For some of Philadelphia’s youngest learners, the first day of school was full of silly stories, art projects and a visit from Mayor Jim Kenney.

On Friday, Sept. 2, Mayor Kenney kicked off the seventh year of PHLpreK with a back-to-school celebration at Wonderspring Early Education Center in Powelton Village. Students spent the morning with the Mayor, listening as he read the children’s book, “Silly Sally,” and drawing pictures to describe their feelings that morning.

The celebration marked the start of an exciting new year for PHLpreK. The program is launching with more providers and more seats than at any time since it began in 2017. With 300 seats added this year, PHLpreK is ready to serve 4,300 students across the city.  

“Philadelphia families understand that quality pre-K and child care programs promote healthy growth and development, and prepare children for success in school,” said the Mayor. “This expansion will allow all of our great providers to continue to provide free, high-quality learning services to even more children and families in Philadelphia.”

Wonderspring Powelton Village is one of 180 locations that provides free, quality pre-K to Philadelphia’s youngest learners. The center has been a part of the PHLpreK community since the program began in 2017.

“The City is privileged to offer—through our network of quality providers such as Wonderspring—a high-level early learning environment for children and families to prepare for kindergarten and elementary school,” said Denise Bermudez, Director of PHLpreK. “Thanks to PHLpreK, these children will be better prepared for schooling, graduating high school in 2038, and beyond.”

Zakiyyah Boone, Chief Executive Officer of Wonderspring (standing), with Mayor Kenney

PHLpreK is still enrolling for the 2022-23 school year! Families can call (844) PHL-PREK or visit to find a current provider and sign up today.

To add to the celebration, the Office of Children and Families (OCF) spoke with Zakiyyah Boone, Chief Executive Officer of Wonderspring, for this month’s PHLpreK Provider Spotlight. As the host of our back-to-school event, Zakiyyah and Wonderspring staff joined the Mayor  in welcoming students to the classroom on their first day of pre-K. 

OCF: What would you say has been the secret to success for your team?

Zakiyyah Boone (ZB): The secret to our success has been maintaining a growth mindset, a positive attitude and being flexible. There have been many changes to the program including staffing. We also set up a new program space within the center for PHLpreK in order to expand capacity. Being united in our efforts to provide quality for children has helped us be successful. 

OCF: What is something you are doing to support your staff right now?

ZB: We are doing several things to support our staff. First, we are improving communication. We have implemented a daily communication board to share any changes occurring within the classroom each day so staff can plan accordingly. We have also increased our use of email and hold more staff meetings to make sure everyone is on the same page and working together for our children and families. 

Secondly, we are finding new community partners to help us manage challenging behaviors. While we utilize a social-emotional curriculum, we have found that the needs of some children exceed the skill set of our staff. We are working to address this issue by using innovative approaches including mindfulness and trauma informed care to help support our staff in managing the behaviors.    

PHLpreK: How has being a part of the PHLpreK community benefited you, your program, and your team?

ZB: The PHLpreK program has helped to diversify the program, provided additional professional development for our staff, provided childcare for working families and connected us to a network of support in the early learning community across the city.

PHLpreK: What is a quote that has helped you overcome struggles while you built your program?

ZB: There are actually two quotes. From our director Monica Williams: “A good leader sees a crisis as a time of learning. Don’t live in a crisis.” And, from Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” This quote reminds us that the power to overcome obstacles begins in our minds.  

PHLpreK: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

ZB: PHLpreK is an awesome program; we wish there were more spots. We have a substantial waiting list. This program gives all families an opportunity to have an early learning experience in a high-quality center. With other income-based funded slots, some families are ineligible. However, with PHLpreK, families are not left falling through the cracks. This program has been such a help to many families and has prepared dozens of Wonderspring children for kindergarten.