A head start in education | VailDaily.com

A head start in education

Carolyn Pope

Mud pies and fairy lights. Chocolate pudding faces and potty training. Tears and hugs. Learning about ABCs and one-two-threes, dinosaurs, cars, and holidays.The years before kindergarten are formative, crucial years and some experts believe the majority of a child’s behavior and personality are formed by age four. Where a child spends their waking hours is therefore of extreme importance.In Eagle County, options exist for childcare and early education, even though the quantity may not be optimal. The Family Learning Center in Edwards is one program that aims to prepare children for school. “Our learning process starts at a very early age,” said Colleen Corcoran-Davis, staff and curriculum development director. “We’re not babysitters here.”Touring the center doesn’t leave any doubt of that. From spacious classrooms decorated with ceiling murals, streams of sparkling lights, finger paintings, maps and models, it’s apparent that education and fun mush together like peanut butter and jelly.Maintaining communityOn a daily basis, the Family Learning Center holds around 120 children with a total enrollment of 175. Children can begin at the Family Learning Center as early as 6 weeks old and continue until they enter kindergarten. One fourth of the pre-school aged children participate in the “Head Start” federal program, which assists at-risk and lower income families. Children are also divided into groups based on age and level of development. The staff numbers 36, with 24 instructors working each day. The staff-to-child ratio exceeds state requirements.Although Jeri Campisi, a resident of Beaver Creek, said she recognized the quality of the schooling provided at the Learning Center, it took on a more personal face when three grandchildren entered the program. Her eldest is now a third grader at the Eagle County Charter Academy and you can see the pride in Campisi’s eyes as she walks the halls of the school.”How do we maintain a resort or community when the working class doesn’t have a safe, affordable and quality place for their children?” she asked. She felt so strongly about the Family Learning Center that she now sits on its board of directors. ‘Teen years’ The Family Learning Center doesn’t turn down children due to their parents’ financial situation. In fact, finances are not even taken into account when enrollment time comes around. If someone can’t afford tuition, the Family Learning Center finds a way to make sure the children are cared for and educated, its directors say. Keeping such a center running, though, isn’t cheap. Approximately $100,000 is needed just to keep the building up and running. After tuition is paid, the center still needs over $300,000 just to break even. Where does such money come from? Although there are some grants, the majority comes from fund-raising and donations from the private and corporate sectors.The school has held its nonprofit status for the past five years. Cherie Paller, executive director of the Foundation of Trustees for the Family Learning Center, the school is in its “teen years.” Though the school and foundation are stable, every year, though, is still a struggle, Paller said. The foundation manages the funds and provides the subsidies to keep the school going. The fund-raising goal at this point is to begin an endowment to help plan for the future., Paller said. For taxpayers, donating to a child-care facility can be very beneficial. The state of Colorado provides a 50 percent tax credit to any donation up to $200,000. “The future of our county rests on the education of today’s children,” Paller said. “We give them a good foundation to prepare them to enter the school system.”