Editor’s Note: The Early Learning Nation Studio recently attended the 2022 National League of Cities’ City Congressional Conference where we spoke with early learning researchers, policymakers, and practitioners. The full collection of video conversations can be found here.
How important are strong early learning programs for College Park, MD? As Mayor Patrick Wojahn describes it, as home to the University of Maryland’s flagship campus, their daytime population is about twice the regular resident population – “so we are heavily reliant on the nearby community for childcare and pre-K programs.”
Chris Riback: Mayor Wojahn, thank you so much for joining us.
Mayor Patrick Wojahn: My pleasure.
Chris Riback: Welcome to the studio. For those of us who don’t know the city, describe College Park, Maryland, and the relationship between the university and the town.
Mayor Patrick Wojahn: So College Park, we’re a suburban community. We’re located in Prince George’s County, just outside of Washington, D.C., but we’re also the home of the flagship campus of the University of Maryland System, so we’re very reliant on the University of Maryland. Our daytime population is about twice our regular resident population, so we are heavily reliant on the nearby community for childcare and pre-K programs.
Chris Riback: What’s the state of early childhood learning in College Park? I would assume that with the university environment, that that’s a focus, but what is the state there?
Mayor Patrick Wojahn: Yes, so we do have some great programs. We have a partnership with the university. The city has partnered directly with the university on some childcare programs, and we recently brought in a pre-K education program, but there still is a high unmet demand for early childhood learning and pre-K programs.
Chris Riback: In terms of affordable programs, in terms of quantity, what’s the gating factor?
Mayor Patrick Wojahn: All of that. We need affordable programs, we need more programs. There’s a wait list years long for everything that exists out there, so we need all that.
Chris Riback: How do you connect early childhood learning with so many of the other challenges that any city faces? Health, environment, employment, COVID. There’s a lot going on.
Mayor Patrick Wojahn: Yes. Well, yes. Yes, I mean, it’s critical for everything. Without a way to take care of our youngest residents and the children of the people who come to work in College Park every day, we lose the ability to be competitive and attract good employees to be our teachers, to be our faculty, to be staff at the university, to be our first responders, everything.
Chris Riback: What is the Monarch Pre-K Program?
Mayor Patrick Wojahn: Yes, so the Monarch Pre-K Program, that’s a private company that we work to bring in and recruit to start a pre-K program in North College Park. The city worked to subsidize that together with our city university partnership. We recruited them and then helped get them set up so that they could provide this high-quality pre-K program for our residents.
Chris Riback: How’s it going?
Mayor Patrick Wojahn: It’s going really well. It’s gotten a very high demand. The program has hit the ground running during COVID, so they certainly faced a lot of challenges, but they met them head-on and are doing really well.
Chris Riback: This is related to the university city partnership as well?
Mayor Patrick Wojahn: Yes.
Chris Riback: So I don’t know if Monarch is for-profit or nonprofit, but it sounds like you’re coordinating third party company, a university and a city … how does that coordination work?
Mayor Patrick Wojahn: Right, right. So, the city university partnership is a separate organization that’s run jointly by the university and the city where we work to tackle some of the challenges that we face jointly, and really create a synergy to help us do better as a community working in partnership between the city and the university.
One of those challenges that we have decided to take on is this issue of an unmet demand for early learning programs. So, the city university partnership has been working to recruit programs like the Monarch program to serve our residents and the University of Maryland employees.
Chris Riback: I can’t have you here and talk with you without also asking you about your Twitter feed. I must confess, your Twitter feed made me really, really hungry. Apparently College Park, Maryland has the best restaurants in the nation-
Mayor Patrick Wojahn: That’s right, we do.
Chris Riback: And apparently you personally support all of them.
Mayor Patrick Wojahn: That’s right. That’s right, yes. Well, I wanted to, because I heard people really concerned when the pandemic started that we were going to lose a lot of our great local restaurants. I also heard a lot of people say that they weren’t aware of all the great local restaurants that we have, so I took it on as my personal mission over the course of the pandemic to patronize as many of the restaurants locally that I could and post up on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, what restaurants were open for carryout and dining. The fact that even though we were forced to stay at home and be isolated, doesn’t mean we couldn’t support our great local restaurants.
Chris Riback: What’s open, what’s serving, what your favorite dish is-
Mayor Patrick Wojahn: Exactly.
Chris Riback: What’s left over and you’re going to eat tomorrow, you’ve got it all out there.
Mayor Patrick Wojahn: Yes, exactly.
Chris Riback: Well, you’re an excellent advocate for the city, for the restaurants and for early learning for our children.
Mayor Patrick Wojahn: Thank you.
Chris Riback: Thank you for your work on all of it, and thank you for coming to the studio.
Mayor Patrick Wojahn: My pleasure. Happy to do it.