The award is the result of a collaborative effort with Vermillion area child care providers and experts, including the USD School of Education, USD Vucurevich Children’s Center, USD Head Start, Center for Children and Families, Pulse of Life Kids Care Center, Boys & Girls Club of Vermillion, Vermillion School District, United Way of Vermillion, SD Association for the Education of Young Children Missouri Valley chapter and other stakeholders in the community. 

Over the next year, the $400,000 grant will aid in implementing innovative and strategic solutions to expand and improve child care access and quality of care in the Vermillion area.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that we are helping our community have access to affordable child care,” said School of Education Dean Amy Schweinle, Ph.D. “There are really two key things in this area that are necessary to see economic growth and to support our community members, and those are housing and child care. This is a key step in addressing those issues.”

The Governor’s Office of Economic Development announced the Vermillion Area Chamber & Development Company as one of 13 awardees of Gov. Kristi Noem’s Investment Plan for Child Care in late March.

With support from the grant, the School of Education and its Vermillion partners are working to address the community’s child care crisis on three fronts: accessibility, affordability and high-quality care.

The first part of the strategic plan has included allocating funds toward enhancing existing child care facilities and creating new opportunities for families. Structural renovations, such as the installation of dividing walls and the addition of essential amenities like kitchens and fire safety equipment, are being implemented to accommodate more children and offer more options for families.

Additionally, the funds will be used to create new innovative programs, including a visionary learning lab at the Vucuverich Children’s Center. The program will be spearheaded by former Jolley Elementary Principal Sue Galvin and will introduce STREAM (science, technology, reading, engineering, arts and mathematics) activities to children.

Prior to the $400,000 grant, the School of Education was awarded a $50,000 grant to perform a needs assessment of the current child care climate in Vermillion. With this initial funding, community partners hired the Government Research Bureau to conduct a wide-reaching study that included a community-wide survey, a survey of businesses in the area and a survey of daycare providers.

The Government Research Bureau, a research center of USD, also led focus groups that allowed stakeholders to dig deeper into understanding concerns about child care in the community and present a more comprehensive view of the issue.

“The results confirmed a lot of the informal discussions of the community, particularly that we have a child care issue that is felt across the board by the public, daycare providers and businesses seeking to hire reliable employees,” said Julia Hellwege, Ph.D., director of the Government Research Bureau and associate professor of political science.

With outreach centers like the Vucuverich Children’s Center and USD Head Start, the School of Education is uniquely positioned to alleviate some of the child care burden in the Vermillion community.

“The School of Education has always seen serving the state and region as part of our mission,” said Schweinle. “We take our role in training the next generation of leaders very seriously, and serving the children and families in our community is part of that.”

While the grant funds must be expended by the end of the calendar year, Schweinle is hopeful that this community-wide effort in solving the child care crisis will extend far into the future. 

“This is just the beginning,” said Schweinle. “One of the huge benefits of this grant is that we’ve started coming together to have this conversation. We’re forging a lot of strong relationships right now, and I hope we continue to communicate into the future on how we can make child care more affordable.”

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