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In the summer of 2018, the Buena Vista School District held a 40-person waiting list for preschoolers. This led Superintendent Lisa Yates to seek out viable expansion options for the Buena Vista Public Schools’ preschool program, as it grew to an all-time high exceeding 80 preschoolers.

Students Montana and Ezio play on the playground at CMC. Photo courtesy of Buena Vista School District.

“Last spring, we were watching our preschool lists of families that needed preschool to grow.” Yates emphasized. “We had 40 families we would not be able to service with our space.”

With the growth that Chaffee County is experiencing, it’s no surprise that Buena Vista is mirroring that growth, which translates into higher demand for preschool classrooms.

“What we’re noticing is growth in kindergarten and preschool,” Yates said. “We’re talking two years, so I wouldn’t say it’s a trend yet, but we have to be smart and say, ‘if this is going to continue, then we will run out of space there’.”

The school district needed a solution to their problem: how to handle the number of children needing space in the pre-school program? That’s where Colorado Mountain College (CMC) entered the picture. Last summer, CMC offered space at their campus just south of town. In the blink of an eye, Buena Vista’s preschool program doubled in size.

“We love that we’ve been able to engage with more families,” said Yates. “There are two preschool classes [at CMC], and three preschool classes down here, plus a toddler room down here (at Avery Parson’s Elementary on Main Street).”

Childcare in Chaffee County is another issue that Yates is trying to address with Buena Vista’s toddler programs. “We are hearing that childcare is a problem,” Yates explained. “We’ve met the immediate need for those who want preschool for ages three and up, but we have a waiting list of 35 [families] for the toddler age now.”

A student completes a drawing during preschool class at CMC. Photo courtesy of Buena Vista School District.

Offering toddler rooms for families and expanding preschool programs is a delicate balancing act, explains Yates. While the Buena Vista School District is considering expanding its toddler program, Yates is determined not to undermine private day cares who provide childcare for toddlers in the area.

“Moving up [to CMC] allowed us to have 10 toddlers [in the program], and we are looking at the possibility of adding 10 more toddlers,” Yates explained. “We’ve tried to keep tabs on the home care providers. We don’t want to run a home care provider out of business (by offering toddler programs).”

A student enjoys a sandbox inside one of the preschool classrooms at CMC. Photo courtesy of Buena Vista School District.

Yates explained one circumstance when a private daycare provider had two kids start attending Buena Vista’s preschool. “A preschool home care provider had two come to our preschool, so we reached out to her. We worked with those families and now [the home care provider] is back at capacity. We know we haven’t taken any [kids away from private providers] and we would want [home care providers] to tell us [if we do].” Yates said.

Juggling the tricky logistics of operating two campuses and ensuring the new programs don’t undermine private day cares is also a delicate act. As of now, Yates and the Buena Vista school district are making it work for the sake of families in Buena Vista.

“We know that [our programs] have provided child care that people needed,” said Yates.