San Juan College will open child care center in Aztec with $300k Kellogg Foundation grant

New facility will serve 10 children from 6 weeks to 24 months old

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — San Juan College plans on opening a second child-care center this fall, a facility that will be located on its East Campus in Aztec, after it received a $300,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

The new child-care center will serve as an extension of the college's Child and Family Development Center located on its main campus in Farmington. Francell Nakai, the director of the center, said the college is seeking the licenses it needs to operate the new facility, and she doesn't anticipate any delays that would keep the new center from opening in time for the fall semester.

The center will be located in a building that formerly housed another child-care facility, so no construction will be required, said Lorenzo Reyes, associate vice president for workforce, economic and resource development at San Juan College.

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"We were fortunate to have a facility that was ready to go," Nakai said.

Francell Nakai

The facility is expected to accommodate a total of 10 children ages 6 weeks to 24 months old, she said. The parents of those children will be students enrolled in classes at the college's East Campus.

San Juan College operates its Child and Family Development Center to ease the burden of parents who are trying to obtain a degree or finish a certificate program at the institution. Nakai said additional grant money will be spent to broaden the amount of time the child-care facilities operate twice a week, increasing those hours from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., when many of the college's evening classes end.

"That's part of finding a way to support our student parents the best we can while they get those degrees," Reyes said.

The grant money also will be used to purchase additional materials and other resources to be used by children enrolled in the programs, Nakai said.

College officials anticipate the 10 spots at the new center will fill up quickly. Reyes said there is a waiting list for parents who want to enroll their kids in the program on the main campus, and he expects the same will be true of the Aztec facility.

Lorenzo Reyes

"Child care is in high need in many of our communities," he said.

Nakai said approximately six positions will need to be filled before the center can open, including a site director. She said the college would begin advertising those jobs shortly.

College officials view the Child and Family Development Center not just as a way to assist students who are parents, but also as an investment in the community's future. Nakai said early childhood education is a crucial element in fostering stronger emotional and social development in children, noting that if local leaders want to build a strong community, "Everything begins with early childhood education."

Reyes said his institution is completely behind that idea.

"We at the college, we understand that it's an important area where we need to focus more of our resources," he said. "And that's why we're working with the school districts on this to partner with them."

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Vista Nueva High School, the alternative high school for the Aztec Municipal School District, shares space with San Juan College's East Campus at 315 S. Ash St. Principal Dreher Robertson said the new child-care center planned for the campus was conceived as a true partnership between the college and the school district.

"For many years, the facility has existed to serve teen parents at Vista Nueva High School," he said in an email statement. "The decline in its use over the last several years presented an opportunity to bring a much needed service to the students and families in Aztec and eastern San Juan County.

The facility will seek to support both students and staff of San Juan College and Aztec Municipal Schools for infants and toddlers. Additionally, the site will provide an opportunity for Early Childhood Education students to complete practicum hours for their program."

Reyes and Nakai both said they believe early childhood education has taken on even greater importance due to the the way the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the educational, social and emotional development of so many young people.

"It's been very hard on kids and teachers," Nakai said, referring to the social distancing and distancing learning requirements that have served as the norm for the last two years because of the pandemic. "Students need to have close contact. They need to be engaged in activities with other kids."

But many of those connections have been lost over the last two years, she said, and that has had negative consequences for students, teachers and even parents.

Nakai said study after study has revealed that children who take part in early childhood education programs enjoy better outcomes as adults, and she believes that message is getting through to policy makers.

"I'm thrilled with the amount of support and funding we have coming in, and we plan to take advantage of that," she said.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e.