Step Up To Quality Stories

The Clear Connection Between Child Development & Economic Development

When The Valley Child Development Center opened in January 2018, it was the culmination of years of work residents of the town had poured into their dream.

Their dream wasn’t and isn’t just about a quality child care center in their town, though. It’s about making Red Cloud a vibrant, viable community for generations to come – and quality, affordable child care was a key missing ingredient.

Starting from Scratch

In 2012, the Red Cloud Community Foundation Fund, with the support of the Nebraska Community Foundation, organized Community Action Planning. It was comprised of a series of meetings with all interested members of the community and the need for child care ended up being one of the top two priorities identified. At the time, just one licensed in-home child care was available within a 20-mile radius of the town.

A committee was formed, and it was decided that they would “dream big.” The city donated land, and funds started to be raised for a best-in-class child development center.

By June 2017, the building was being built and the director, Kerra Robinson, was hired. She had extensive experience in the education field – but had never run a business before. She hit the ground running: hiring staff, creating procedures, purchasing furniture and meeting with families.

“One of the first things I did after I was hired was enroll our program in Step Up to Quality,” she said.

The Importance of High-Quality

Kerra took the community’s dream of having a high-quality child care center and adopted it as her own – taking the vision to the next level. Aligning her program with Step Up to Quality principles and guidelines helped her establish the culture of high-quality from the very beginning.

“I am so impressed with the program and the fact that it’s free,” Kerra said. “There’s really no negative or downside to it at all.”

Kerra and her team have built the center into one that would be highly sought after in bigger towns. Even though she doesn’t have much competition to worry about, she sets the standard high, so the kids in her care have the best possible start in life.

The Valley Child Development Center is licensed for 80 children from ages six weeks to 12 years old. They haven’t even celebrated their first anniversary yet, and they have 70 kids enrolled – and have already expanded their center’s infant care offerings from one room to two.

Some other highlights from their first year include:

  • Starting an Edible Schoolyard program, the only official farm-based program in the state
  • Achieving better child-to-teacher ratios than the state requires, in every classroom
  • Teachers are certified or working toward their teacher certification and assistant teachers have or are working toward their associate degrees in early childhood
  • All staff are life-long learners
  • Hosting a robotics expert from Texas during their summer program

Quite literally, Kerra and her team are just getting started. One of her goals is to increase the center’s Step Up to Quality rating this upcoming year.

The Snowball Effect

The town of Red Cloud has already seen their investments in high-quality early childhood care and education pay off. They’re getting attention from across the state from other towns that want to replicate the results they’ve seen.

For example, the town’s only locally-owned grocery store was in danger of closing. Like child care, having a convenient place to buy groceries is key to retaining families in small towns. A woman who grew up in Red Cloud, but lived in Seward, always thought about moving her family back there. She and her husband happened to be in town for her ten-year high school reunion one summer, and she heard about the store’s plight. She also heard about the brand new child development center opening up – a perfect place to send their three young girls.

Fast forward to today, the grocery store is thriving under the new ownership, and so are their three girls who attend The Valley Child Development Center.

Kerra could go on and on about these sorts of stories.

There’s the single mom who can now attend nursing school because The Valley Child Development Center accepts child care subsidies (the only center to do so in the area).

There’s the high school student who volunteered at the center and is now taking education courses in college. She worked there over the summer and has a place of employment if she chooses to come back to her hometown after college.

“Mostly I think about the really young kids that we’re nurturing right now, and how we’re preparing them for kindergarten, and how they will be ready to learn,” she said.

Those children soon turn into high school students, who turn into people who might want to stay in the thriving town of Red Cloud.

“We’re lifting up the community, and everyone is excited,” Kerra said. “It’s been an amazing community effort.”