Progress on the child-care front
It’s no secret there’s a child-care crisis in Aspen.
After Playgroup Aspen closed June 3, 2022, due to a political impasse with the city and Aspen Mountain Tots closed one of their classrooms, the community was in desperate need of more options. Yet, the city couldn’t get a bid to fill the Yellow Brick Building.
December was a turnaround month for Ajax Cubs, founded by the leaders of Ajax Adventure Camp, when the City Council approved for a lease for them in the Yellow Brick Building.
“This program can potentially serve 50 children a day and approximately two times that, depending on days families enroll their children,” Kids First co-managers Megan Monaghan and Nancy Nichols wrote in an email.
Ajax Cubs is planning to open soon. First, they will open a toddler room and a preschool room and then gradually open an infant room and preschool room for older children as they build their staff.
Ajax Cubs offers internationally-minded curriculum through their partnership with Ivy Camps. They will blend traditional learning with nature and community-based learning, as well.
“All the early-childhood education programs in Pitkin County are unique in their philosophies and approaches to learning. Some focus more on extracurricular activities, like skiing and swimming. Others concentrate more on social and emotional development, the outdoors, the arts, or academics — or a combination,” Kids First wrote.
The Yellow Brick Building was previously occupied by Playgroup Aspen and Aspen Mountain Tots, but, when the terms of their leases changed and required them to operate five days a week rather than four, Playgroup Aspen closed.
Little Steps College, which opened in early December, is another infant-care business with space for eight children on the Colorado Mountain College Aspen campus.
“Infant care is not a money-making endeavor due to the low ratios of child-care provider-to-babies and the intensive work caring for babies entails,” Monaghan and Nichols wrote.
Quality child care is typically considered to be one staff member for every three to four infants, with a maximum group size of 10.
“Little Steps College is a low-ratio program. They are operating at more like six infants for two caregivers,” Monaghan and Nichols wrote.
Currently, Little Steps College is providing care for seven working families and fully staffed with one part-time and two full-time qualified employees.
Opening a child-care center on a CMC campus comes with an abundance of benefits. First, it gives the opportunity for CMC staff to receive priority enrollment, Monaghan and Nichols wrote. There is also potential for the program to serve as a “learning lab” for early-childhood education students at the college.
The city began the design and renovation of an indoor and outdoor space at the Aspen CMC campus for an infant child-care business last year, while Kids First searched for a licensed child-care provider to run the center.
“The agreement with CMC allows for considerable savings in rent and expenses, as they have donated the space for the infant room,” Monaghan and Nichols wrote.
Staffing is one of the biggest challenges among all the child-care centers in Pitkin County, according to Monaghan and Nichols. Child-care directors each have unique circles to draw from. For some, it may be a church community or family members. Others draw from their previous occupation, friends from college, or other sectors of work.
“Staffing in child-care is in crisis. That has been one of our goals: to recruit and retain child-care staff. We are working on this by hiring interns to funnel qualified staff to the programs, creating a wage-enhancement program that will increase staff wages for programs in the city by up to $500 a month, advertising for staff, and training new staff to ensure qualifications are met,” they wrote.
Currently, there are 14 child-care centers in Pitkin County serving 570 children. Early-childhood education is important because the period from birth to 5 years old is the time when the foundational architecture for children’s brains is established, they said.
“We are committed to promoting the availability, quality, and affordability of early childhood education in our community,” Monaghan and Nichols wrote. “We look forward to continuing our support of the child-care programs, families, and children in Pitkin County. We also look forward to implementing innovative programs and new ways to deliver those services, responding to the needs of those we partner with and those we serve.”
To reach Audrey Ryan, email her at email@example.com.
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