An additional 51 new Early Learning spaces have been approved for Swift Current, with a new location opening this fall in conjunction with the Ecole Centennial School and All Saints Catholic School facility.
Sheila Paradis, Executive Director of the Natural Wonders Early Learning Centre highlighted that the new location will help alleviate waiting lists in Swift Current. The Early Learning Centre will begin operations on Sept. 2, the same time Swift Current's two new schools open.
There have been lengthy discussions with the Holy Trinity and Chinook School Divisions as the project has moved forward, and Paradis and Natural Wonders Assistant Director Karen Friesen had a hands on opportunity to assist with the development of their new location.
"We were lucky in that we were able to design the space. Karen and I were able to go and meet with the architects… and so we were able to have a great amount of input into the space. And now we have an opening date, so we're pretty excited."
The new centre will feature 51 total spaces, accommodating six infants (aged six months to 18 months), 15 toddlers (18 months to 30 months), 29 pre-schoolers (aged 30 months to Kindergarten), plus one school age child. Paradis noted that the infant spaces are already filled, 10 of the 15 toddlers spots are taken, and they are expecting the 17 remaining pre-schooler spots will be spoken for quickly. As they will be providing operating hours of 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., their location will also be utilized by nurses and doctors who are working extended hours at the Cypress Regional Hospital.
Natural Wonders Early Learning Centre already operates an 89 space location on Winnie St., so this added location will have them overseeing a total of 140 children.
Paradis noted that the addition of an Early Learning Centre into a school facility is a natural partnership.
"Learning doesn't start at kindergarten. Research says that the most important years are zero to seven, so learning needs to start at a very early age, preferably in utero. Early Childhood Educators are becoming more and more recognized for their contribution to life long learning and success throughout the lives of the child. Investment in the foundation stage of early childhood is of major importance. They now calculate the return on the investment at eight to one, making early childhood a very effective and smart place to put our investments. Quality programs require highly qualified staff. "
Over the coming months Paradis notes she will be addressing staffing of the new location. Now that the Ministry of Education oversees Early Learning, all employees working at Early Learning Centres are required to have their proper Early Childhood Educator qualifications (ECE I, ECE II, ECE III) or be working towards their certificates or diplomas. Attracting qualified individuals is not always easy because of the challenges of the job and the lack of recognition through remuneration.
"That has always been the struggle in smaller communities, actually it's all across Canada," she admitted. "No matter how many spaces the Ministry provides, if we're not turning ECE's out of those schools we can't fill the spaces. And that's always been a struggle here as well is to get qualified ECEs. I think we have our bar set pretty high for our staff. And our staffing has really levelled out, and we've managed to keep staff now. But it's a lot of work."
And with a start date of less than four months away, they are tackling this challenge with the same enthusiasm they had while transforming their current Winnie St. location from a church building.
"It's nice to be able to have the opportunity to do it how we want to do it this time. The Ministry was so wonderful about providing the space."
"We're very excited about the opportunity to do it again."