Down economy has mixed effects on local child care outlets |

Down economy has mixed effects on local child care outlets

summit daily news

SUMMIT COUNTY – With numerous childcare and summer camp options in Summit County – from preschool to the Keystone Science School, and everything in between – it’s no wonder there isn’t a set answer for how the industry has been affected by the stifled economy.

What is clear is this: Preschools seem to be bearing the brunt of enrollment dips, while summer programs for slightly older kids have higher enrollment.

According to Lake Dillon Preschool director Cheri Johnson, there’s still a waiting list for new babies and 2-year-olds, but the other rooms have plenty of room.

“It’s interesting,” Johnson said. “We’re really low in numbers right now as far as kids go. Parents are leaving the county because of the struggle with economy.”

Johnson noted that five to six families with kids at Lake Dillon Preschool have lost jobs since 2010 began.

“They can’t afford to live here, they can’t even stay,” she said. “We’ve also lost a few children because they’re going to kindergarten. Even if (families) are not leaving the county, they’re cutting back on days to save a little money. Mom or Dad have been staying home, probably because their hours have been cut.”

Johnson said she expects classrooms to fill up starting in September, and there’s an open house at the end of the summer.

Though Morgan Thompson, the assistant director at Little Red School House in Breckenridge, said the preschool is definitely “floating above water,” she said she foresees more vacancies this fall because 27 kids are heading into kindergarten.

“We definitely are in a good position right now,” she added. “We have a lot of families that are super loyal to us.”

Even with faithful customers, Thompson also said she thought it’s become more difficult for families to afford daycare in general.

“It’s easier to find child care, financing is more the issue,” she said. “Child care assistance programs and scholarships are helping those families.”

Yet, families seeking funding aid may run into road blocks soon – if they haven’t already. It was recently projected that by the beginning of July the county’s Child Care Assistance Program would suspend enrollment, established waiting lists and lowering the cap on people it serves. As demand has steadily increased, funding to supplement the program have gone down.

Despite preschools seeing an increase in vacancies, other daycare entities are reporting higher enrollment numbers.

The Keystone Science School, for instance, is seeing record numbers for day-camp participation.

Ellen Reid, the director of the school, said: “We’re seeing pretty big increases and it’s been pretty consistent for the past three years.”

She attributed the program’s popularity to a couple of factors – a new camp director and news of the program spreading by word of mouth.

“It became a viable option for people in community,” Reid said. “The day camp is used by visitors for child care, but largely we’re seeing an increase in use by the local community.”

The Keystone Science School focuses on outdoor education, and it uses a youth development model where kids can stay involved throughout their formative years, from ages 5 to 21. There are both day and overnight options, and it does a lot of on- and off-site programming.

“We try to create a program where they have opportunities to gain leadership skills and eventually, if there’s interest, stay in the field,” Reid said. “The longevity is pretty unique.”

The town-run Frisco Fun Club is also seeing plenty of participation from local families.

“Our Fun Club most days is full, and that is picking up from the beginning of the summer,” said a Town of Frisco Recreation Department staffer. “A lot of the kids see their friends here and coming back, so they also want to come every day.”

Even so, Mondays and Fridays aren’t always at capacity – a Frisco Fun Club employee said this may be because parents are sharing the load when they can.

SDN reporter Caitlin Row can be reached at (970) 668-4633 or at

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