The Struggle to Find Early Childhood Programs is Real
The lack of access to quality early childhood programs isn’t unique to Nebraska. Childcare, moreover, isn’t just a working mom’s issue. Research shows that early childhood education correlates to larger success indicators. Children who attend a quality early childhood program are more likely to become homeowners and taxpayers. In other words, childcare isn’t just mom’s problem but rather an investment in our children that pays back dividends for a thriving economy.
Of course, Nebraska Children and Families Foundation believes wholeheartedly that every child should have the opportunity to thrive. By investing in our future generation at every age, we move toward a happier, healthier, economically flourishing state.
Despite the very real shortage of childcare facilities, our Communities for Kids teams refuse to take no for an answer. Instead, these leaders have been forming connections, partnerships, and new childcare facilities as we speak throughout North Platte, Lexington, and more. Although every situation and community is unique, we’re glad to see that each one is living out our mission to create positive change through community engagement.
Thriving Children 2019: How it all Began
Once a year, representatives from all 93 Nebraska counties come together on behalf of early childhood programs. Thriving Children, Buffett Early Childhood Institute’s conference, continues to prove that when communities put their heads together, the possibilities are infinite. Yes, the struggle to find high-quality early childcare is very real. Nebraska is no different, except one thing sets us apart: Communities for Kids, one of our Early Childhood initiatives works tirelessly to create partnerships and connections to address the lack of early childhood programs.
Thriving Children is just one place where dreams become conversations that turn into realities. Although we have a long way to go, we find inspiration whenever we uncover another story of success!
Communities for Kids North Platte team has currently managed to implement an existing childcare program into an existing space, thanks to a new partnership. As of recently, North Platte Public Schools partnered with a private childcare provider. Now the east end of Osgood Elementary School is soon to become the new home for Ladybug Crossing Early Learning Center.
But let’s begin at the beginning. At Thriving Children 2019, North Platte Public Schools’ superintendent, Dr. Ron Hanson, talked with Chantel Tonkinson during a breakout session. While members celebrated and commiserated their early childhood programs’ victories and challenges, unspoken connections were being made and ideas were forming.
North Platte’s Communities for Kids team includes Stephaine Morse of Platte River Counseling; Monica Carter, Peggy Romsheck and Marnia Hughes of North Platte Public Schools; Raven Jack; Miranda Muirhead of Kids Academy; Stephanie Phye of All-Season-Intergenerational Learning Center; and Chantel Tonkinson of Ladybug Crossing Early Learning Center.
During one of the breakout sessions, Dr. Hanson and Chantel listened to another group talk about how they wanted to bring a childcare facility into a school’s unused space to enhance accessibility for all families. Through talking with Chantel and listening to other communities that day, Dr. Hanson realized that he and Chantel shared a common problem and possible solution: a lack of accessible, quality childcare in North Platte and a vacant space in one of the school buildings. During that session, the North Platte group began to bat around a possibility. Could public schools become the new home for a privately-owned childcare facility? The question seemed feasible.
Dr. Hanson pulled Chantel aside to have a chat with her. What began as a connection over a common cause led to Chantel’s childcare facility, Ladybug Crossing Early Learning Center, to move into Osgood School’s available space.
Early Childcare Connections: Plans Drawn in Sand Take Shape
Months after the conference, teamwide conversations continued, as did a realization. Ladybug Crossing would need some intensive renovating soon to bring the facility up to standards. Chantel began to introduce another idea to the team: what if she leased the space for her childcare center in North Platte’s public-school building? Dr. Hanson reaffirmed that there was vacant space.
By January 2020, this chat at Thriving Children had morphed into a full proposal. The proposal requested that North Platte Public Schools would partner with Ladybug Crossing to provide high-quality childcare and education for the North Platte families. Ladybug Crossing Early Learning Center would then relocate to Osgood Elementary school where North Platte Public Schools will lease its available space to Ladybug Crossing.
This partnership aligns with the North Platte Community for Kids mission to provide access and experiences to high-quality childcare and education. The Communities for Kids Team had created a detailed proposition that outlined their new childcare facility for the Board of Education to review at their February meeting. Chantel and her husband were among those present and explained their reasoning and proposal.
By the end of the meeting, good news was upon the team. The Board of Education unanimously approved the proposition for a childcare center’s introduction into Osgood Public Schools!
How Did You Do It? We Asked Chantel How the Team Made This Happen
In a word, when we asked Chantel what she’d want her fellow advocates to know about creating access to early childhood programs, she said conversation is paramount.
“I think the thing that I would want other communities to know…is to get the conversation started. Communities for Kids was our conversation starter. This brought stakeholders to the table.”
Chantel said that this dialogue solidified into a strong foundation to kickstart the mission to expose her communities’ youngest members to quality early experiences.
“So, get out there and talk to the movers and shakers in your community,” said Chantel. “You may be working toward a common goal and not realize the benefits of uniting with other community members to achieve them,” she said.
When asked what part of this partnership she was most excited about, Chantel said she looks forward to the future.
“I am most looking forward to seeing the outcomes of the children in our community as well [as] how far this process will take us as a community. We have a network of excellent providers [who are] both center and home based in North Platte, and this could change the way we educate those children. “
When asked the same question, Dr. Hanson responded with undeniable enthusiasm. “This is only the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “We have much more to do ensure ALL North Platte children have access to high-quality care and education. This is a great start!”
Mission Near-Possible: The Values Behind North Platte’s Communities for Kids Team
Before the official proposal was approved, the core team had created a mission statement that reflects their three leading objectives so that all children can access high-quality childcare and education. The North Platte Public Schools, in partnership with all the private and public childcare and education centers, are working to provide high-quality childcare and education so all children are thriving by the age 3, are kindergarten ready by age 5, and set up for success by age 8. The School’s partnership with Ladybug Crossing Early Learning Center is only the beginning of accessible, quality childcare.
To boot, this success story serves as an inspiration for other communities who are currently drawing up plans for early childcare centers, and a companion to other community success stories, including Lexington, Nebraska!
Although the struggle to find excellent, affordable childcare is very real, so are the efforts of our communities. Each day, early childhood initiatives continue to turn conversations into ideas, then ideas into reality – and Ladybug Crossing Early Learning Center’s new home is proof of that commitment.