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It takes a village

South Routt full-day child care in progress but hitting snags

Toponas resident Kelsi Edwards isn’t being selfish because she wants to be.

She’s doing it because, quite frankly, she has to.

The owner of Reflections Salon & Spa in Yampa, Edwards is also the mom to two young children. Last summer, she heard rumors that the South Routt School District was interested in converting one of the South Routt Early Learning Center’s rooms into a full-day child care option, something that is currently non-existent in that part of the county.

“They said they heard the talk, but there was no motivation to start it,” Edwards said. “As a mother of a three-year-old, I have that motivation.”

Three-year-old Aiden has child care, but it’s definitely not the type his mom would prefer. During the days Reflections is open, Edwards takes Aiden with her to the salon and hopes he behaves. As a South Routt mom who is trying to keep a business

afloat, she has no other choice.

“It would be nice for my clients to come in without my kid there,” Edwards said. “Aiden’s three years old, so he’s not perfect. He has his meltdowns and my clients have to sometimes deal with that.”

Edwards has decided to turn that full-day child care talk into action, and her efforts have nearly paid off.

Because the school district owns the Early Learning Center at 26 W. Fifth St. in Yampa, Edwards approached district officials like Superintendent Darci Mohr and the South Routt School Board first.

“They’ve all been overwhelmingly helpful with all of this,” said Edwards, specifically eluding to Mohr and board President Jules Palyo.

The idea would be to open the Early Learning Center room as a 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

child care facility for 2 1/2 through 5 year olds that would cost parents $35. The room is capable of holding 15 youngsters, and as Edwards said, the program would be self-sustaining and teacher and director salaries would be fully paid for by the child care costs.

Even though the school board has pledged $25,000 in start-up assistance, and even though Edwards originally targeted a May 1 launch of South Routt’s one and only full-day child care facility, the plan has hit a roadblock.

“We can’t find anyone to apply for the positions,” Edwards said. “We need a director and two assistants to make it happen. As soon as we have that, we can open the doors.”

So far, Edwards said she hasn’t seen a single submitted application for any of the three positions.

“If we could get applications, there would be no problem, but no one is even remotely interested,” she said.

With Steamboat Springs schools overflowing with students, and with some South Routt parents opting to take their children to those schools because of convenience to their jobs, Routt County Commissioner and South Routt School Board member Tim Corrigan has seen the dire need to get the facility up and running. Kids who learn there stay there, Corrigan said, and the South Routt Early Learning Center shouldn’t be the only option for working parents.

“High-quality child care shouldn’t look that much different than high-quality early childhood education like we have,” Corrigan said “That’s where the school board was coming from. We know it will be helpful in the school district.”

More children in South Routt classrooms also mean more money in the school district’s pocket from the state, Edwards said. She and her family chose to move to Toponas, and although they love the area, the changes Edwards has been lobbying for are very much in need.

“The schools here are amazing,” Edwards said. “We absolutely love it and we wouldn’t trade it for anything. The child care portion hasn’t been easy, but raising kids isn’t easy no matter where you’re at.”

Corrigan said plans are in place to have the child care facility fully operational by July, and certainly by the start of next school year, but without interested applicants for the management positions, that’s not possible.

With academic achievement levels low, schools seek solutions

The April 21 South Routt School Board meeting was as lengthy as it was grim.

The long list of agenda items included reports regarding the area’s current poverty levels, the dramatic need to keep students from bailing to go to Steamboat Springs schools and South Routt’s failing test scores.

As gloom-and-doom as the agenda looked, South Routt Superintendent Darci Mohr said neither the board nor the parents and community members in the packed house were in the business of settling for less going forward.

Nearly 75 community members signed a letter of support and presented it at the meeting with a simple message: We need change.

“A lot of community members said a drastic change was needed,” Mohr said, specifically speaking to South Routt’s abysmal test scores, which have been the lowest in the county. “We have to do something different and watch what some of the other districts similarly situated to us are doing. They are making it work and we aren’t.”

Since Mohr took over as superintendent last summer, she noticed the district wasn’t keeping track of how many South Routt students have left to learn in Steamboat schools, so she approached the Steamboat School District for those numbers.

The rough numbers show nearly 70 students considered South Routt residents are packing into already overcrowded Steamboat classrooms, with even more on a wait list that could open up in a few years.

The explanations behind those numbers boil down to a number of things, Mohr said. Many of the families hail from Stagecoach, and she fears there is a growing disconnect between that community and the rest of the southern part of the county. Just as critical is the lack of formal child care, causing families to turn to resources in Steamboat for answers.

“We feel like if we get them started early in child care and preschool, they are more likely to stay,” Mohr said. “With no child care in all of South Routt, they go looking for child care in Steamboat and we never see those kids again.”

Simply put, more students means more money in the district’s pocket — nearly $9,500 per child. The district will be losing out on roughly $779,000 in funding due to the number of South Routt students not enrolled in its schools, according to the superintendent’s report.

Mohr doesn’t blame the families for putting their kids in better situations, though. She and the rest of the South Routt School District officials are pointing the fingers at themselves as they wind down this school year and look forward to the future and the beginnings of a strategic plan to climb out of the hole they currently find themselves in.

The district and school board have fully endorsed the push to implement a full-day child care facility at the South Routt Early Learning Center in Yampa, which eyes a mid-summer opening contingent upon applications for its open director positions.

They are also paying closer attention to the poverty numbers. Mohr reported to the board last month that 30 percent of South Routt School District schools are on the free and reduced lunch program, with nearly half of the elementary schools on that list.

In the future, Mohr eyes better collaboration between Stagecoach and the rest of the South Routt communities. In addition to this summer’s first full-day child care center, she also plans to use some of the district-owned land in the Stagecoach area to build a potential multi-use facility.

It’s all part of the plan to increase academic achievement in South Routt schools by identifying the problems, and relentlessly attacking the solutions.

“What are our needs and what can we do to meet those needs?” Mohr said. “The kids here cannot wait for us to get our act together to make sure we can get them the best education possible.”

Before Oak Creek resident Lora Reichley steps foot in her floral shop Last Call on East Main Street in Oak Creek, she spends at least an hour and a half behind the wheel with her three young kids in the back seat.

Reichley plays taxi-driver mom the majority of her mornings, dropping off 2-year-old Blue at Eco Valley Farms for informal day care in Yampa, stopping at South Routt Elementary School to leave her 6-year-old Vivian at her first-grade class, all en route to Steamboat Springs, where 5-year-old Emerald will spend her day at Discovery Learning Center.

If Reichley is lucky, she sneaks in a quick workout at Old Town Hot Springs before jetting back to open Last Call. She’s often late.



And among her peers — other young parents doing their best to raise children in South Routt County — Reichley considers herself among the more fortunate.

Parents like Reichley, who choose to raise their young families in South Routt communities like Stagecoach, Oak Creek, Phippsburg, Yampa and Toponas, have adopted a make-it-work-mentality — some with success, others by the skin of their teeth.



“There are a lot of South Routt families like us who are probably a little more middle class, if you will, who can afford to do it,” said Reichley, who has been paying roughly $65 a day since her oldest was born to have at least one of her children enrolled at preschool at Discovery Learning Center.

South Routt full-day child care in progress but hitting snags

Toponas resident Kelsi Edwards isn’t being selfish because she wants to be.

She’s doing it because, quite frankly, she has to.

The owner of Reflections Salon & Spa in Yampa, Edwards is also the mom to two young children. Last summer, she heard rumors that the South Routt School District was interested in converting one of the South Routt Early Learning Center’s rooms into a full-day child care option, something that is currently non-existent in that part of the county.

“They said they heard the talk, but there was no motivation to start it,” Edwards said. “As a mother of a three-year-old, I have that motivation.”

Three-year-old Aiden has child care, but it’s definitely not the type his mom would prefer. During the days Reflections is open, Edwards takes Aiden with her to the salon and hopes he behaves. As a South Routt mom who is trying to keep a business

afloat, she has no other choice.

“It would be nice for my clients to come in without my kid there,” Edwards said. “Aiden’s three years old, so he’s not perfect. He has his meltdowns and my clients have to sometimes deal with that.”

Edwards has decided to turn that full-day child care talk into action, and her efforts have nearly paid off.

Because the school district owns the Early Learning Center at 26 W. Fifth St. in Yampa, Edwards approached district officials like Superintendent Darci Mohr and the South Routt School Board first.

“They’ve all been overwhelmingly helpful with all of this,” said Edwards, specifically eluding to Mohr and board President Jules Palyo.

The idea would be to open the Early Learning Center room as a 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

child care facility for 2 1/2 through 5 year olds that would cost parents $35. The room is capable of holding 15 youngsters, and as Edwards said, the program would be self-sustaining and teacher and director salaries would be fully paid for by the child care costs.

Even though the school board has pledged $25,000 in start-up assistance, and even though Edwards originally targeted a May 1 launch of South Routt’s one and only full-day child care facility, the plan has hit a roadblock.

“We can’t find anyone to apply for the positions,” Edwards said. “We need a director and two assistants to make it happen. As soon as we have that, we can open the doors.”

So far, Edwards said she hasn’t seen a single submitted application for any of the three positions.

“If we could get applications, there would be no problem, but no one is even remotely interested,” she said.

With Steamboat Springs schools overflowing with students, and with some South Routt parents opting to take their children to those schools because of convenience to their jobs, Routt County Commissioner and South Routt School Board member Tim Corrigan has seen the dire need to get the facility up and running. Kids who learn there stay there, Corrigan said, and the South Routt Early Learning Center shouldn’t be the only option for working parents.

“High-quality child care shouldn’t look that much different than high-quality early childhood education like we have,” Corrigan said “That’s where the school board was coming from. We know it will be helpful in the school district.”

More children in South Routt classrooms also mean more money in the school district’s pocket from the state, Edwards said. She and her family chose to move to Toponas, and although they love the area, the changes Edwards has been lobbying for are very much in need.

“The schools here are amazing,” Edwards said. “We absolutely love it and we wouldn’t trade it for anything. The child care portion hasn’t been easy, but raising kids isn’t easy no matter where you’re at.”

Corrigan said plans are in place to have the child care facility fully operational by July, and certainly by the start of next school year, but without interested applicants for the management positions, that’s not possible.

With academic achievement levels low, schools seek solutions

The April 21 South Routt School Board meeting was as lengthy as it was grim.

The long list of agenda items included reports regarding the area’s current poverty levels, the dramatic need to keep students from bailing to go to Steamboat Springs schools and South Routt’s failing test scores.

As gloom-and-doom as the agenda looked, South Routt Superintendent Darci Mohr said neither the board nor the parents and community members in the packed house were in the business of settling for less going forward.

Nearly 75 community members signed a letter of support and presented it at the meeting with a simple message: We need change.

“A lot of community members said a drastic change was needed,” Mohr said, specifically speaking to South Routt’s abysmal test scores, which have been the lowest in the county. “We have to do something different and watch what some of the other districts similarly situated to us are doing. They are making it work and we aren’t.”

Since Mohr took over as superintendent last summer, she noticed the district wasn’t keeping track of how many South Routt students have left to learn in Steamboat schools, so she approached the Steamboat School District for those numbers.

The rough numbers show nearly 70 students considered South Routt residents are packing into already overcrowded Steamboat classrooms, with even more on a wait list that could open up in a few years.

The explanations behind those numbers boil down to a number of things, Mohr said. Many of the families hail from Stagecoach, and she fears there is a growing disconnect between that community and the rest of the southern part of the county. Just as critical is the lack of formal child care, causing families to turn to resources in Steamboat for answers.

“We feel like if we get them started early in child care and preschool, they are more likely to stay,” Mohr said. “With no child care in all of South Routt, they go looking for child care in Steamboat and we never see those kids again.”

Simply put, more students means more money in the district’s pocket — nearly $9,500 per child. The district will be losing out on roughly $779,000 in funding due to the number of South Routt students not enrolled in its schools, according to the superintendent’s report.

Mohr doesn’t blame the families for putting their kids in better situations, though. She and the rest of the South Routt School District officials are pointing the fingers at themselves as they wind down this school year and look forward to the future and the beginnings of a strategic plan to climb out of the hole they currently find themselves in.

The district and school board have fully endorsed the push to implement a full-day child care facility at the South Routt Early Learning Center in Yampa, which eyes a mid-summer opening contingent upon applications for its open director positions.

They are also paying closer attention to the poverty numbers. Mohr reported to the board last month that 30 percent of South Routt School District schools are on the free and reduced lunch program, with nearly half of the elementary schools on that list.

In the future, Mohr eyes better collaboration between Stagecoach and the rest of the South Routt communities. In addition to this summer’s first full-day child care center, she also plans to use some of the district-owned land in the Stagecoach area to build a potential multi-use facility.

It’s all part of the plan to increase academic achievement in South Routt schools by identifying the problems, and relentlessly attacking the solutions.

“What are our needs and what can we do to meet those needs?” Mohr said. “The kids here cannot wait for us to get our act together to make sure we can get them the best education possible.”

Only one licensed child care facility

The now-7-year-old South Routt Early Learning Center in Yampa is, perhaps, the most viable and affordable child care option for South Routt families.

Recently, the three most prominent area communities — Oak Creek, Yampa and Stagecoach — each had licensed, full-day child care providers working out of their own homes. That has since been whittled down to just one in Stagecoach, while licensees in the others havemoved away.

“It’s just life,” said Child Care Network’s Sharon Butler, who leads a newborn network group in Yampa the second and fourth Mondays of each month. “We only have that one licensed family child care home. It’s the only one that does child care in a licensed way, as far as South Routt goes.”

The Early Learning Center helps fill some of the child care void, but even it takes its toll on working-class families. Families can enroll their 3- to 6-year-old children in the ELC in one of the weekdays’ two two-and-a-half hour stints. It also is capped at a 15-child capacity, making it limited in both duration and the number of children allowed.

“The center has been integral for kids to have this here and for their parents,” said Lisa Constine, an 11-year instructor at the ELC. “I have noticed over the last few years, though, that there were a lot of home day cares, and now there aren’t. Day care is a challenge in this area, and unfortunately it can be expensive to live here, so both parents have to work.”

Family away from family

So, what do parents do when they both work full time and aren’t available to enroll their children in pricey Steamboat day care or one of the two South Routt Early Learning Center preschool classes?

Oftentimes, they turn to their neighbors or lean heavily on what’s available a few blocks away.

“Not only am I a first-time mom, but we moved from a Tri-County area in Michigan a year ago and I have no family here,” said Andrea Queen, of Yampa.

Queen and her 2-year-old daughter Ava attend Sharon Butler’s bi-monthly newborn network parent education meetings in Yampa that serve families raising children from birth to 3 years old. Butler meets with parents in North Routt, Steamboat, Hayden and, since two months ago, South Routt. Queen calls Butler’s classes a resource she wouldn’t have gotten in metro Detroit.

Queen also said her new “family,” the King family, resides next door.

Marti King is raising four children, ages 10, 8, 5 and 3, on a low-income budget. Her 5-year-old son, Jyden, is a child with special needs, and her husband is on disability. Together, the Queens and Kings lean on each other in a South Routt community that has almost no formal child care available.

“She’s the family I don’t have here,” Queen said about King. “She’s our home away from home.”

And without the Early Learning Center just a few blocks from her Roselawn Avenue home, King admits taking care of her family of six alone in rural Routt County may be impossible.

“I’m spread very thin,” King said. “If not for this place, really our only (formal) resource would be in Steamboat. If you’re traveling back and forth from Steamboat, that’s great. If you’re not, like me, I’m staying home and taking care of my husband and kids.”

A 7-year-old commuter

Trevor Hagenbuch is a busy young man. The 7-year-old’s weekdays are longer than those most full-time working adults endure.

Trevor has to eat his breakfast at the family’s Phippsburg home by 6:45 a.m. in order for his parents, Todd and Sarah Hagenbuch, to drop him off at his Oak Creek bus stop before 7:30 a.m. on their way to their jobs in Steamboat Springs. Trevor’s bus then heads south along Colorado Highway 131, back past the Hagenbuch home in Phippsburg on the way to South Routt Elementary School for an 8:25 a.m. delivery.

In the afternoons, he also takes the bus back to Oak Creek for the district’s after-school program, waiting until his parents can grab him just before 6 p.m., marking an almost 12-hour day.

“Starting in first grade, Trevor became a commuter,” Todd Hagenbuch said. “Poor little kid has been on the bus for an hour in the morning just because we can’t make anything else work, so it is tough.”

Would the Hagenbuch’s trade their scenario to live in, say, Steamboat?

Not a chance.

While the lack of child care in South Routt communities is no secret, most families targeted towns like Oak Creek, Yampa and Phippsburg as desirable destinations to raise their children, despite the setbacks.

Todd and Sarah Hagenbuch purchased their Phippsburg home in 2007. They bought the three-bedroom, two-bathroom fixer-upper for less than a one-bedroom condominium in Steamboat Springs would have cost them.

“Phippsburg started as a necessity,” Todd said. “That’s where you could afford to live. It was more than what we could afford, though. It was a community that appealed to us.”

Judy Kendall, the family’s close friend and a mother-like figure to Todd and Sarah, has become Trevor’s and his 4-year-old sister Amelia’s go-to child care provider on Yellowjacket Pass.

“We didn’t realize fully what the challenges of child care were until we were right in the middle of it,” Todd said. “We had a child and said, ‘We have to do something right now.’ We called Judy and said, ‘How often can you help us out now?’”

With Kendall’s help, Todd and Sarah are able to commute the 30 minutes to Steamboat each day for work and errands. Sarah estimated the family puts about 20,000 miles per year on each of their two cars.

What would it look like without Kendall’s help? The Hagenbuchs would rather not ponder that hypothetical.

“If we didn’t have Judy, we wouldn’t have made it,” Sarah said. “I probably wouldn’t have been working, either.”

“It’s truly the ‘it takes a village’ thing,” Todd added. “Everyone kind of makes sure we’re taken care of.”

Tap into the village and make it work

Longtime South Routt mom Lisa Constine isn’t buying the no-child-care-resources excuse.

Constine, who has taught at the South Routt Early Learning Center for 11 years, has seen every kind of parent walk through the facility’s doors. She’s seen the ranchers with deep South Routt roots. She’s also seen the newcomers, like parents with ties to the coal mine or Steamboat Ski Area.

And she’s lived it, having raised three now-teenage children out of the Constines’ Phippsburg home. For all the lack of formal resources, such as full-day child care and in-home licensed child care providers, Constine has seen families — including her own — make it work time and time again.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily true that we have a lack of resources,” Constine said. “I think you just have to tap into what’s there.”

When her children, Cassie, Kali and Cody, were babies, Constine would trade time with a girlfriend watching each other’s kids throughout the week. Constine also opened her own licensed in-home child care center until her children were young enough to head off to South Routt School District classrooms.

“I think there are resources; you just have to be creative about it,” Constine said.

She said the small-town feel of Phippsburg, a town of just 204 residents, hasn’t hindered her children’s upbringings at all. If anything, she feels strongly, it has helped mold them into capable young adults, even after they explore options beyond their Soroco High School graduations.

“My son, Cody, is at CU now and he loves being at a big school, but he also likes being here, too,” Constine said. “I think they appreciate knowing their neighbors.”

After all, those neighbors helped raise them.

But even with all the resources she lists, no matter their informality, Constine’s biggest concern is that people worry too much about what’s not out there as opposed to taking advantage of what is. She cites the Child Care Network that services all of Routt County, as well as the First Impressions of Routt County opportunities as assets to the communities, but also considers them ignored in some regard.

“Not only are they great places to learn some new parenting skills, but they are also great places to make connection with other community members,” Constine said. “South Routt is also such a supportive community. People are always helping others out.”

In South Routt, Constine said sometimes parents have no choice other than to eke their way through raising children. Whether there are a dozen child care providers or just one, a community effort is imperative.

Tap into those resources, tap into that village, Constine insists, and you won’t be without support.

“Parents just have to find a way to make it work,” she said.


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