By Diana Padron
There are two worlds in Princeton. Walk out of the front gates of the University, and you are transported to a land rich with booming businesses, beautiful late-Victorian buildings, and clean-cut grass. High-end bookstores, a small independent theater, and quirky gift shops dot the downtown strip. No one can deny it: Princeton is the perfect place to raise your children.
However, in every community, there are pockets of people who live outside the majority. Walk farther from campus, and the landscape changes before your eyes. Suddenly, dignified white pillars become decaying columns with chipped paint. Plastic lawn chairs and broken flower pots litter the porches of the modest white houses that line the streets. The neighborhood radiates a warm familiarity, as if saying, “It’s not paradise, but it’s home.”
Rosanda Wong tends to the children of the other Princeton. She is the executive director of the Princeton Nursery School, a daycare center for minority and low-income children. The average cost of tuition to a child-care center is around $1,500 a month. The nursery serves countless struggling families, 95 percent of whom live below the poverty line. Wong provides aid to these families when no one else will.
Cost of tuition is based on a sliding scale that considers all aspects of every family’s living situation. Wong and her staff help prepare children for public school by teaching kids in both English and Spanish, incorporating the sciences into everyday learning, and practicing real-life skills such as gardening, among other activities.
Wong helps kids outside the classroom, too. Programs like Send Hunger Packing and Bubbles and Brushes provide students with food and personal hygiene products over the weekend when parents have trouble making ends meet. She once even bought shoes for a girl whose only pair were wrapped in duct tape. For parents who can’t afford tuition, Wong created the Angel Fund, a program that connects parents to “angel donors” who are ready to hear families’ stories and help with their cause. For three to six months, the Angel Fund covers the child’s tuition.
“They’re doing everything right,” Wong said of the families helped by the Angel Fund. She understands that sometimes life deals people a bad hand.
Without Wong, the children of Princeton’s working class would be greatly affected by steep child-care costs. She may not be an angel straight from heaven, but she comes pretty close.