Kristy Haapala is in her third year as Executive Director of the Waitsfield Children’s Center (WCC) in Waitsfield, Vermont, a non-profit, NAEYC accredited, five-star, Washington West Supervisory Union pre-K partnership school that currently serves children ages 8 weeks to 6 years. Kristy’s background is in elementary and early childhood education (ECE). She is currently pursuing leadership and management courses at Johnson State College.
The High Costs of Offering Quality Child Care
There are many factors that go into offering high-quality early learning experiences for healthy development in our youngest children, and these factors come with a cost. Currently, this high cost is primarily shouldered by both providers and parents, and is a great burden for many Vermonters. But investing in the healthy development of our youngest children is beneficial to our society as a whole.
The Waitsfield Children’s Center is a non-profit, high-quality children's center that offers daily preschool, toddler and infant programs. We are accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), which means the program meets their quality standards in the areas of health, safety and education. We also have five stars (the maximum number) in Vermont’s quality rating system: the STep Ahead Recognition System (STARS), which measures excellence in these five different arenas:
- History of Complying with State Regulations
- Teaching Staff Qualifications and Annual Professional Development
- Families and Community
- Program Practices
Our philosophy is to provide a high-quality, nurturing and learning environment for healthy development in our youngest children. The major elements of care we must consider in providing quality care are:
- nurturing relationships with consistent caregivers
- a safe, healthy and stable environment
- stimulating learning opportunities.
We estimate the cost of each child who attends our program to be approximately $12,631.75. Paying our staff is our largest operating expense. The Waitsfield Children’s Center teaching staff includes 7 teachers and teaching assistants, our administrative assistant/bookkeeper, and myself. In order to maintain staff consistency (avoid a high rate of turnover), we pay our highly-qualified staff as much as our fiscal budget allows and give annual performance-based raises and bonuses when we can.
It is extremely important for children to have consistency in their teachers and providers when they are away from their working families, as the early bonds children make in the first three years are vital to their future life and educational successes. It is our mission to maintain a consistent teaching staff so school feels much like home.
In addition to our highly-qualified staff, we offer our children fun, stimulating learning opportunities—such as local field trips to our library and senior center, Spanish immersion twice a month, an outdoor classroom and vegetable garden, laying hens and a rooster. We utilize a play-based curriculum that is directly aligned with the Vermont Early Learning Standards. In a play-based program, the classroom is organized into different sections—like a sensory area, a science area, a home/kitchen area, a space to read, etc. Children are free to choose whichever activities they’re interested in. Teachers play with the children, helping them learn social skills, problem-solving, and other important developmental skills along the way. Our goal is to help children develop a positive self-image through the mastery of intellectual, physical, emotional, and social skills, according to where they are in their different stages of development.
We also act as an early childhood resource for parents and families, offering conferences, discussing development, making appropriate referrals and lending parents books and magazines. Parents have free access to the Center at any time during our operating hours, and we strongly encourage their involvement in our daily program.
All of these aspects of our program are essential components of high quality—because they help our children become happy, healthy and productive future members of our workforce. They have a high cost, and the majority of this cost is paid for by our enrolled families’ private monthly tuition. As a non-profit business, it is not our goal to be profiting from the high-quality services we provide, but our Board of Directors and I understand the necessity of covering our per pupil cost annually to maintain good fiscal management.
It is imperative that we, as a society, understand the importance of making sure every child is able to take advantage of a high-quality experience to ensure their future success. Cost should not be an obstacle. We must increase investments in the first years for stronger, healthier individuals and communities and greater economic success in the long run.