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Filling the 0-3 Gap in Adams County

Helping to provide affordable early childhood education opportunities for 0-3 children across multiple school districts.

Photo of Mathieu Aubuchon
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Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)

I have continued to research this idea over the past month and have done some work with my mentor to look at gaps in my proposed concept. Specifically, I need to move beyond the "idea" phase to putting actual data and proposed programming into place. My mentor was helpful in terms of "shooting holes" in some of my ideas or talking about other ways that I could think about funding, programming, etc. I think one major change I'm proposing is to start this collaboration with just one other partner district to start and then possibly expanding to another district if the program is initially successful. One piece of this proposal will be to put a management plan in place that will help determine logistics of program management, staff hiring, facility ownership, etc. This plan will take place after receiving any award.

Name or Organization

Westminster Public Schools

Geography

Adams County, Colorado

What is your stage of development?

  • Advanced Innovator with 3 to 10+ years of experience in ECD

Type

  • Team

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Research & Early Testing: I am exploring my idea, gathering the inspiration and information I need to test it with real users.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

Adams County was ranked in the top 10 counties in the state of Colorado with a 32% increase in child population in the last 10 years. In Adams County, 64.5% of all children under 6 years old have their primary caregivers (either one or two parents) working full time. That is impacted by the fact that only 41.3% of eligible preschool students are in formal early education programs and approximately 75% of our students are free and reduced lunch eligible. Couple that with an annual cost of full time infant care being almost $15,000 per child, and there is a huge need for affordable infant/tod

Select an Innovation Target

  • Product: A new or enhanced physical product that creates value for end beneficiaries.

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

A new early learning center would look to provide affordable child care to Adams County families across multiple school districts with the intent to address the gap in affordable child care for 0-3 across the county. Specifically, a center that would be located near the borders of Westminster Public Schools and Mapleton Public Schools would be an ideal shared services model that would allow for students across two school districts to receive necessary supports regardless of their district of residence. Each district could pick up a portion of the cost of this program while also potentially accessing state child care funds to assist with child care costs. This center would also help to provide special education supports to young children who turn three years old during the school year but districts have no space in their regular classrooms to provide that service. A key component of this project would be a collaboration with North Metro Community to determine how a shared service model such as this would assist with the ever-growing caseload for the 0-3 early intervention population. Initial conversations regarding this idea have been positive with the North Metro staff, but further logistical conversations will need to take place to determine enrollment logistics as well as student case management, etc.

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

1. Cost effective child care for families of 0-3 students. 2. Wrap-around support for families including nutrition, parenting support, and mental health services. 3. Helping fill a gap that exists in Adams County for supporting our most impacted early childhood education students.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

My idea is to open up a 0-3 child care center utilizing local and state funds to help offset costs in order to assist local families to access care. This center would provide services to families from three different school districts, be centrally located, and attempt to offset a growing "child care desert" in the Pecos Street area between 52nd and 104th. We would also use this space to help with 0-3 Early Intervention services and providing space for students who require additional support. This would have to be managed by one district with operating agreements for the other sites. There are lots of logistics to work out but overall this could develop into a huge asset for the community. In collaboration with our early childhood education council, we have determined that there is a substantial need for infant and toddler care in our district. In the past three months, our local resource and referral agencies have received over 200 calls for infant/toddler care referrals alone. In addition, the south Adams County neighborhoods have a substantial amount of informal child care (family/friend/neighbor - FFN) as is evidenced by a study conducted in Spring of 2017 by the Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition. This study found a substantial need for training and more formalized care options for parents of infants and toddlers throughout the county but specifically in the areas of south Westminster. Along with providing infant/toddler care options, this program would help to leverage spaces for incoming students who require the additional support of the special education department. School districts are required by law to offer special education services to any students who turn 3 years old during the school year. Districts traditionally struggle to maintain a program at full enrollment in the fall months (August-December) while also maintaining space for any future special needs students who need care in the second semester (January - May). A center such as the one proposed would provide the necessary additional spaces for these spring special education students for both districts, and would provide a location for the North Metro Community Services staff to provide special education services for families as they transition to the school district systems. An additional factor that will need to be considered in this process is the change in demographics that is occurring across the Westminster area. During the past decade, both Mapleton and Westminster Public School districts have traditionally served a high-poverty population with free and reduced lunch qualifying families being over 80% of the total population of the districts. With the recent population trend expanding in the Denver Metro area along with the expansion of the Denver commuter rail train service, we have started to see multiple apartment and single family homes being built in our communities. This is causing an influx of young families who may not have children yet but will potentially be needing care in the next 2-3 years. An example of this trend is the current enrollment pattern we are seeing at our Early Learning Center that opened this year. This center has capacity for 48 students (0-4 years old) and has been full with a wait list of over 45 students. Many families have expressed interest in another option for care since our current center is so full but they do not want to compromise on quality. Quality will be a huge component of this proposed program. All WPS preschool programs are quality rated at 4 out of 5 stars in the Colorado Shines Accreditation program through the State of Colorado. Ensuring a high quality rating for our proposed new center will be a high priority for families and the districts who will be partnering in this effort. It will be the goal of both districts to have at least a 4 star rating obtained within a year of opening. By obtaining an excellent quality rating, we are not only ensuring a high quality ECE environment for young children but will open up access for state funding and higher child care reimbursement rates for CCAP eligible families. More formal partnerships with county and state funding will be investigated if the initial award is funded. One other option that will have to be considered is the location and ownership of the actual facility for this program. There are some vacant school buildings and other district-owned properties that may be considered but size, cost, accessibility, and appropriateness of using as a child care program will also be considered.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

1. The beneficiaries of my idea are families of children 0-3, the local early intervention community, and both school districts involved. A program such as this can provide child care for staff, help to put families back to work as they now have affordable child care, and help provide a true "home" for families of young children who have disabilities. 2. WPS and the other two districts provide substantial support to the 3 year to 18 year populations in our district with only WPS operating a child care center currently for 0-3 students. We do have daily interactions with partners at North Metro Community Services who provide early intervention to students before entering the district schools.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

This idea could have long lasting outcomes because 0-3 child care is a HUGE need in Colorado. School districts struggle to maintain a capacity enrollment for their 3 year- 5 year old student body and still hold space for 0-3 students who age into the special education program during their preschool year. A program such as this could provide much needed child care access for families, as well as help districts with ongoing issues around enrollment and meeting needs of students. As was previously mentioned, the Denver metropolitan area has seen a population explosion over the past 5 years (from 2014 to 2015 Colorado was the second-fastest growing state in the country with much of the growth being in the Front Range and Denver Metro areas), and with a lack of affordable homes and child care, parents are considering all options to maintain a standard of living and be able to afford to remain in the area. A program such as this could be a model for other districts of how to share funding and costs to help alleviate a need in their communities.

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

This question has been answered above, but the short answer is that any program that assists with child care for low-income families helps not only from an educational standpoint but also economically. If we can help to provide child care for families in a high quality setting, it allows parents to go back to work. In addition, this helps ensure that students' health and wellness needs are met along with their educational/"school readiness" needs as well. While we have stated above regarding the anticipated changing demographics in the neighborhoods being considered, we still will maintain a free and reduced lunch population of over 60% for the foreseeable future, so this project will still maintain a focus on low-income children.

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (5000 characters)

Our project is innovative due to the fact that school districts rarely engage in the 0-3 child care space. Our current Westminster Early Learning Center is the first of its kind in the Denver Metro area. In a brief scan of the early childhood landscape in the Denver Metropolitan area, the highest rated child care programs are funded privately or through university funding. A project such as this would help bring affordable child care/preschool into the public school system as a stepping stone for families as they enter the school system. Also, this program would be innovative as school districts rarely share services in a model such as this. Usually preschool services in districts are "self-contained" and provide services to their own students. Preschool and child care services are extremely expensive due to the need for low staff-to-student ratios and the high cost of meeting licensing requirements and health and safety needs, along with the ever-increasing cost of high quality care. A program such as this would help provide an "economy of scale" where districts could share costs along with offsetting some of the costs for the 0-3 service providers. Finally, in auditing our Adams County early childhood care options through our local resource and referral agencies, we have seen that there are only two programs in the WPS boundaries (one of which is our own ECE program) and none in the Mapleton boundaries that serves students at the infant level. This demonstrates the huge need for expanded care for infants and toddlers at an affordable rate in the district.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

Assuming that the phrase "end-users" refers to families, the impact of this project would be based on the size of the potential facility that we could acquire/use. Due to child care ratios, we would be capped at a certain total number of families, but this would be dependent on facility size. The initial thinking would be approximately 80-100 families per year but this would be dependent on facility size and other enrollment factors. Barriers to scaling would include: 1. Acquisition of a facility. Discussions would need to occur with the three district partners as well as local realtors to consider target neighborhoods and available resources. 2. Willingness of districts to think "outside the box". This type of inter-district partnership doesn't usually occur due to territorial issues and the need to focus on "our students." In a model such as this, districts would have to be willing to support the program as a whole, not specifically the students who feed their individual schools. A "rising tide lifts all boats" mentality would have to be in place to look at the collective good.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

This is very much in the "idea" space at this point. The early childhood leadership in Adams County school districts is a strong, cohesive group that has worked together for a long time. We understand our role to represent our districts as well as the county as a whole. The issue of 0-3 care affects all of us and we continue to struggle to come up with solutions. This one would be "outside the box" and require some true innovative thinking. However, I do believe that it could be feasible given the right planning and long term thinking. We as a group have always lamented the fact we just can't handle some of the issues that come with the birth-3 services due to lack of child care options and the impact on the districts' already stretched resources. All of us are willing to find creative options but need to find a way to take the lead on putting some ideas out there and seeing what is feasible. A key factor would be to make sure the local school boards and higher administration would be willing to agree to a shared cost mentality. Mapleton School District and Westminster Public Schools traditionally have had an excellent working relationship and have partnered on a variety of initiatives in the past, so there would be precedent for another partnership such as this. Thus far, I have spoken in theory about this project with other ECE colleagues and specifically with partners in Mapleton. I have also started a dialogue with our partners at North Metro Community Services as well as the Early Childhood Partnership of Adams County. Future conversations with both superintendents from each district would need to take place along with the Facilities departments of both districts to look at space and viability of use.

Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (5000 characters)

Admittedly, the business model for this project is a key component to the overall idea and needs to be further vetted. Public districts have limited funding to begin with and to ask to commit to an external program that may not bring a financial return to offset the costs is a difficult proposition to be considered. However, a blend of private funding, parental tuition, special education supports and county CCAP funding could blend in a way that would make the program financially sustainable. Child care centers locally and nationally often close because of poor financial planning or an over-reliance on "soft money" from grant funding. If this award is given, the first step will be to convene a financial planning committee to help turn the idea into reality from a cost/benefit analysis. Another key component to our business model is determining the location for this project. If it could be housed in a facility that is already being owned and maintained by a school district, the overhead would be substantially less. This model is what is taking place currently in our Early Learning Center and it has helped to make the program much more cost effective. A final component will be the cost of staff for the program. Investment in early education can reap financial savings later (Dr. James Heckman has conducted research on early childhood investments and has stated that "a dollar invested early helps communities reap a seven dollar return later".) The districts involved would have to acknowledge the value of this type of investment by devoting staff in order to offset later costs of remedial special education care.

HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (5000 characters)

The human centered perspective is what early childhood education is all about. Unlike other grade levels in a traditional school system that tend to take on a "teacher as expert" methodology, early childhood education is focused on the whole child and the relationship with the family. Any project in the early childhood space has to take a human centered perspective to ensure that what we are offering as a program is what parents truly need. While we have not conducted specific human-centered research for this specific project, the germination of the idea for this center comes from a few specific areas: 1. As a part of my 15 year tenure in Westminster Public Schools, I have routinely had conversations with parents about their need for affordable child care. Our programs for the most part have been half day programs which don't meet parents needs if they are working full time jobs. 2. The Parent Advisory Council at our current Early Learning Center continually gives us feedback on our infant/toddler programming including requests for expansion of services and opening more centers to meet the demand. 3. Westminster Public School recently conducted community focus groups to solicit feedback from the community at-large about needs in the district. Specifically, the groups discussed the need for wrap-around care options for families which included more child care options from infants through middle schoolers outside the traditional school day. 4. WPS currently is involved in a Pay For Success pilot project to study the effects of full day preschool. Part of the planning of this effort involved a parent and staff advisory team to look at the overall scope of work of this project and to discuss community needs related to child care. If we were to receive our initial funding from GCI, we would convene a more intensive focus group of parents and community stakeholders to help give design feedback and help ensure the targets set would be appropriate for the community we intend to serve.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

The inspiration from this project comes from a few places: 1. Previous partnerships - the districts in Adams County have always worked closely together in the ECE space. We are all extremely dedicated to the children and families of ADCO and have worked collectively over the last decade and a half to ensure that they get the best services possible. A project like this would be a challenge, but one that we would accept given the right supports. 2. WPS recently opened a 0-3 tuition-based child care center to rave reviews and huge interest. We have been able to serve a small portion of our population but demand is much higher than what we can meet. At the same time, our current program is tuition-based and only serves a certain portion of our clientele. It sometimes feels a bit disingenuous to open a center such as this for just a small component of our families who can truly afford it and we would like to expand our reach to the families who truly need this service. 3. Our current work in WPS with Gary Community Investments has shown me the power of a private/public partnership and I would love to engage this further with this new idea. I have personally been in the ECE field for over 25 years as a preschool teacher, preschool special education teacher, program coordinator, elementary principal, and now an instructional director. ECE excites me because it is truly the time when we can harness the potential of our youngest learners and help create their path forward to success. I've worked in the private and public sector, with the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor. Across all of these experiences, I have seen the common denominator that parents truly want what is best for their children and will do whatever is necessary to help achieve it.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (600 characters)

I believe the local partners are in place in principle but we need to do more work to ensure we are not neglecting any interested or affected stakeholders.

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)

If we are truly going to pull this off, we would need a few things: 1. A thought partner to take my idea and help it become reality - someone to shoot holes in the idea, to help connect dots, to make sure that all the pitfalls and unintended consequences are thought through. 2. A financial person to help connect financial dots and figure out how to plan an initiative such as this. 3. A real estate person to help figure out what types of facilities are even available.

Would you like mentoring support?

  • Yes

If so, what type of mentoring support do you think you need? (1200 characters)

Helping with keeping this idea moving forward and getting the right players at the table. It would have to be someone with Colorado experience who understands public education funding as well as ECE requirements.

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

[Optional] Biography: Upload your biography. Please include links to relevant information (portfolio, LinkedIn profile, organization website, etc).

Personal Linkedin page: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mat-aubuchon-b5928a56/ WPS ECE Website; https://www.westminsterpublicschools.org/ece

Mentorship: How was your idea supported? (5000 characters)

I have worked with a mentor on this idea. I met with my mentor about two weeks ago to review my ideas, and she helped to provide some perspective on ideas I haven't thought of and data to add to the project. I am going to utilize her support in re-reading my edits and looking at other options to consider before final submission.

Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)

As was previously stated, my idea has morphed a bit through the Prize work to make sure that I'm focused in the right area. As with most ideas, things start out on a grand scale and "in the clouds" and become more granular as potholes and other issues pop up. I've learned that I love to think from a perspective of innovation but need to match the ideas with the reality of implementation. However, I've also learned that giving up on an idea because of obstacles is not something I take lightly and will persevere to make my concepts a reality if they truly can be accomplished.

Name or Organization

Westminster Public Schools (primary organization) Partner organization - Mapleton Public Schools

Geography

Denver Metropolitan Area - specific corridor north of Denver near Pecos Blvd.

What is your stage of development?

  • New Innovator, with less than one year of experience in ECD

Type

  • Non - Profit

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Research & Early Testing: I am exploring my idea, gathering the inspiration and information I need to test it with real users.

2 comments

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Photo of Danielle Charron
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Hello, Mathieu Aubuchon !

It's great to see your work and ideas in this space. A few years have passed since our time together at Westminster Elementary, and it makes me happy to see you championing for the under-served families in the area. I'm not sure if you knew this, but I myself attended schools in the area back when it was District 50, as did my father, uncles, cousins, etc. So, thank you, for bringing about much needed change in a well-loved part of town!

One thing that intrigues me about this idea is your willingness to address the issue from a lens of abundance, rather than scarcity. This idea is a worthwhile investment that can, and should, involve the collaboration of multiple districts. Rather than trying to fix things "in-house", I see your desire to bring people and entities together to solve the problem.

I look forward to seeing how this idea develops!
- Danielle Charron

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