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School partners with Mahube to provide day care for students with children

Amanda Farlee lends assistance to Cheyanne Brown, left, and Ariella Grussing in creating a work of art. (Jean Ruzicka/Enterprise)

A new door is opening in the Park Rapids Area High School commons area, squawks and giggles greeting those entering.  As a result of a federal grant through Head Start, students enrolled in the Alternative Learning Center and/or the high school who are parents now have daycare available for infants and toddlers on site, at no cost.  Mahube-Otwa is the administrator of a $1 million expansion grant for the five-county area. A component of this, the Park Rapids school daycare, is licensed to serve up to eight infants and eight toddlers, on a four-to-one teacher-child ratio.  

The facility debuted last year for infants only. Babies can enter at 6 weeks and children may remain in the Head Start program until kindergarten.  The “classroom” is now divided to accommodate infants 6 weeks to 15 months and the toddlers, who, at 16 months, transition from cribs to cots (for rest time).  ALC and high school students are first to be served, explained Kelly Wellman, Head Start lead teacher. “But if it’s not filled, working parents (eligible for Head Start) may apply.  Lead teachers Wellman and Amy Haas, hold four- year degrees. Assistants Amanda Farlee, Kathy Brock and Stephanie York hold two-year degrees.  The daycare is open from 7:45 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. But most of the children arrive just through Thursday.  Friday is the day to complete reports, clean, make lesson plans and attend training sessions, said coordinator Peg Branham.  

“The premise is to support young parents,” explained Margaret Aho of Mahube-Otwa. “And we encourage dads to be involved.”   The “whole component,” Aho said, is to also offer students the opportunity to receive child development associate (CDA) certification.  The training is similar to that of certified nursing assistants. New parents gain general life skills, as well as an understanding of child development, which opens job opportunities in daycare centers.  The first class, about to begin in early October, will have a mentor meeting with the CDA students weekly. Although this class is at full capacity, parents may apply for upcoming classes.  

“This is a great way for students to complete their education,” ALC director Lisa Coborn said of parents seeking diplomas. “They can go see their child, especially when they first start,” Coborn said of the proximity.  She strongly endorses the CDA program, noting home ec of long ago and the more recent family and consumer science classes are no longer offered.  Last year, the ALC program’s debut, 38 students were enrolled. Some students who were behind in credits attended high school during the day, ALC by night.  For many years, the district offered an Alternative Learning Program, meeting only in the evening, geared mainly for credit recovery.  

Through ALC, student experiences are more varied, the school hoop house, service learning and interaction with businesses, as examples.  “Students make connections,” Coborn said of interaction outside the classroom with businesses in the community.  Each ALC student has a continual learning plan in place, students’ parents involved in this for those under 18.  Not only do students earn diplomas, but most go on to further their education, Coborn reports.  “A number of students have told us if it wasn’t for this (ALC), they wouldn’t be pursuing a degree,” she said.