Early childhood education is more important to the well-being of the future generation that many people may think, said Judy Whilden, Director of Sunrise Kids, LLC Preschool and Childcare in Craig.
That assertion is often evident in the low wages some childcare providers receive, she said.
"We need to start waking people up to early childhood education and that parents are in control," Whilden said. "We need to increase public awareness that we are professionals, not babysitters. There's a lot more that we do in this field than watch your kids."
Sunrise Kids is one of four preschools in the Craig area and the town's only for-profit public organization.
According to a 2002 study, almost 12 million children younger than five years old spend part of their day in the care of people other than their parents.
But the wages some childcare providers earn are negligible, Whilden said.
"As a nation, the United States pays about as much to parking lot attendants and dry cleaning workers as it does to early childhood educators, "Whilden said. "The average salary of childcare workers in 1999 was $15,430. Not surprisingly, turnover among early childhood workers in high."
Whilden judged a lack of qualified day care professionals in the area by an advertisement she placed for a lead teacher at Sunrise that has yet to be filled. The paltry wages Whilden could offer didn't help in luring candidates to the position, she said.
Indeed, Jennifer Hume who works at the daycare facility said she didn't get involved in the childcare for the money.
Nonetheless, Hume, a recent high school graduate, is pursuing an online degree in childcare so she may one day nab a role such as the lead teacher position currently open at Sunrise.
"I'm doing this because I want to be a teacher, and I like little kids," she said. "I'm certainly not in it for the money.
To address the growing need for qualified daycare providers, Colorado Northwestern Community College offers a range of classes for students to earn certificates to increase their skills and individuals' marketability to earn more money in the field.
Currently, a grant from the Colorado Department of Education allows instructor Janet Martinez to offer residents free infant and toddler care certifications.
To keep the funding for the classes, Martinez said the classes need to maintain at least eight to 10 students.
In 45 hours, childcare providers or others interested in program can gain a better understanding of children in their care. The class teaches about nutrition, development and culture -- how to care for children whose beliefs, traditions or home environment may be different from that of their caretaker.
With the certificate, licensed day care providers can accept additional children into their care and the class meets licensing requirements for infant/toddler nursery supervisor training.
The class doesn't license participants for daycare, but offers additional training for those who are, or want to be, licensed.
Though the class ends this month (but should be offered again), it's availability in the area is a prime example of the kinds of education that residents need, Whilden said.
"That's one thing we look for in childcare is people who have education," she said. "Early childcare is important, this is where it all begins. We don't just let anybody work here."
Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.