Family Learning Center celebrates 25 years of providing early childhood care in Eagle County

The center opened in Edwards in 1998 and now serves around 125 children

People mingle, eat and drink and listen to live music for the Family Learning Center's 25th anniversary event Thursday at Lazy J Ranch in Wolcott.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

WOLCOTT — On Thursday, Sept. 14, current and former families of the Family Learning Center gathered at The Lazy J Ranch to celebrate the center’s 25th year of operating.

“We just can’t thank the community enough. We would not be here still without them and without the support of our partners and people realizing and recognizing how important early childhood education is,” said Whitney Young, the organization’s executive director. “We’re really proud to have 25 years, and we are excited to continue to carry on for years to come.”

Family Learning Center first opened in 1998 and became a nonprofit organization in 2000, a designation that enabled it to further its mission of providing quality and affordable early childhood care.

The school, which is located in Edwards, currently serves around 125 children between the ages of 8 weeks and 6 years old.

However, what makes Family Learning Center stand out is its dedication to providing this care affordably and to those that need it most, Young said.

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Kids enjoy the fun props during the Family Learning Center’s 25th anniversary event on Thursday at Lazy J Ranch in Wolcott.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

Not only is Family Learning Center the county’s largest Colorado Child Care Program — which provides financial assistance based on income qualifications — but it also has various programs to increase the accessibility of early child care.

Around 80% of its students are English language learners, and the vast majority of its students are on some sort of tuition assistance program — whether it’s through the Child Care Assistance Program, the federally funded Early Head Start program, or the center’s own sliding tuition scale program for families. Overall, the school aims to have one-third of its students be enrolled with CCAP, one-third with Early Head Start, and one-third as tuition-paying or using the sliding scale.

“(Family Learning Center) has always played the vital role of providing not only quality care to the families but also affordable care and public good for the community,” Young said.

It’s not just financial assistance; the program runs from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., making it a viable option for working families, Young added.

Miranda Bradford is a mother of two daughters, Destiny and Leela, who both attend Family Learning Center. Bradford said that getting both of her kids into Family Learning Center has been a “Godsend.”

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Not only does having the care allow Bradford to accomplish much more during the day, but she loves that the school shares pictures of the girls throughout the day and focuses on healthy nutrition. The best part? Her daughters love it there — and especially love their teachers.

The value of the type of care Family Learning Center provides has been more evident since 2020, Young said. (Young joined the organization in 2019 as its executive director.)

“Since 2020, we started to learn what could happen if families didn’t have care. They aren’t able to go back to work and then, that creates housing challenges,” she said.

During the pandemic, the organization — like many other early childhood organizations and schools — faced significant challenges with staffing. The pandemic also brought increased attention and resources to the industry, including improved access to training and professional development for teachers.

“We’ve gotten a lot of teachers who came from other kinds of jobs and they’ve been able to enter here into what they consider their career now,” Young said. “And we’re seeing them grow their professional development level and experience through the Colorado system.”

During this time, the Family Learning Center has also bolstered its recruiting efforts with Spanish-speaking teachers. Today, out of its 29 full-time employees, 27 of them speak Spanish as their first language.

During the challenges in 2020 and 2021, Young said she wasn’t sure if the school was going to make it.

“And I can tell you, without the people from our community, it might not have been possible, but we just continue to keep building,” she said. “That’s what I’m really looking forward to — continuing to build — and I’m looking forward to watching our teachers grow alongside our kids, and our families.”

Whitney Young, the executive director of Family Learning Center, stands alongside members of the organization’s board and some employees.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

Now, Young said the organization seems to be “over the hump” and moving toward recovery from most of these challenges.

“Our teachers that stuck through with us and even our new teachers who are here, have built a really great culture here now,” she said. “You see it with their teamwork and within their own teams, but then also within the families and the kids. Now, everybody is getting to do fun things and hang out.”

The organization has been able to focus on building and growing its community by hosting monthly events to get the parents, families, teachers and kids together outside of school to have fun, have new experiences, and connect.      

It’s vital to the work the Family Learning Center does every day.

“That is ultimately going to be what helps a child grow,” Young said. “We have this saying: People say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, we say it takes a healthy village to raise a healthy child. So we are not only building and creating healthy children, but we’re building and creating healthy teachers, building and creating healthy families and providing lots of resources for them.”

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