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Thinking Outside the Toy Box: Collaborative Solutions to Early Childhood Education

Tags: Regional Partnerships

9.29.16 Outside the Toy Box.jpg

Tamara Volz, Executive Director Early Childhood Council of La Plata County

Southwest Colorado is home to the five counties of Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma and San Juan. There are nine school districts and over 5,000 children under the age of five. Currently we have 45 child care centers and 30 licensed homes in the region.

In August 2014, Southwest Council representatives convened a small group of early childhood leaders in the region to discuss concerns around successful outcomes for young children. As a result, three early childhood organizations in three different communities emerged to submit a collaborative grant proposal to El Pomar Foundation. Thus the Southwest Colorado Early Childhood Regional Collaborative was born!

Lynne Bridges (Seeds of Learning), Vani McCoy (Montelores Early Childhood Council), and Tamara Volz (Early Childhood Council of La Plata County) met regularly to iron out details of a proposal to hire a Regional Collaboration Coordinator (RCC) to address the goals of the Southwest Regional Council grant. The Early Childhood Council of La Plata County (ECCLPC) was selected as the fiscal agent for the grant and would house the RCC.

The first year, 2015, was a flurry of successes and challenges. The team developed a strategic plan, paying attention to the diversity of each community. The common goals that emerged were to:

  • Increase the quality and accessibility of infant toddler care in child care settings
  • Support partnerships and generate resources to subsidize a variety of professional development opportunities and improve the quality of the workforce
  • Build capacity and leadership, reduce director staff turnover

To provide guidance and accountability for the grant, the leadership team merged with the Child Care Resource & Referral Advisory Board to become Southwest Regional Advisory Board (SWRAB). SWRAB meets monthly and includes representatives from each community. With blended funding, we supported the creation of 69 infant and toddler slots in the region. For the first time ever, early childhood professionals received $5,000 in travel stipends to participate in professional development coursework and thirteen childcare directors received coaching. At we were rolling out the first year of El Pomar funding, the State of Colorado was implementing Colorado Shines Quality Rating Improvement System (QRIS). We incorporated this support to benefit all young children, their families and the early childhood professionals in the community. After a decade of conversations, Archuleta and San Juan counties formally joined the ECCLPC.

With the expansion of infant toddler slots in the region, it has become increasingly difficult to find and retain providers to care for our children. However, in April 2016, El Pomar funded a public awareness campaign which included screenings of the film Raising of America and “fan mail” messages to early childhood professionals. This Public Awareness Campaign is the first step is recognizing the importance of the earliest years and those professionals who teach and care for our youngest citizens.