Place for learning: Pattikakes closing its doors after two decades | News


TEWKSBURY — Pat­tikakes, A Place for Learning, is closing its doors after 20 years.

“I started with Steven J. and ended with Mason D.,” said Pattikakes’ own­er Patti MacGillivray, reflecting on the students that passed through her doors.

Located on the campus of the Tewksbury Hospi­tal, the childcare center occupied the Anne Sulli­van building. Pattikakes shared the building with Hart House, a residential recovery home for women, which moved to another location earlier this year.

MacGillivray cited the challenge of finding help as the reason for the cen­ter closing.

“We weathered COVID and had no cases in our infant and toddler rooms,” MacGillivray said, and families came back after the pandemic.

However, staffing shor­tages placed the center at a crossroads.

“Finding help has been a real challenge; I’ve placed ads, had interviews set up, and people don’t show. Other times we get no response at all,” MacGillivray said.

This issue has plagued the childcare industry, even as new centers have opened in Tewksbury, such as Main Street Learning Academy, Lear­ning Experience, and two additional centers plan­ned for Main Street. However, according to the U.S Census bureau, birth numbers are dropping in Massachusetts.

But Pattikakes was a mainstay for the hospital.

“We had children from all over, including Tewks­bury, Wilmington, and the surrounding communities,” said MacGilliv­ray, providing care for children of staff and also for families in the area. “We supported infants right until the children went to kindergarten.”

Pattikakes’ organic lear­ning model was design­ed to let children discover and learn at their own pace.

“Our themed curriculum gave us flexibility to take the children outside, walk in the woods, and explore the campus,” said MacGillivray, describing the children’s catapult experiments, playing in the sandbox, and painting and crafts. “Our learning was messy.”

She shared that a parent, who is a week into a new center for their child, emailed that she was so sad because she has not had to do laundry for her child yet. MacGillivray has reservations about cookie-cutter corporate models.

The center was a family affair, with MacGillvray’s daughter, Ellen Leavitt, and son Adam Leavitt both teachers. The two are working on helping close out the school.

“In the early days, my mother and aunt even came and read to the children,” said MacGillivray. “Their backgrounds in teaching and childcare made it easy for us to offer a superior experience for children.”

Son Adam’s food service background also made the COVID protocols easy to follow.

“We had ‘angels’ who cleaned the halls, we kept students separated, we sanitized, it made a huge difference,” said Leavitt.

Over the years, MacGil­livray estimates that ap­proximately 300 families went through the center.

“We had a reunion party the day after we closed, and students we had as in­fants, who are now in college, came back to vi­sit,” said MacGillivray.

She described the students and parents taking their pictures off the pho­to wall from their days at the center.

“These were our kids,” said MacGillivray.

At its height, the center had 52 students, 13 teachers and five aides. MacGil­livray received her education at Wheelock College and is a member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

MacGillivray and her family are going through the process of selling off the contents of the two-story school. A tag sale is planned, and anyone in­terested in items for a preschool can email MacGil­livray at [email protected].

MacGillivray shared, “The last book we read was Chester Raccoon and the Acorn Full of Memo­ries. We talked about me­mories and why they are important, and the students made hearts and gave everyone their own memory.”

MacGillivray has something special planned for her students so they can remember their time at Pattikakes. She appreciates the support of the families who entrusted their children to her center, and to the Tewksbury community.

A poster on the door sums up her philosophy: “Please excuse the mess, the children are making memories.”

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