The ECHO Bottle Rockets Child Care is almost ready to take off, and the center’s staff can’t wait to get going. In the last several weeks, they have been busy at work assembling new cribs, organizing games and equipment, and waiting anxiously to clear the final hurdles.

ECHO Charter School first launched their innovative school-based approach to child care last year when they held informal conversations between teachers and administrative staff. Eventually, the group visited other child care centers in the region and learned about other approaches taken by neighboring communities.

The shortage of child care options impacts the whole region, and not surprisingly, many communities have joined the effort in finding a solution. The crisis in child care has prompted a variety of different solutions. In Clarkfield, the city funded and oversaw the construction of a public day care center, while in Granite Falls, Minnesota West is leasing space on campus to a private provider.

According to Bottle Rockets Child Care Coordinator Holly Reigstad, Bottle Rockets is now waiting for final approval from the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS). Earlier this month, state inspectors visited the facility for their last in-person inspection. If all goes according to plan, the center will open its doors for business later this month.

There are already applicants for the care center. In total, Bottle Rockets has capacity for four infants, seven toddlers, 10 pre-schoolers, and 12 school-age children. Reigstad that many of the kids are from the ECHO community, though the slots are open to any parents looking for child care services.

Bottle Rockets currently employs two child care providers. Before working with Bottle Rockets, Sandra Traeger worked with the ECHO Charter School as a paraprofessional and will now oversee infant care. Destany Soupir brings her own childcare experience to the table and has joined Bottle Rockets as the toddler teacher. Reigstad explained that additional teachers and assistants will be hired later as capacity builds.

The instructors stressed the importance of developing every aspect of the children who enter their care. Traeger outlined how each teacher develops her own curricula to meet the educational needs of the children. Components such as cognitive abilities, fine motor skills, language, communication, and emotional development are all crucially important for young children.

Soupir agreed with Traeger, and added that spoken word activities (like reading books) were another way to help provide that extra cognitive stimuli for children. She added that role-playing games that reflect things in their own lived experience (like grocery shopping or play time) were another way of helping development communication and motor skills for young kids.

Despite the light-hearted nature of these activities, looking after kids is no small task. Reigstad explained that the school has a fully developed risk reduction plan that aligns with DHS guidelines. The plan covers everything from proper hand washing procedures to illness management. There will also be one teacher and at least one aid for every classroom.

Reigstad said that locating Bottle Rockets in a school affords unique benefits not available elsewhere. Not only do teachers have access to the educational tools already in place, but she added that with smaller group sizes, children will receive more specialized care. There will also be plenty of space for physical activity in the school gym and the adjacent field and playground.

The teachers were visibly excited for the opening of Bottle Rockets. “I’m looking forward to having the kids come,” said Soupir, excitedly. She added that there was “light at the end of the tunnel.”

Bottle Rockets is holding an open house on Monday, June 18. The event is open to the public and local families are encouraged to attend for more information about the center. For more information about Bottle Rockets Child Care, please call the ECHO Charter School at 507-925-4143.