— by Margie Doyle —
When Kaleidoscope Childcare Center was discredited for its play area, Director Amber Paulsen addressed the situation and turned it into an investment opportunity for Kaleidoscope kids and their families.
Kaleidoscope’s playground ranked low in the “Early Achievers” score which came out April 2015, Paulsen explained, “and that put it into a quantitative piece for us. Our ground cover wasn’t sufficient; and we started looking at what we could do to repair to bring up to safety codes.” It developed that repair would be costly, and so Kaleidoscope looked at starting over, and the cost differential “wasn’t enough not to do it.”
Kaleidoscope’s program includes a lot of outdoor activity for the the kids, and the improvement plan is for more of a natural playscape for them. “It started with the toddler playground, wanting it to be more interactive — for the kids to play in their natural environment — less about with purchased things. We started talking with Ron Griffin who is our lead toddler teacher’s father-in-law to see what he’d suggest to put together.
“Part of what’s made it possible is being able to work with Ron and say ‘This is what we want and need in the end; these are the Washington Administrative Codes and safety rules that we need to follow so what’s the most fiscally responsible way to make that happen?’ And ‘How do we keep the kids playing at the same time?’
“He came up with this beautiful vision and he got something on paper that was incredibly inspirational. It led me to realize it’s worth the price and within our price range if we put some fundraising effort into it. And it’s important!
“So timing of course is an issue because everyone on Orcas is so busy, and it’s certainly hard for local businesses to make this a priority because we’re not the million dollar home. Plus the weather is changing; if we don’t get sod down this month it would have to wait for spring.” But earlier this month Griffin came to Paulsen and said he could work it in.
“It takes both of us being willing to take a leap of faith and say this is what we need when it’s done, and having faith in your community to know it will all work out in the end,” said Paulsen.
“He’s been more than fair to us, as have his workers, and they’ve made it possible to keep half the playground open for the toddlers to play outside.” Also involved are Rich Harvey with playground cover replacement, and Island Supply, “which is always really good to us.”
“Even if it’s a project we’ll be paying into for awhile, it will absolutely be worth it and the board is 100 percent supportive in making these changes,” said Paulsen.
A better play area became critical as Kaleidoscope’s capacity increased, mainly with its expansion two years ago with State Early Childhood Education and Assistance program (ECEAAP) extended day funding for preschoolers. The funding is for 12 months out of the year, five days a week, 10 hours a day; previously Kaleidoscope’s ECEAAP funding provided for three hours a day, three times a week, 32 weeks out of the year.
The additional funding has increased staffing and environmental requirements for Kaleidoscope, another challenge that has turned into a benefit for the non-profit organization and the community.
“It’s a huge commitment on our part to say we’ll meet those standards, meet the charge to provide family support, make sure that families have health insurance, and attend their dental and medical appointments, that we’ll staff for that and keep our classrooms open until 5 p.m.”
The Extended Day ECEAAP funding conditions have increased Kaleidoscope’s staffing requirements and facilities requirements;
Employee turnover has decreased; and six current employees are attending college, which is employment-dependent. “So we’ve been able to make our job a little more enticing. Plus, the more our employees find themselves successful at college, the more encouraging it is for others to attempt a college education.
“We’re having greater success getting people and keeping people.”
Extended Day ECEAAP is a great boon to Kaleidoscope, bringing all-encompassing services; and “it actually comes with some financial support that’s helped to balance our bottom line,” says Paulsen. “It has turned out to be the most reliable income we’ve ever had;” but it is only available to preschool students. Kaleidoscope is in the process of applying for similar assistance for its Infant and Toddler program; a decision is expected in December.
Paulsen says, “Our community perception is consistently improving, having our outside environment being truly attractive and appealing will go a long way to further that perception. We’ve been putting a lot of time and energy into improvement of our professional staff, so now it’s time to put some funds behind our environment with local fundraising and local resources.”
Meanwhile if you see the Kaleidoscope kids on a field trip or visiting a pumpkin farm, give them a smile and a high-five and keep on moving, right along with them.
Those interested in helping with financial contributions can go to the Kaleidoscope website at ourkaleidoscopekids.org or call the childcare center at 376-2484.