Nurse follows calling with OakCrest

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

LEESBURG, Ga. -- Randi Burson was comfortable with her life.

She had worked for more than 20 years as a pediatric nurse with stints at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital and the Lee County Health Department.

But Burson was restless. She was feeling "called by the Lord" to open a child development center in the Albany area.

"I prayed a lot about it and I said, 'Lord, if you provide the way, I'll step out of the boat'," said Burson, who celebrated her 43rd birthday last week. "One day coming into work, which was payday, someone (placed) a positive affirmation (note) in my paycheck. It was a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt that said, 'The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams'."

Burson said she acknowledged the Lord's prompting and later pitched the idea to her unsuspecting husband, Craig.

"He said, 'Have you lost your mind'?" Randi Burson recalled. "I said, 'No, I really feel there is a need and this is a calling.' I get to combine my love of nursing with my love of children."

To make sure what would become OakCrest Academy Child Development Center would be successful, Burson went to great efforts in designing and offering what she believes is "the highest quality child care available" in Albany. To pull this off, she sought expert advice in the child development arena, visited three states and attracted top certified teachers to instruct children from 6 weeks to 5 years old.

"I took two years out of work just to design and build this building," said Burson, who worked with architect Mack Wakeford of Yielding, Wakefield & McGee Architects.

The facility features 12 classrooms, a large multipurpose room, a library/media center and a screened-in porch. To cut down on germs and smells, each room features Lifebreath Indoor Air Systems as part of the air conditioning units and non-allergenic carpet. The 18,000-square-foot building sits on two acres next to First Baptist Church of Albany on the Oakland Parkway. Two age-appropriate outdoor playgrounds and a soccer field anchor the outside property. Children have two 45-minute recesses during their day, which could span from 7 a.m.-6 p.m.

"My mentor for child care was Peggy Henry in Tallahassee," said Burson, who's also a clinical instructor once a week for Darton College's nursing program. "When I'd put ideas out there, she'd tell me if they were doable. She has five child care (facilities) down there."

Henry recommended Burson to have parents pay tuition monthly instead of weekly, as most child care facilities do, in order to put more focus on care and less on accounting. Henry also told Burson to avoid installing a commercial kitchen so that she could put her money elsewhere.

"Who knows better what kids like?" Burson said of parents. "Everything we do is disposed of, and that lends itself to a better environment. It helps us to teach recycling here."

By all indications, Burson's attention to detail and desire to please parents has paid off. Since opening with 75 students in January 2006, OakCrest has grown each year and currently boasts 165 children. It has 38 employees/instructors with eight of those certified to also teach in a public-school setting. If she needed to, Burson said she could possibly "squeeze in" five more children throughout the building.

"It has come a long way," said instructor Robbie McCoy, who teaches a 3-year-old class. "We're not too old or too young to get on the floor with them as if we're 2 or 1, because that's what they understand.

McCoy, along with Jane Astolos, Kathleen Towson, Loretta Campbell, Algenia Skinner, Veronica Kendrick and Director Anna Massey, have worked at OakCrest since it opened. Many of the children who were part of the academy's first class of infants are now part of the center's K-4 class.

OakCrest instructors use the copyrighted Creative Curriculum program, which provides a center- and thematic-based learning approach. The centers include art, discovery and science, library, manipulatives, blocks, housekeeping and more. Letters, colors, shapes, numbers and Spanish words are some of the themes.

"We try to make sure the classrooms are equipped with age-appropriate toys and manipulatives, and that classroom arrangement is appropriate," said Massey, who previously taught in the Terrell County School System and has two children enrolled at OakCrest.

Children can also participate in on-site extracurricular activities gymnastics and piano lessons for an additional charge. They also participate in the school's Trike-A-Thon, which benefits St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, go on field trips to places of interest like Mark's Melon Patch in the fall and learn about fire safety when firefighters bring a firetruck to the facility.