Jennifer Hess - Asst. Director
I decided to add a blog page to BT's website for 2 reasons. Firstly, I've wanted a place to share all the many amazing stories, amusing and informative, that come across our desks and in through our front door. In a way, we exist as the nexus of a hub - the children, their families, teachers and staff all flow at some point around us. There are also the longer spokes coming from educational and Out-of-School-Time trainers/advocates, behavioral and developmental researchers, to local, city & state government. We also form a daily bridge between home and school for our students and their families. At the same time, we're a causeway between early childhood and young adulthood. I've decided that I'm tired of losing these stories to the vagaries of memory and would like to share them here. Secondly, with how quickly our city is changing, we need a central place to communicate the needs and challenges of our community and our purpose. We need to be able to find solutions and define actions quickly and effectively. To that end, my first post is about a challenge and what we can do about it. Please, keep checking this page often as new information becomes available.
August 30, 2016
Wow! I really haven't been very good about posting here regularly. The summer was so busy that it really got away from me. Here's an update for everyone who may not have heard about our space use solution. Pathfinder has decided to use BT space during the day for their elementary and middle school resource rooms. Beginning in September, our small classroom (the Burrow) will be used for the middle school resource room during the school day and beginning September 2017, the large classroom will be used for the elementary resource room. We’re thinking that this is the best solution that we could have hoped for, given the circumstances. Please, feel free to stop by and ask us any questions you may have.
April 1, 2016
I'm posting today about something that we can do about the space-use challenge. The Mayor is holding a series of education conversations around the city. The link about them is HERE (There is also a survey link where you can provide feedback, if you can't attend.) and a link to the dates, times and locations are HERE. The city wants to know our opinions about a variety of educational topics. They will use this information to allocate resources and to formulate policy. This is the perfect place to talk about school-based childcare.
Here is some history. Roughly 30 years ago or so, a really amazing group of people came together in this city around the issue of Out-of-School-Time (OST) childcare. Some eye-opening research had come out as to the impact of high-quality programs vs. latch-key kids and poor quality programs. With more and more families needing all parents to work, these people from the city, school district, local non-profits, School's Out Washington, and childcare providers, began to build the system we have today. The Families and Education Levy money played a huge role. Blazing Trails began with a grant from this levy. Since 1990, it has also funded the construction of dedicated childcare space within each newly constructed elementary school. These spaces were designed and built specifically for licensed preschool and school-age childcare needs. Our space at Pathfinder K-8 is one of these spaces. The city then turned the management of these spaces over to Seattle Public Schools to administer.
We now have a crisis with over-crowding because of all the new students coming in (our city is really growing!) and the increased need of space for Kindergarten through 3rd grade classroom size reduction (remember the initiative that passed in November 2014?). The facilities administraters at the district do not work directly with children. They look at how many children apply for admission, how much space a school building has, and how many children that space can accommodate, whether or not that space is designed for classrooms or childcare. They are making decisions about space use by looking at all these numbers and the budget they have to work within. My challenge with the process is that they have been looking at the problem based only on their point of view. As far as I know, they have not really asked for help coming up with solutions from the people that actually use these buildings, their partner childcare providers or the city and state at large. Seattle Public Schools and our school board has now prioritized the use of dedicated childcare spaces for classroom space BEFORE they might bring in portables or other solutions: classrooms first, pre-school second and school-age child care third.
I know that this generates a whole range of emotional responses, but as far as these education conversations are concerned, it's productive to really focus on creativity and solutions. Getting upset or angry will likely make it harder to come up with options and harder for decision makers/leadership to listen. Here are some questions and talking points that I feel are important. Please, please, include your own as well because you and your children will be impacted the most by whatever decisions are made.
Articulate why having quality child care available WITHIN elementary and K-8 schools is so critical to your family and why having a designated child care space is better for your child's success than a cafeteria, gym or hallway – e.g. bridge for student and families between home and school, feeling safe, supported and connected the whole day, learning/homework support, quality learning activities and projects, social and emotional development and how this helps facilitate learning, etc.
Would the city be willing to help facilitate discussions around saving quality child care located in public schools?
What is the Mayor's and city council member's positions on the repurposing/loss of childcare spaces, built by city levy money, for classroom use? Do they have any suggestions or solutions?
Could city resources be used to help this situation?
I want to thank everyone who has expressed their support and all of us at Blazing Trails would really appreciate if have the time to respond to the survey and/or attend one or more of these conversation. Resources are not allocated problems that no-one knows or talks about.
March 31, 2016
If you are a current BT family, you will have received an email from me today about space use at Pathfinder. If you haven't, here is the letter I sent. I've included a link to the letter SPS Associate Superintendent - Flip Herndon - of Facilities & Operations asked us to send to you.
Dear Blazing Trails Families,
Late last week, Blazing Trails received some news from the Facilities Dept. of Seattle Public Schools. They informed us that the district will, most likely, need our dedicated childcare space for classrooms probably for next school year and moving forward. (See attached letter). We've been working closely with our principal, David Dockendorf, to find out as much information as we can and plan as best we can for this impact. We are committed to providing high quality childcare for you and your children in whatever space we have.
If you have any questions or concerns, please, come and talk with Rita, Jennifer or Mckinsey in the Blazing Trails office.
First off, we want to thank David and the administration of Pathfinder K-8 for their steadfast support and commitment to our program and our community. This is a rotten position for them to be in as they have absolutely no say about how many students the district expects them to accommodate. So, however you feel about this challenge, please, know that our school has done everything they can to help.
We won't know the full impact on summer 2016 and next year's programming until the district has their definite numbers sometime in mid-April. We are going ahead with registrations for both programs as planned, beginning on Friday, April 1st. The biggest potential impact for summer is that, if we have to move out of Blazing Trails by July 1st, we will not be able to open the first week of summer, June 27th through July 1st. We will let everyone who registers know as soon as we do.
Our plans over the next 2 years will be to utilized multi-use or shared use spaces. Since we already have a lot of our programming in the cafeteria or gym, Hub and outside spaces already, we only expect to adjust the programming that's currently in our classrooms. We'll be more mobile and creative, like maybe having homework in the library and projects in shared spaces, maybe building blocks in the Hub or hallways. We'll still maintain our homey feel and inclusive culture; we'll just look a little different.
We will also be looking for long-term solutions this next year. As we are committed to the value, importance and necessity of childcare located in schools, we will be working hard to figure all this out. We welcome any and all suggestions as we will definitely be looking outside the box to find what's best for our students, their families and our staff.
We've had your back for over 20 years, and that's not going to change.
Rita M. Garton
Blazing Trails Childcare