Steamboat group tackles early child care challenges
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — There’s a good reason why Elisha Colson stepped up Wednesday to lead one of four citizen working groups being formed by First Impressions of Routt County.
As a working parent in Steamboat Springs, Colson knows how hard it can be for mothers and fathers to find child care. And not simply child care, but a nourishing environment that stimulates their children’s developing brains.
“My son, Rune, goes to two different preschools each week, and one day a week, my husband stays home with him” Colson said. “Sometimes, I leave work, and I can’t remember at first where I’m going to pick him up.”
It’s a sometimes hectic lifestyle that Routt County households are familiar with as they balance two careers in a community that wants the best for its children but also has a high cost of living.
First Impressions Program Administrator Stephanie Martin said the nonprofit she leads is setting out to create a comprehensive early childhood community plan to identify potential solutions for the education and care of children age birth to 8. First Impressions is co-chaired by Routt County Commissioner Tim Corrigan and Steamboat Springs City Council President Jason Lacy.
On Wednesday night, First Impressions hosted a community meeting at Bud Werner Memorial Library in Steamboat Springs to kick off the effort.
Martin was quick to acknowledge that the First Impressions’ approach to creating working groups that focus respectively on families, employers, service providers and community groups was deliberately based on a prior community-driven housing needs steering committee.
“We really want you to bring issues to the table,” Martin said.
First Impressions is devoted to investing in childhood education in the first five years of a youngster’s life when brain development is taking place most rapidly.
Guest speaker Gloria Higgins, of Executives Partnering to Invest in Children on Colorado’s Front Range, told the audience that smaller communities like Steamboat Springs would have a difficult time replicating the successful strategy of her organization, which works with large businesses. She helps them understand that it’s less expensive to devote resources to their employees’ childcare needs than it is to replace skilled employees who drop out of the workplace to care for their children.
It’s a different challenge for small mountain communities. Some within a day’s drive from Steamboat Springs have passed tax measures to support their community’s need for improved early childhood education.
Pitkin County has a dedicated 0.45 percent sales tax for it Kids First program administered through the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, and Summit County’s Right Start Project is a property tax first approved by voters in 2005 and renewed indefinitely in 2013.
In November 2017, Telluride area voters approved a 0.75 mill property tax to generate an estimated $616,890 annually to fund early childhood care and education.
Colson is still grateful that her employer at the time her son was born, The Center for Independence, extended her three-month maternity leave to eight months so she could keep her health insurance. And she even was allowed to bring Rune to work with her for a time. But that is not always the case.
The goal of the First Impressions Council is to produce the first version of the early childhood community plan by the fall.
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Work to form a new strategic plan for the Steamboat Springs School District will start next week with the first sessions of a listening tour aimed at getting broad community feedback.