Steamboat Springs New picnic tables and an awning to shade and protect preschoolers from the elements have long been on Laurel Street School's list of desired improvements.
That wish became a reality recently with grant funds provided through the Yampa Valley Community Foundation's special initiative project.
"Our playground is long and skinny," Laurel Street School Director Kim Kueber said Monday. "We've been wanting to expand (that area) but we just weren't able to."
The Laurel Street School isn't the only early childhood education facility benefiting from the special initiative project. Grants totaling more than $15,000 were awarded in September by the Community Foundation to 12 locally licensed child-care centers and family home providers.
The foundation, which in 2002 designated early childhood education as a special initiative project, has awarded 32 grants totaling more than $36,000 over the past two years. The foundation has partnered with First Impressions of Routt County to promote quality in Routt County early childhood programs.
"Research has been telling us how important the early years are in terms of brain development and school readiness," First Impressions Executive Director Renee Donahue said. "The cost of providing the care mostly comes from parent fees, unlike the public school system."
Having an established grant program enables early childhood providers to continually improve their services without drastically raising prices for child care, Donahue said. Early childhood care and education typically costs families between $38 and $48 a day per child.
"These prices have been going up as places try to provide better services," Donahue said.
The 12 grants awarded last month went to child-care centers and family home providers that participated in an extensive evaluation process by Educare Colorado, which measures the quality of early childhood education programs. An Educare report identified areas in which local providers could improve their services, and in cooperation with early childhood specialists Sharon Butler and Sharyl Ritschel, the local providers developed plans for improvement.
The individual improvement plans led to the September grant awards from the Community Foundation, Donahue said. In addition to grants, Discovery Learning Center, Holy Name Preschool, Laurel Street School and home provider Julie Redmond received plaques recognizing the quality of their programs. Other grant recipients include GrandKids, Young Tracks, Heritage Park, Kelda Combs-Wall, Monica Demara, Tina Frasier, Katresha Morrison and Layne Walker.
The foundation also has established a Good Beginnings Never End fund, which hopes to provide a minimum of $20,000 a year to continue quality improvements in early childhood education in the county. According to the foundation, the fund, through the Child Care Contribution tax credit, will allow contributors to collect an income tax credit of 50 percent of their total contribution.
"We're very thankful (the Yampa Valley Community Foundation) appreciates the importance of a good beginning," Donahue said.
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