“There were no childcare centers that took in infants and toddlers unless you counted home providers,” said Ella. “Word-of-mouth is very mighty. To this day, S.T.A.R.S. has been the only childcare center in Paso Robles that has accepted infants and toddlers. It’s really hard to leave a six-week-old baby in childcare. There’s always lots of tears.”
Molly Scott knows this struggle firsthand. She shares, “The Porter Family is legendary. They and their staff helped raise our sons, and we’re proud to share that credit is in great part due to S.T.A.R.S.! The Center’s great reputation casts a wide net. Being a full-time working mom, my husband and I never felt more welcomed and assured that our kids would be loved and taken care of.”
Over the organization’s lifetime, Ella and Jim’s grown children, Cheryl, Debbie, Tammy, and Linda, have each contributed their expertise to S.T.A.R.S. as indispensable educators and advisers to their mother.
“It is such a scary time when you leave your kids for the first time,” said Gretchen Roddick of Paso Robles. “S.T.A.R.S. made it comfortable for all of us. I know the success of our kids today is because of the education they received in their first five years. We are grateful for what Ella and her family did for all of us.”
Carol Yeaman-Sanchez agrees. “We enrolled our oldest daughter, Peyton, when she was 18 months old,” she says, “Ms. Ella, Ms. Cheryl, Ms. Debbie (both Ella’s daughters), and Ms. Charlene all helped us to feel confident that we were leaving our baby in experienced, caring hands. They’ve built a positive environment focused on nurturing a love of learning in which Peyton has blossomed.”
Chloe Asseo-Fabre’s children have attended S.T.A.R.S. for five years. “The love and respect that my children hold for Ms. Ella and the Porter family is unparalleled for sacrifices they have made to create such a warm, loving, and educational space for children,” she says. “It’s a bittersweet time as we must say goodbye, but we’ll be forever grateful for all they have done.”
Health issues have been a nagging concern for the Porters in recent years – an intrusion that forced the tough decision to retire. Ella says she winced at the thought. “We’ve had so many great times and we’ve seen children go to college. The few in-home childcare options that exist are not enough. That’s very sad to me. It concerns me. The only reason why I don’t want to leave is because I don’t want to shortchange the kids in any way.”
Ella and Jim received no salary at S.T.A.R.S. They fully credit parents, volunteers, and local organizations and businesses that were quick to help with landscaping, a new playground, classroom carpeting, or toddler-sized bikes. They have fond memories of S.T.A.R.S. floats at parades, annual fundraisers, and Mother’s Day Tea gatherings.
Before closing the chapter on her dream now realized, Ella anticipated what would be her last Mother’s Day Tea. Displayed in a beautifully decorated classroom was a children’s book, Love You Forever, authored by Robert Munsch. The 32-page heart-tugger describes a parent’s enduring love for a child and a child’s love for a parent. A tradition at the annual Mother’s Day Tea is Ella’s reading of the book, in which she affirms parents and their important role in their children’s lives:
I’ll love you forever
I’ll like you for always
As long as I’m living
My baby you’ll be…
“We’ve had so many great times throughout the years. I wanted to keep working until I was 80. I was just shy of it by a year and three months,” said Ella. “I want to thank all the parents who entrusted us with their most precious possessions, their children. I just couldn’t have done this 20 years ago without them.”
-By Melissa Chavez