Access to affordable daycare has been identified as a major area of concern for communities located in Greater Minnesota. In Monte≠video, the largest child care provider is the Montevideo School District through its Thunder Hawk Care program.

Access to affordable daycare has been identified as a major area of concern for communities located in Greater Minnesota. In Monte­video, the largest child care provider is the Montevideo School District through its Thunder Hawk Care program.

Trisha Lien, Thunder Hawk Care Coordinator, explained the history behind Thunder Hawk Care. She said: “Thunder Hawk Care, as it exists today, began on July 1, 2013, when the school district took over the child care center previously operating as Kinder Care. Prior to that time, the school district and Kinder care had been operating jointly and shared a coordinator between Kinder Care and Kids Corner.”

According to Lien, in July of 2013, the school district, through the Community Education department, opened what is now know as Thunder Hawk Care. “Thunder Hawk Care offers two options to local families: Little Thunder Hawks (LTH) for ages six weeks to age 5 pre-kindergarten, and Junior Thunder Hawks for school age children ages kindergarten through sixth grade,” she said.

Thunder Hawk Care is fee-based, with the expectation that the total program funds itself each year. “If families qualify, they can utilize the Child Care Assistance Program and/or Pathways Scholar­ships through Parent Aware to help cover some, or all, of the cost for LTH,” said Lien.

With the shortage of daycare in Montevideo, Thunder Hawk Care has become a very popular option for parents of young children. “During the 2019-2020 regular school year,” began Lien, “LTH provided care for 76 children from 63 families, utilizing 12 full-time and eight part-time employees. The hours are from 5:45 a.m. to 5:45 p.m.”

With that many kids, LTH was for all practical purposes, full. Lien said: “There is little froom for additional children, in fact each of the age groups has a waiting list with many families that would like to send their children.”

Also during the regular school year, JTH provided care for 135 children from 97 families before school (from 5:45 a.m. to 8 a.m.), after school (from 3:15 to 5:45), and on non-school days.

According to Lien, the number of children attending both sections has fallen dramatically since the pandemic began. She said: “Over the past few weeks, the numbers have dropped considerably. The LTH has been averaging 24 kids since March, while JTH is averaging 32.”

Both LTH and JTH remain open for children who’s parent or parents are considered essential personnel and meet the requirements of the Minnesota Department of Health.

Thunder Hawk Care does operate year round, and during a normal summer, LTH has the capacity to add an additional 20 preschool age children as rooms become available when school is not in session. Likewise, the number of kids in JTH can grow to as many as 150 children during the summer.

“The structure of the day during summer changes as kids are divided into groups with an assigned staff person,” Lien said. “That person will do some lessons with each group, including things like travel, art, cooking and STEM. JTH also provides staff to take kids to their summer rec activities at the ball field, high school, and middle school.”

During the school year, according to Lien, days are structured by age group. “We follow developmentally appropriate guidelines utilizing the “Creative Curriculum for infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers” program.”

Some changes have been made due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the adjustments have been going well. “The biggest change for our LTH kids is the lack of playground time,” said Lien, “but they are making up for it by going on walks or spreading out and playing outside with sidewalk chalk or bubbles. We can’t go on field trips, and we can’t have presenters come in like we normally would.”

For the JTH kids, there are also changes in their daily schedule. “The morning is reserved for distance learning homework help provided by school district paraprofessionals,” said Lien. “After lunch, some children have Google-meet or Zoom meetings with their classrooms and teachers. The afternoon, and whenever they are not working on distance learning, is free-choice based. The children have the opportunity to travel between different areas, classrooms, or activities as long as there is space, meaning eight or nine children in a given area at any time with one or two staff.”

Perhaps the biggest changes that have been brought about as a result of the COVID-19 virus is that the playground at Sanford is closed, and parents are no longer allowed to enter the building. Also, all children are screened before they can enter.

Being cautious and following MDH guidelines for social distancing has created some unique challenges for staff. Lien said: “Imagine helping a child with their distance learning from six feet away, or trying to kee three year-olds from hugging one another. Or passing a toy from one child to another. Or keeping crawling infants separate from one another. Or trying to limit the amount of contact with a baby that developmentally needs to be held while they eat and fall asleep. Staff is constantly sanitizing and disinfecting equipment between users by each child. This is hard.”

Another precautionary procedure was introduced to staff this week. “Starting on Monday, staff are now required to wear protective masks. Imagine wearing masks while at the same trying to comfort and convince a child that everything is ok when they can’t see your smile,” said Lien.

Despite the difficulties, staff and children are adjusting to the changes. It’s all they can do when facing a situation that changes on a daily basis.