by Marissa Lorenz
Next Tuesday, November 19, will see the long-awaited Grand Opening of the new West Grand Early Childcare Center (WGECC) and an important step in addressing such long-standing and wide-ranging concerns as child-care availability, school preparedness, and employee recruitment. The Center is licensed to accommodate five spots for infants and 10 spots for toddlers, more than doubling the current licensed infant/toddler day-care capacity in Kremmling.
“The State classifies Kremmling as a day-care desert,” says Rhonda Ilgner, director of the center. And indeed, according to Meagan Lokteff, Executive Director of Grand Beginnings, the county’s primary resource for early childhood care, there is currently
only one licensed in-home child care provider in the community. That provider can serve up to six children, only two of whom can be under the age of two. The Kremmling Preschool is then licensed to serve older children, with 35 slots for those above 36-months. The preschool is only part-time during the school year and these options leave a virtual void for parents seeking care for children under 24-months of age.
But the problem also impacts the business community, as local businesses seek to attract and keep permanent employees, only to find that potential candidates cannot find childcare and/or affordable housing and choose to settle elsewhere. The school district has been running into this same issue for the last few years as even employed pregnant teachers have been forced to look for work in places where childcare and housing are more accessible. It was this that first prompted West Grand School District Superintendent Darrin Peppard to consider a district-based child care facility. And thus began a search for funding.
Ilgner relates that the district was successful in securing grant monies through the Colorado Department of Education, as it is a time of much interest and research around early childhood education, even leading the Colorado legislature to pass a bill in April expanding full-day kindergarten across the state. “The 0 to 3 age group,” she explains, “is considered the most vulnerable, given their new immune systems and developing brains. Licensing and regulation is stringent, as these children are held sacred, making their care an utmost priority for health and safety professionals.”
“Researchers are finding more and more that the time spent with kids 0 to 5 is pivotal to school preparation,” she continues. “Our job is more pivotal because they aren’t with their moms and dads. Early childhood educators have been termed ‘brain architects.’
We’re able to play intentionally, assess development and gaps, and practice with classroom toys and materials to facilitate growth.” That intentionality is of great importance, she expresses with excitement. And goes on to explain how the Center’s alignment within the school district will allow for ongoing data collection that will help to prepare for later grades. “It will shape what we can do for children in West Grand.”
But she is also excited about what it means for employment in Kremmling, especially for people interested in a career field that has been long undervalued. The WGECC will employ four other teachers, with two teachers in the infant class and two in the toddler class. Ilgner herself is licensed in early childcare, as an elementary teacher, and as a school director. One other teacher currently holds an early childcare license and is pursuing her bachelor’s degree. The three other staff are all pursuing similar education and credentials through partnership with Grand Beginnings.
“I was so lucky to be able to hire based on the personality of the individuals and their demonstrated passion with kids,” she explains. “And I’m so excited that the Center is a part of helping them to pursue ongoing education, training, and experience toward a career. There is a huge need for early childhood educators. We want to pay our teachers as professionals, support their ongoing credentials and have them apply their new knowledge in the field… that’s miles away from what you learn in the classroom and that’s what our kids deserve. They need to be in the hands of loving, gentle people, actively involved in furthering their education for what the kids require.”
Lokteff echoes these sentiments,
“The new center is going to be a huge game changer for the community. It has been wonderful to see the private sector, the school district, funders, and so many others come together to make this center happen for the Kremmling community.”
As a District-based center, children of West Grand School employees will be prioritized and with discounted care. Three priority spaces have also been reserved for employees of Middle Park Health, as a local organization whose support was critical in securing funding and licensing. Spaces remain available in both infant and toddler classrooms. The infant room will accommodate children from 6 weeks to about 12 months and walking. The toddler classroom will care for those ambulatory children up to 36 months. The Center will follow the school calendar for this year, closing in the summer for some renovation work and relicensing that will allow them to double their infant capacity to 10 spaces, starting with the 2020-2021 school year.
The goal at that point is to operate year-round. Other longer-term goals involve partnering with the West Grand High School and their CTE program, helping to mentor teen students while they earn credit hours. And eventually, Ilgner would like to see programming that could help fill in gaps for part-time preschool students and their parents
Open enrollment at West Grand Early Childhood Center is currently ongoing. For more information you can visit the new facility in the former State Patrol building and one-time preschool center, adjacent to the West Grand K-8 School and District Offices. Business hours are from 7:30-3:30 Monday through Thursday. Email inquiries can also be sent to [email protected]
A Grand Opening will be hosted at the Center on Tuesday, November 19, with doors opening at 10:00 AM. The celebration will fete not only the new early childcare center, but the newly-minted West Grand Early Childhood Education Day, declared by Peppard at the most recent School Board meeting.
Parents, children, and interested community members are invited to stop by and find out for themselves what all the excitement is about!