Wendy Ernst, North Country Kids Preschool and Bright Tikes teacher, has been with the organization for 19 years. Pictured here, she sits with North Country Kids preschool students Samantha Ness and Daniel Kelbel. (Harbor Light photo by Jessica Evans).
Jessica Evans News Manager
In any thriving community, parents can leave their child for the day-- whether at school, with a family member or in daycare-- trusting their little one will be in a place that's comfortable, happy, and safe. It's an added bonus when that care happens in the heart of a small town, something that may soon be a reality again in Harbor Springs.
For years, North Country Kids Daycare and Preschool Academy was part of Holy Childhood Church's community outreach, and was located in the former Holy Childhood of Jesus School. The three story building was torn down in 2008, replaced with a new church narthex and parish hall.
An opportunity to return North Country Kids to its downtown roots, through a unique partnership with Hillside Apartments (senior housing complex at the western end of Main Street) has been in the works for several years. The project (see related story inside this issue) is now making its way to the public eye, with an introduction of renderings planned at the Harbor Springs Planning Commission meeting Thursday, May 16.
While the familiar site of the daycare and preschool children has been missing from downtown streets in recent years, the quality care North Country Kids provides on a daily basis has remained, calling a space in Fairview Plaza, off State Road, home.
The transition from church entity to independent nonprofit has not always been an easy one, said Wendy Ernst, North Country Kids Preschool and Bright Tikes teacher, who has been with the organization for 19 years.
"We have been separated from the church since we moved up here," clarified Ernst. "A lot of people still think we're connected."
The goal of North Country Kids, Ernst added, is the same as it has always been: to make sure Harbor Springs has a non-profit infant to school age child care (Harbor Springs Schools offers childcare for ages 3-7) option that is close to town and promises an environment where children are safe, learning, and loved every day.
North Country Kid's early education programs includes Bright Tikes, for children three years old, and a Preschool program for four year-olds.
Numerous activities are offered as part of the organization's preschool program, including some cooking events, field trips, experience with arts, crafts, music, math, science and even Spanish lessons. Ernst noted that socially and academically, the program greatly helps prepare children for the transition to kindergarten.
The organization also provides center based licensed child care for infants six months of age up to children 11 years old, as well as various summer programs, including a day camp for school age children and a literacy program for children three to seven years old.
"Whether they're in our daycare program, or in preschool, or dually enrolled, this sometimes is a child's first experience away from mom and dad," Ernst explained. "We focus a lot on self-help skills and give them the coping mechanisms they need to do well when they take that next step into kindergarten."
"We operate on a play-based curriculum," Ernst said. "We try to provide activities that will be relevant to the children and that they'll enjoy. We also cap the preschool class size at 12 students, with one teacher and one assistant. This way, the student-teacher ratio is such that we're able to meet each child's individual needs and foster their development."
Community support means a lot to the organization, Ernst said, but she also believes North Country Kids is important to the community, as well.
"There really is a need for an organization such as this here," she said. "Local business owners realize that we're an asset to the community. If their employees have a good place to take their kids while they're at work, they're doing to focus on their job and do a better job."
Ernst noted that community support will be essential in the next phase of the organization. Getting back to its downtown roots will require a capital campaign, which will launch this summer.
"We're hoping to build our dream facility," she said. "The site we're looking at would be near a nature conservancy, so there would be lots of room for kids to play and explore. We have such a great community downtown and we're partnering with them to utilize some funding for possible grants. We have many of our plans ready to go, so this is a very exciting time."
To learn more about the North Country Kids Capital Campaign plans, call 231-526-2815 or go to their website at www.northcountrykidschildcare.org/