By JAMES BELL
Ellis County parents looking for early childhood care will have another option next year with the recent announcement of the expansion of Holy Family Elementary’s early childhood program.
The result is what they have named Precious Creations and reflects months of work by school staff and an effort to help alleviate the ongoing childcare crisis in the area.
“We have had a task force working since August on a project to expand our early childcare program,” said Holy Family Elementary Principal Rachel Wentling.
Thanks to those efforts, she said they would offer all-day preschool options for 3- and 4-year-olds next year.
“We are now expanding from the four-day 4-year-old option that's only half days to five days of preschool with both a half day and a full day option,” Wentling said. “And we're adding a 3-year-old preschool that will offer a half-day and full-day option.”
The announcement comes as various efforts in Ellis County are underway to alleviate the ongoing need for additional childcare in the area.
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“We know that there's been a crisis in our community for childcare, we know that need exists out there,” Wentling said. “So, we're really happy and excited to be a part of a solution for some of our families. And maybe, for some of our families that have had a hard time finding childcare, they might come to Holy Family. We might get new families, but then that will open up other spots available in our community.
“Enrollment of the 4-year-old preschool is capped at 44 students, 22 in the morning program and 22 in the afternoon program,” according to the program announcement.
Twelve spots will be available in the 3-year-old full-day program, with 18 full-day positions available.
After the morning curricular instruction, the 3- and 4-year-old program will offer combined lunch, rest time, and structured and free play activities.
While the new program will help alleviate the ongoing need, she said, like many other area institutions, they are limited by space, but the expanded program will add full-time spots at a price comparable to other area daycare centers.
“I wish we could do more, but our facilities just don't have enough space and personnel,” Wentling said. “So, we're going to do what we can.”
The free space available for Precious Creations was created as the Hays Catholic schools transition sixth grade from Holy Family to Thomas More Prep-Marian.
“That opened up two classrooms,” Wentling said. “Space is always an issue for Holy Family. So we're going to take one of those classrooms and dedicate it to an additional preschool and all-day extended care option.”
She said some work would need completed to get the room ready for its new mission, but it will be minor.
“We are really in pretty good shape,” Wentling said. “That was what made this decision really easy. Our classrooms that are on the bottom floor for our youngest students are all up to code with the fire code and safety needs.
“There's a couple things that we'll need to do, but nothing major.”
She said new staff would also need to be hired along with the facility expansion.
“That is something that's very exciting,” Wentling said. “And we'll be adding, as well, a teacher's aide. … It's all dependent on our enrollment, but at this time, if we are full, we're looking at both of those being full-time options.”
She said while the development has only been known internally for a short time, there has been substantial interest in the program.
“We're very excited to now get this out publicly and see if there are people out there who have not been previously affiliated with Holy Family that maybe this is something they want to consider,” Wentling said.
While the school is affiliated with the Catholic Church, affiliation with the church is not a requirement for enrollment.
“We are open to people of all faith backgrounds,” Wentling said. “You don't have to be Catholic to come to Holy Family. … If you are not registered with one of the parishes, that's not a problem at all. We offer tuition, and we do have the opportunity for people to apply for tuition assistance.
“We have a program that you fill out your information, and then it will process all of it and let us know kind of where that tuition number should land. We also have very generous donors that offer fee assistance for people who would like to go to our schools but maybe financially, it could be a bit of a burden.”
She said the goal is never to let finances stand in the way of attending the school, whenever possible.
And those affiliated with the church will have the opportunity to attend as a part of their stewardship.
Precious creations enrollment is open now, and an open house is planned for 5:30 p.m. Jan. 19 at the school to share more details.
“This is not just for preschool, this is for all grade levels,” Wentling said. “If you haven't been previously affiliated with Holy Family, and you just want to come and see what we're all about, please come to that open house.
“It's no commitment. It's very low key, you'll get about a 20- to 30-minute presentation from me. ... I call it kind of like a 10,000-foot view of Holy Family — just explaining a few things.”
She said the event would also allow the parents of potential students to see the school and have their questions answered.
“And most importantly, we're going to have our excellent Holy Family chocolate chip cookies available for those who come,” Wentling said. “So bring in your grade school-aged children to come and see our school, and we would love to talk to you if Holy Family is something they're interested in.”