Tucked away in the hills of Patapsco Valley State Park is one of Catonsville's best-kept secrets -- Mount Providence Child Development Center.
Run by the Oblate Sisters of Providence, a historic order of African-American nuns, the center has provided day care and instruction for children ages 2 1/2 to 5 since 1972.
But clients of Mount Providence worry that the secret is a little too well-kept. Noting a decline in enrollment in recent years, they are eager to tell other parents about what they believe is stable, quality child care.
"A good friend of mine praised the program," said Barbara Fayak-Galka, parent of pupil Daniel Galka, who entered the program for 4-year-olds in September. "It's been great for Daniel. He's learned a lot."
Sister Mary Concetta Melton, director of the center, conceded that the enrollment of 56 children, down somewhat from previous years, is primarily because of the center's remote location on Gun Road in Catonsville.
She said that the center, which is licensed by the Child Care Administration of the Maryland Department of Human Resources, has plenty to boast about.
"Mount Providence strives to provide children with a home away from home," Sister Concetta said of the school's philosophy. "We treat each child like an individual."
The Oblates, founded in 1828 as the world's first order of African-American nuns, were established with a strong mission to educate African-American children.
Although the student population at Mount Providence is predominantly white, children of various nationalities learn in the classrooms and play in the corridors.
"Perpetual motion," said piano teacher Sister Mary Carmela Duncan, while watching two children play tag in the hallway.
The center focuses on each child's achievement, with a kindergarten program approved by the state Board of Education and state-accredited programs structured according to the needs of each learning level.
The programs in each age group cover basic topics such as language, music, math, art, reading -- even Spanish. In addition to classroom instruction, these skills are incorporated into the children's daily activities. The program costs $110 a week, in addition to a $100 registration fee.
As Michele Wood taught her kindergarten class mathematics recently, she used the task of making a fruit salad to help children apply their knowledge. She talked about fractions as she helped the children cut fruit into halves and fourths.
Wood, who has been with the center for nine years, believes in its programs. Her children, Madeleine, 5, and Creston, 3 1/2 , attend Mount Providence.
Another teacher, Kathy McCausland, has been at the center for 19 years. In that time she has seen many changes in children and education.
"Children today are more sophisticated," said McCausland said. "They're exposed to more opportunities."
Although times change, the need for a strong educational foundation remains paramount in the center's philosophy. The Oblates offer a tutorial program for people of all ages in their reading center.
Sister Concetta praises the dedication of her staff members, saying they -- and the cooperation of parents -- are what make Mount Providence a success.
"Everyone has different gifts," said Sister Concetta of the staff. "We have been given the gift to work with children."
Pub Date: 3/16/98