Alpine ISD opens new child development center

Alpine ISD Daycare Director Chelsea Craddock organizes books and toys in one of the new daycare classrooms which previously served as a district board room. Staff photo by Mary Cantrell.

ALPINE — The Alpine Independent School District is now enrolling local children aged six months to three years old at its newly-opened daycare, located in the west wing of the district’s existing administrative building. The 50-spot facility opened its doors on Wednesday, August 15.

The project was announced back in February as a solution to the consistent lack of childcare options in the area hampering the adult workforce, and is made possible by a half-a-million-dollar grant from the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) and nonprofit Workforce Solutions Borderplex (WSB).

“I know that there’s definitely a need [for a daycare] in our community,” said Superintendent Michelle Rinehart. “People have found these different work-around ways to meet that need in the absence of consistent childcare. This will provide an opportunity for more families to have that.”

Officially coined the “Alpine Child Development Center” (ACDC), the facility is hoping to enroll 20 to 30 children by the end of 2023, said Rinehart, and scale up to its full capacity over time. It will charge parents and guardians a daily fee of $40 — a cost daycare leaders say they hope to reduce as more grants and subsidies come online. In the meantime, qualifying families may have those fees subsidized by TWC.

The child development center will be open year-round, including in the summer months, and will otherwise follow the school district calendar, according to Rinehart. The space, which the district most recently utilized for meetings and storage, is well-suited to house a daycare and required only light renovations. Features include a kitchen, outdoor play area walking distance to the public library, and multiple age-specific classrooms outfitted with custom cabinetry, learning stations and supplies. Staff currently includes a director, assistant director, and three childcare workers.

Alpine ISD is opening the doors to its new daycare, which will care for infants to three-year-olds. The facility, complete with multiple classrooms, kitchen, and an outdoor play area, is housed within a wing of the district’s administrative building. Staff photo by Mary Cantrell.

In addition to the funding stream brought in by the daily daycare fees, the center will pursue TWC matching-grant partnerships with local employers like Sul Ross, Brewster County, the City of Alpine and the school district in order to create a more sustainable business model, said Rinehart — meaning the state agency would match whatever funds those institutions are able to provide.

“The other entities in town that are like, ‘We need this, we know we’ve needed this, our employees need this,’ are coming to the table wanting to be partners on some of these grants that help take, say, $50,000 of their dollars and turn it into $100,000 on behalf of our community,” said Rinehart.

Those contributions may entitle employers to a certain number of spots in the daycare for their employees, explained Rinehart, but for now enrollment is open to everyone.

Rinehart said the district would like to drive down the daily rate, but the cost of running the childcare facility properly requires the fee be above market rate.

After a year of being open, ACDC will be eligible and plans to apply for a Texas Rising Star Certification, a TWC designation signaling a top-tier daycare provider that also allows for families to receive greater, sometimes full, subsidies on daily enrollment fees.

Chelsea Craddock, ACDC director, and Alayna Ramirez, assistant director, were brought on to help establish the daycare, both existing Alpine ISD employees with experience in early childhood development. They spent the spring and summer readying the facility to welcome kids and traveling to other daycare centers, some run out of school districts, others independently, in Fort Stockton, Pecos and Alpine.

“I have enjoyed this process. I love kids. I have a one-year-old, so it’s kind of like, ‘Well, what would I want her to see?’” said Ramirez of the startup process.

Daycare staff will follow a daily curriculum, said Ramirez, and the program will be focused on getting children ready for their next educational step with the district.

“Our huge goal is to have the kids ready to go to pre-K at the elementary: potty trained, identifying letters, numbers, letters in their name,” said Ramirez. “Because we met with the pre-K teachers towards the end of the school year last year, and those were their big things.”

Craddock and Ramirez said as the center’s leaders they hope to create a positive environment for the children, making sure to greet them by name every morning in addition to other small practices that help build trust with kids and parents.

“[We want to] let parents know that their kids are in a safe space, and we want them to thrive, and we want them to feel safe and be happy here,” said Craddock.

An open house for those already enrolled will take place soon, and a larger, community-wide event will likely take place later this fall.

Once the daycare gets off the ground, it may expand to act as a training site for other area childcare facilities in partnership with WSB, said Rinehart, and could explore offering career technical education (CTE) training for high school students in early childhood education and teaching.

While a new daycare may seem overzealous considering Alpine ISDs current financial difficulties — it anticipates adopting a $100,000 deficit budget this school year — Rinehart argued the state’s failure to properly fund public education should not thwart local progress.

“I don’t believe that a great opportunity should be conditional on state legislative action that’s needed to fully fund our schools,” said Rinehart. “Why doesn’t our community deserve an incredible childcare center? If the district is the closest or most peripheral organization to coordinate that, we will do that in creative ways — grant funding, partnerships — to bring something to Alpine that otherwise we couldn’t have right now.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Alpine ISD anticipates adopting a $1 million deficit this year. The correct figure is $100,000. We regret the error.

The backyard area of Alpine ISD’s new daycare awaits playground equipment and shade structures. Staff photo by Mary Cantrell.