Little Sprouts adapting to serve ECE needs

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by Marissa Lorenz
Little Sprouts Learning Center in Granby celebrated its 5-year anniversary in June, quietly but
for a second opening on June 1, after having been closed since March 16, due to COVID-19 restrictions and concerns.

“Reopening after COVID had just as many challenges as our original opening,” explains Executive Director Jessica Driver. “We had to rethink and implement new policies and procedures, and new health and safety practices, such as curbside drop-offs. There was a lot of anxiety for staff and families, and we were really dedicated to making sure teachers and children could come back in a safe manner.”

And having quality childcare open and functioning safely has become, perhaps, even more critical as communities across the country are struggling with the economic fallout of COVID-19 and the unprecedented restrictions put in place earlier this year to try to prevent its spread.

“We started five years ago with a drive to help our community, support the workforce, and build the local economy,” says Driver. “For parents to be able to work, they need childcare. And for them to be comfortable with leaving their kids in care, the community needs high quality care. We see it as a big success to have been able to keep our doors open for the last five years. But there’s still more need in the community.”

National Wildlife Federation grant ups quality of outdoor learning And the organization has continued to grow and improve its offerings during that five- year period. Driver explains that, while the initial priorities were for creating high quality education with the best materials in the classroom, they spent over three years pursuing improvements to their outdoor learning area.

Initially, she details, they were faced with resource challenges with local contractors often booked out an entire season and committed to larger-scale jobs. Finally, they were able to complete that outdoor remodel with the help of grants, in-kind donations, and “lots and lots of volunteer hours.”

A bulk of the monies and development costs came through a grant from the National Wildlife Federation’s Early Childhood Health Outdoors (ECHO) program. The center was granted $10,000 and the time of a professional landscape architect to do the design work for the “naturalized outdoor space.”

ECHO is based on obesity-prevention research that demonstrates that “by improving the design of outdoor spaces through affordable interventions and training early childhood professionals, young children and early childhood programs enjoy substantial benefits,” such as being more physically active and engaging in social interactions more frequently, spending more time time outdoors, and developing better eating habits through hands-on gardening.

The Little Sprouts project has been such a success that the education center has been named
a demonstration site for Colorado.

“The playground will be showcased across the state,” says Driver. “It was a lot of fun, and the children are really loving the new outdoor area.”

Indoor needs increase with COVID-19 safety

But the childcare center’s ongoing success was not so certain six months ago when Colorado’s Governor Jared Polis implemented a state-wide Stay-at-Home order, following the lead of much of the country and world in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Driver explains that the nonprofit early childcare center was able to pay its employees for the first month of the order, but then had to furlough its staff when the closure was extended. When Little Sprouts reopened in June, they were fortunate to “bring back all staff,” having them return on the first or plan to return, even though student enrollment was down 34% at the time.

The low enrollment seems to have been related to safety concerns on the part of parents, parents working from home and so choosing to keep their children with them, or families having experienced layoffs or furloughs that left them unable to afford childcare.

And although numbers began to rebound in mid July and are now back to a typical enrollment of near full, according to Driver, COVID has meant a shifting of priorities back to the classroom.

While all of Little Sprouts classrooms already had a maximum of 10 students, fitting within the size recommendations for learning cohorts by the Colorado Department of Education and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, sanitation guidelines are calling for more individualized learning materials and easily cleaned items.

And so the non-profit’s annual fundraiser will be dedicated to raising funds to shore up those needed classroom materials in 2020. As in previous years, board members and volunteers have worked to gather silent auction items, though the usual dinner will be skipped and supporters are invited to bid online.

Support ECE this weekend
The virtual auction will run from today, Thursday, October 22 through Sunday, the 23rd. To support Little Sprouts and help keep high-quality early childhood education in Grand County, go online to bid at www. facebook.com/littlesproutsgranby.