The Randolph school collaborates with Cardinal Kids

RANDOLPH — Randolph Elementary School in Cedar County has teamed up with the Cardinal Kids Learning Center to create a mutually beneficial partnership that has increased the number of daycare openings in the community.

Randolph, a school struggling due to declining enrollment caused in part by a lack of locally available daycare, is now home to the Cardinal Kids Learning Center, an independently owned and operated childcare center. The center is offered affordable rent and maintenance coverage, which enables it to pay higher salaries to its staff, thus attracting highly qualified candidates.

The project was made possible in part by a $19,000 capacity-building award through the Preschool Development Grant-funded Nebraska Children’s Communities for Kids initiative, which paid for the refurbishment of the pre-kindergarten program through age of 4.

Partnership benefits include:

— Wages for childcare workers significantly above the state average, which has attracted a number of staff with four-year college degrees (unusual for many childcare facilities).

— Increased enrollment at both the school and the centre. Enrollment at the Cardinal Kids Learning Center has grown over the past year and a half from 12 staff members and 35 children to 30 staff members and 86 children.

— Cardinal Kids was able to take over the pre-K-4 program, allowing public school staff to transition to kindergarten and cover increased enrollment.

— Local businesses have been able to attract employees to communities due to the increased availability of childcare.

— Both Principal Denton Beacom and Center Director Jessica Lueth report benefits of the Children and Families program, such as better preparation for the transition from childcare to kindergarten, happier families who can leave children in a place and knowing they are safe and the interaction between school and center staff that helps meet the needs of family and students.

“The facility is a model of effort to try to provide communities with quality early childhood care and education, as well as well-trained staff,” said Erika Fink, early learning coordinator for Cedar County.

Lueth added that it “has really helped our staff be seen as educators.”

Nebraska consistently ranks in the top five states for the percentage of children ages 0-5 with all parents available in the workforce. Even before the pandemic, 91 percent of Nebraska counties lacked adequate child care options to meet the needs of working families. That shortfall has become even more evident as Nebraska struggles to find enough workers to meet the needs of employers and fuel economic recovery and growth.

“It’s hard to go back to small communities. I’ve been there myself assuming the position of principal. I needed childcare,” Beacom said.

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