COLCHESTER — Not long after being closed down by its owner, Saint Michael’s College (SMC), as part of a handful of cost-cutting measures, the Early Learning Center (ELC) in Fort Ethan Allen is set to once again become operational.
A small group of dedicated staff, parents, and community members have worked hard to take over the facility and plan to offer child care services out of the 76 King Street location starting Aug. 31.
“We are beyond excited to announce this!” said Jenny Stearns of the center’s Board of Directors and SMC’s Education Department faculty, who is also the college’s early childhood education coordinator. “Similarly, many families who had children at the Early Learning Center at Saint Michael’s College are excited to enroll their children in the new center.”
Those families will see some familiar faces as Stearns said that the majority of staff members from the Saint Michael’s-led ELC plan to stay on and work at the reopened site. She also said the board anticipates being licensed to provide care for 37 fully-enrolled children, just one less than the previous ownership was permitted.
ELC, like other daycares in the state, needed to close its doors per governmental order in the spring when the pandemic started to hit Vermont. St. Michael’s then made the “extremely-difficult decision,” according to Vice President of Finance Robert S. Robinson in a May 19 letter sent to parents of children enrolled, to keep the center closed moving forward as it had been operating at a “significant” loss for several years.
Stearns said a parent immediately reached out to the center’s administration to see what could be done once staff and families heard of the college’s decision.
“We met for an hour and a half that day, and from that moment on, we have been hard at work creating what is now the Early Learning Center, Inc.,” said Sterns of the hopeful parent, then-Director Sue Treadwell, and Assistant Director Cindy Beaudoin-Valyou. Beaudoin-Valyou will remain in her role, but Treadwell has decided to step down and return to classroom teaching.
ELC, Inc. is currently accepting applications for a new director, as well as families seeking childcare, information for all of which can be found at elcvt.org.
“This has been, and continues to be, a tremendous amount of work and a steep learning curve for us all,” said Stearns.
Recent work has included legal incorporation with the State of Vermont, designing a website, organizing payroll administration, coordinating open house meetings with families, writing a family handbook, and cleaning the center in preparation for reopening.
Stearns noted that the college has been incredibly benevolent through the transition of ELC becoming an independent non-profit.
“We are fortunate that, from the day we reached out to St. Mike’s to engage in a conversation about what may be possible, we were met with support and encouragement,” said Stearns. “We would not be preparing to open the center if it wasn’t for the support of Saint Michael’s College.”
Steans also mentioned that she expects the newly-facilitated daycare to still be beneficial to SMC employees and students.
“We truly believe that we are setting the center up to continue to be a resource to the local community, as well as to St. Mike’s employees who have young children, to St. Mike’s students who have an opportunity to gain experience in their field of study, and/or students who wish to have part time employment close to campus and have experience with and enjoy working with young children, she said.”
Since it’s moving to being an independent non-profit, Stearns said the overall rate for clients will increase “minimally,” however it will be a bit more for Saint Michael’s faculty and staff who will no longer receive the college discount.
SMC still maintains ownership of the property and will be leasing it to ELC, Inc. for a “nominal” yearly fee, according to Stearns.
The ELC has been caring for children out of its Colchester location for over 30 years.