New center is here to alleviate shortage of local childcare options

The Learning Tree — a childcare center to meet the needs of all families.

By Deb Moldaschel, Editor (The Sleepy Eye Herald-Dispatch)

Kurk Kramer, Sleepy Eye EDA Coordinator, said the shortage of childcare options for Sleepy Eye families has been on his radar for several years. “Through my visits with local business people, and discussions with EDA Board members and parents in the community, it was clear that we needed more childcare options here,” he said.

The EDA began to study the issue, including asking for input from local home-based childcare providers. “The providers say we need it,” said Kramer. “They have waiting lists of families needing childcare.”

Why does the EDA care? A shortage of childcare becomes an issue of importance to the local economy, explained Kramer. Businesses need their employees to have childcare services available.

“It’s been a topic of conservation at the economic development workshops and meetings I go to for some time,” said Kramer. “It’s a problem across the state.”

Kramer approached Tri-Valley Opportunity Council, the community action agency that operates the seasonal migrant Head Start program in Sleepy Eye. He found that the Tri-Valley facility (located just south of the public school) had space available to add a childcare program. After many months of meetings and paperwork, a community childcare center opened in the building in January.

The mission of Tri-Valley Opportunity Council, Inc. is to provide opportunities to improve the quality of life for people and communities with a focus on child and family programs.

Tara Morrison, Tri-Valley Program Area Manager, said the childcare center is not connected to the Head Start program in the building. “Childcare is another program we offer in Sleepy Eye—to meet a community need,” she explained. “The programs share a facility, but are operated separately.”

Center Manager, Patty Fernandez, said they have openings for children in all age groups: infant, six weeks to 15 months; toddler, 16 to 25 months; and preschool, three years to entry in kindergarten. Each group has a classroom and there is a playground in the backyard.

The center operates somewhat like a preschool. The care providers are all teachers (qualified under the Department of Human Services) and use the Creative Curriculum, with programming tailored for each age group.

“We are a Four Star Parent Aware rated program that prepares children for school,” said Fernandez. “We are here for everyone in the community.”

The childcare center offers two, three, and five day per week agreements. Open all weekdays, from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., the only days the center is closed are federal holidays and Christmas week. “We always have staff here: there are no vacation-type closures,” said Fernandez.

Cost for care is the standard rate that the county pays for their clients in other center-based childcare programs.

Both women agreed that the center needs a real name, not just plain “childcare center,” but just hadn’t thought of one. A last minute phone call from Fernandez brought good news. “We have a name,” she said. “The Learning Tree.”

For more information on The Learning Tree, contact Fernandez at 794-7911.