Helen Asbury is the founder of Children's Corner, the school’s first Early Childhood program, which opened in 1984 and effectively made Cincinnati Country Day School 18 months through 18 years.
“I was teaching 1st grade but was looking to do more, so I approached then Headmaster John Raushenbush about this childcare idea. There were big changes in the workplace coming out of the 70s; there were not a lot of high-quality childcare options in Cincinnati. There was a need.”
Raushenbush provided her with a small stipend to execute a feasibility study. She surveyed the school community and surrounding neighborhoods and gathered data that confirmed there was a huge interest in a program like what she had proposed.
"John was open-minded and always willing to brainstorm. I loved that about him. He took the data to the board, which agreed that an early childhood program would be a good addition to the existing programming at Country Day.”
For the second semester of the school year, the board hired her to build the program…with a few caveats.
“We had to be in the black the first year and we needed to hire bona fide faculty hired to work with the young learners who would enroll in the program. We wanted to do this right, right from the beginning, but none of us realized how much work it would be.”
7125 Given Road went for sale and a board member anonymously purchased the house and leased it to the school; thus, providing a location for the school’s first early childhood program.
“I worked long days and was so exhausted all the time, but it was really exciting and was such a fulfilling project to take a house and turn it into a school building that was developmentally sound and engaging.”
The executive team, consisting of Bill Hopple, Sr., Joe Thesing, Ralph Klitz, Marcella Trice, Mary Kelly, and Dick Schwab, met every week.
“We talked through everything, including what the name of the program would be. We wanted the name to convey a place that was nurturing and protective. I threw out the term “Children’s Corner” and it stuck. The team thought it was perfect.”
From January 1 through late August when Children’s Corner opened, Helen and Ralph Klitz worked to hire the faculty and staff and plan the operating and capital budgets. Helen also did all the advertising and admissions interviews and met with the builder.
“The renovation had to be child-proof, durable, cheerful, and affordable. We had to create a calm space away from the group as well as create spaces for movement and large and small group activities…all while meeting zoning and building codes! It was a wonderful adventure of creative program-solving.”
Ann Gelke, who worked full time as a child psychologist and had a four-year-old child and a Country Day 1st grader, helped Helen plan a developmentally appropriate program. She was also in desperate need of childcare and asked for Helen if she would consider broadening the age range of Children’s Corner to 18 months to six years old for after-school care and offering a flexible schedule. Helen agreed and that flexible schedule is still a hallmark of our Early Childhood program.
“A lot of schools do not offer this type of schedule. It was something that parents needed then and it’s still something that parents need. And there was such great collaboration with our preschool and kindergarten teachers as a result because we were all taking care of the same children.”
At the time, there were only a handful of childcare programs in the area, including a wonderful daycare in the Anna Louise Inn, a Montessori program in downtown, and the daycare for P&G employees.
“We were considered the four best childcare programs, but the other three programs existed before Children’s Corner, so they kindly offered all sorts of insight. We didn’t see each other as competition because there was such a need.”
Helen drafted Children’s Corner’s mission statement, which emphasized child development and emotional wellbeing. Helen noted that at that time, people were generally more concerned about the education of the older students and didn’t realize how crucial a developmentally appropriate education was for little kids as well. She also came up with what was a brand-new idea at the time: giving parents a sheet of paper each day that outlined what their children did throughout the day.
“It sounds like it was all fun making the whole program come into fruition and it was but there were hard decisions. Because we were open to incorporating different perspectives from bright, caring people, though, I feel like we truly created an excellent program. The state licensing board couldn't believe how incredible Children’s Corner was and it became a model for others.”
Children’s Corner opened the first semester of the 1984-85 school year. Helen made $22,500 as the director and division head of Children’s Corner. There were four teachers and one administrative assistant. Helen held the position as director for three years and then left to obtain her Psy.D. from Wright State University.
“When I was younger and people would ask what I wanted to do when I grew up, ‘I want to start a school and be a psychologist’ was always my answer. To this day, the fun part is that as soon as I was licensed, I stayed connected to Country Day as a psychologist consultant. It really means a lot that I continue to be a part of the Country Day family. And I think it helps to know the school because when a kid comes to me, I have a sense of the school and who they can ask for help. I love having these connections with Country Day families and teachers.”
Helen has been connected to the Country Day community for a long time. She attended Country Day for nursery school and kindergarten and then went to the Lotspeich Campus and Hillsdale because Country Day was still an all-boys school at that time. Her father, Taylor “Tuck” Asbury, attended Country Day through 8th grade. Her uncle, Art, sisters, Mary and Janet, and two of her cousins attended Country Day.
“A third of my Hillsdale class is from Country Day. We recently celebrated our 50th anniversary and it was so good to see all of them, to see everyone.”
In addition to consulting, Helen does a lot of public speaking across Cincinnati. She is on the board of trustees at St. Rita’s School for the Deaf, and she was on the board for JDRF and is still involved as a volunteer and advocate.
“I love doing things in the community for children. This work really matters to me. I always try to be in positions to advocate for kids.”
To see our mission statement in action in the ECC, click here to watch the video.