When Primrose School of South Gilbert opened a little more than a year ago at Williams Field and Higley roads, there were 13 kids.
Today, there are 115 enrolled, with waiting lists for some of the classes.
Bridges Preschool recently opened a campus in Chandler, just one year after it opened a campus in Tempe.
Sunrise Preschool's newest facility opened last week in Mesa in a formerly abandoned building, now remodeled, just south of U.S. 60 at Gilbert Road and Hampton Avenue.
Though the economy has stalled, a handful of preschools are opening in the East Valley, and many say they're not short on students.
"The growth - the demographics say - is out here, even with the economy stalled," said Primrose School of South Gilbert's director Karen Nowicki. "Development that was once stalled is now selling. This is where the growth is in the East Valley."
There are 190 licensed child care centers, including those in home settings, in Mesa alone, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services' licensing website. Chandler follows as the East Valley's second largest with 112. Gilbert has 104, followed by Tempe with 85.
Nowicki said in the case of Primrose, about 80 percent of the children were previously in another child care setting.
But that's not always the case. Bridges Preschool's marketing director Sandra Gill, said her school has seen an influx of families new to preschool - including children who have previously been home with mom.
"We've had more and more parents come in who have not had their children in a preschool environment and then they see what we're offering," she said. "There are some stay-at-home moms who realize by the time their children are 3 or 4 - or before that - they feel they need to be a in a preschool environment before kindergarten."
Dana Vela, president of Sunrise Preschool, said the Mesa site is the 19th facility for Sunrise.
"The families in this community haven't had access to this kind of care and we are excited to offer a brand new, modern, high-quality facility to prepare them for kindergarten and beyond," Vela said in a press release.
Parents are asking more of their children's preschools and child care facilities, the directors say, because of the increased demand on kindergarten. Most kindergarten students in Arizona are now being educated according to the newly adopted Common Core Standards, which have been put into place by 46 states, including Arizona.
Starting with last year's kindergartners (this year's first graders), children in Arizona must also be reading at their grade level before they finish third grade or they risk being retained.
"(Parents) know it's a good thing for their children to get involved in a preschool program prior to kindergarten," Gill said. "With kindergarten nowadays, if you've not been to a preschool when you go to kindergarten, you're behind. Kindergarten is like first grade. Back in the day, you were learning numbers, letters, colors, shapes. Nowadays, you're reading in kindergarten."
More parents are working, also prompting them to bring their children in. The infant room at Primrose was "one of our hardest to fill," Nowicki said. "Now we've had a waiting list since November."
Laurie Roach, started as director at Phoenix Children's Academy in Gilbert in November. Since then, she said, more than 45 families have enrolled at the school, which serves children 6 weeks old through schoolage with its afterschool program.
"I know we've had huge growth since I started in November. I brought four teachers from another school and we had a lot of families follow. We haven't done a lot of outside marketing. It's been a lot of parent referrals," she said. Besides Gilbert, families come from Queen Creek and Chandler, she said, to the campus at Chandler Heights and Higley Road.
The school opened four years ago and now has 198 children enrolled.
"We have some first-time preschool parents, but mostly they're not new to child care," Roach said.
Some of the new facilities point to the fact that other facilities in the Valley have shuttered their doors.
A few years ago, with state coffers low, the state increased the licensing fees for child care facilities. Some were forced to close.
"The growth depends on the school and how it's providing educational opportunities in the schools. We've seen other schools in the Valley close their doors, unfortunately. We are proud to say we are opening doors," Gill said.
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