by ALEXANDRA RETTER
In a remodeled wing of Arcadia Elementary School, books, toys and cribs — as well as the teachers who carefully arranged them — are ready for children to arrive. Over the past few months, teachers and administrators have been creating a new center from the ground up to help fill a need for child care in the community.
Little Raiders Childcare is now set to open soon. Staff hope for the early childhood education programming to help prepare children for school, support working families and keep community members in Arcadia.
The woodland-animal-themed center will serve children from the ages of six weeks to 12 years old. Staff will provide full-time, year-round care, before and after school care and full-time summer care. At first, center organizers hope to serve up to 110 children. Childcare Center Director Jolynn Bourland would like to increase that number over time.
One purpose of the center is to meet families’ child care needs. There are few child care options in Arcadia outside of in-home providers, who can only serve a limited number of children, Bourland said. Many families have to take the time to drive their children to centers outside of town, she continued. “I know there’s a center that closed in another town a couple miles away from us, and so there’s parents desperate for care,” she said.
Some families, including families with teachers for the Arcadia School District, have decided to move away from the area due to difficulties with finding child care, Bourland said. She and her colleagues hope to help stem that population decline. “The whole point of this early childhood center is … to give families a reason to stay in Arcadia and continue promoting and improving the area that we live in,” she said.
Arcadia Elementary School Principal Paul Halverson said the center could help recruit and retain children for the district, too, as children who go there when they are young make friends who they may want to stay with once they start elementary school.
Center staff hope to support families in Arcadia’s local workforce, as well, by opening early at 5:45 a.m. and closing at 5:45 p.m. Center organizers are also keeping rates as low and affordable as possible, Bourland said. “We’re trying to make sure this isn’t making or breaking people. Because the whole point was to get a safe space for families,” she said.
Another purpose of the center is to bridge early childhood education with elementary education. Many families in Arcadia are bilingual, Bourland said, so center staff plan to promote children’s first language while exposing them to English to help with the transition to elementary school.
While at the center, children will learn motor skills for actions like holding a pencil. They will also learn how to recognize and regulate their emotions. They will learn how to communicate with others and forge friendships, as well.
Lead Teacher Trisha Carstenbrock, who grew up near Arcadia, is looking forward to getting to know and working with families and children in the area. She and Lead Teacher Sami Putz agreed that early childhood education is essential. “We … teach them to learn,” Putz said. She continued, “It’s teaching them how to be good little people and growing up to be good big people.”
Community members are responding positively to news of the center, Bourland said. She has received many calls and emails and even been asked questions while out and about in town. “I can see the need,” she said. “Our enrollment is moving very quickly. Spots are filling up very fast.”
Though things are going quickly at the center now, Halverson proposed the idea for a center about five or six years ago. Two years ago, the timing was right to work on opening a center. The pandemic then delayed the opening of the center to this year. State funds and donations helped cover the costs of getting the center going.
The center’s revenue will go toward paying teachers. “I want people to stay with us a long time, and they deserve it for the amount of education they put in,” Bourland said. The income will also be put toward supplies and experiences for children. In the future, Bourland hopes for children to go on field trips and for the center to hold family fun nights.
Bourland hopes the center serves as a model for other school districts interested in opening child care centers and supporting early childhood education teachers.
Center organizers are awaiting an official license from the state and plan to open on August 30. If the opening date changes, Bourland said, staff will let families know. There will be a meet and greet on August 19 from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the center, 358 East River Street in Arcadia, for families to tour the center and ask staff questions.