Columbia's first daycare for black students a strong legacy 85 years later
COLUMBIA - The first nursery school to ever serve black children in Columbia is still open and operating today.
In 1933, Amanda Estes started what is now known as Nora Stewart Early Learning Center. Before she opened the doors, Estes was a teacher at Douglass School.
The daycare was first known as Negro Nursery School and cared for 16 students. There are currently more than 50 children who attend.
The daycare has moved locations multiple times since it opened and currently is housed in the former home of Estes’ foster mother, Nora Stewart.
“We had to have the building renovated,” Executive Director Cheryl Howard said. “The kitchen was falling apart, the floor was falling apart, the roof was leaking.”
Howard was a student at Nora Stewart and has been the executive director for 13 years.
“I believe it helped some of my educational foundations,” she said.
Howard is a product of Columbia Public Schools and graduated from Stephens College in Columbia.
Howard's daughter attended Nora Stewart, as did many of Howard's colleagues. Aqua Washington, who works with the children, said she stayed around after being a student because of the center's vision and how much the workers cared for the students.
“It’s all the same, and my children have come through here too. My oldest wants to work here, too!” Washington said.
Although the building has changed, the vision and mission for the daycare has not.
“I’ve done all I can do to keep the school moving forward, that’s what we’ll continue to do," Howard said. "We will always, always keep our heritage in mind, especially our history.”