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SE Iowa Early Childhood Summit addresses child care concerns, provides Family Fun

Summit free and open to the public this Friday and Saturday

The Southeast Iowa Early Childhood Summit will address ways to expand child care options, provide educational resources and professional development for early childhood educators and child care businesses and host a Family Fun Night with a Scholastic book fair and supper provided by Iowa Wesleyan University international students this weekend.

The summit is on Friday, April 12, and Saturday, April 13, at Iowa Wesleyan University. It is open to the public.

The summit begins with a lunch and learn on Friday, April 12, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the Social Hall at IW. The lunch and learn will focus on why there have been significant declines in the number of child care providers in southeast Iowa, and how employers, city leaders and economic development boards can get involved to support child care initiatives in their region.

“We wanted to bring together people in our region who are interested in expanding, whether it’s a home provider interested in becoming a licensed center or an employer who lost three or four applicants because that applicant has young children and they couldn’t find child care,” said Tasha Beghtol, director of the Early Childhood Board of Des Moines, Henry, Louisa and Washington counties.

Child care providers are entrepreneurs, Beghtol said.

“Iowa is asking if you’re going to take care of kids that you meet certain standards. We certainly love that, but there’s some folks who decided it’s not for us,” Beghtol said. “It’s tough to be a registered and licensed child care provider. It takes commitment, business savvy.”

Beghtol said that if one more child care center could be added in Mt. Pleasant, she would consider the summit a success.

While Washington County, which is similar in population to Henry County, has six licensed child care centers, Henry County has one. Beghtol defines child care centers as somewhere that is accessible to everyone.

“It troubles me that Mt. Pleasant doesn’t have a licensed center,” Beghtol said. “We have home providers, but we don’t have a center. We lost the Owl’s Nest (child care center) quite a few years ago. That was a huge loss for the community.”

Following the lunch and learn, Main Street Cinemas, at 115 North Main Street in Mt. Pleasant, will be showing a documentary “No Small Matter,” on Friday, April 12, at 2 p.m. There is no cost to view the documentary and no RSVP is needed. The documentary viewing is open to the public. The film is about an hour and a half long and brings public attention to the early childhood education cause, the impact of it on children and the soaring cost of child care.

Beghtol said the documentary’s intended audience is not child care providers but everyone in the community because child care affects everyone in a community.

“It’s not for the people who live and work and breathe early childhood,” Beghtol said. “It’s really the people who may or may not know how much (child care) impacts everything. If we really want to reduce crime, increase workforce, increase graduation rates, we have to focus more energy and efforts on the little ones.”

Family Fun Night will begin later that evening on Friday, April 12, from 4 to 6 p.m. in IW’s student activity center. Children’s performer Tom Pease will perform at 6 p.m. This event is free and open to the public.

Family Fun Night includes a Scholastic book fair, where every child will receive a free book, a dinner hosted by international students at IW and interactive tables sponsored by the Mt. Pleasant Library, an early childhood mental health resource center called First Five, Planned Parenthood and other businesses. Kids will get a “Passport” that will be stamped when they try food from another “continent.”

A child care conference on Saturday, April 13 from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in IW’s student activity center will provide six hours of professional development for early childhood educators and child care businesses. Tom Pease will be the keynote speaker during this event.

During the conference will be a poverty simulation from noon to 3:30 in the gym at IW. This interactive simulation is designed to help participants understand what it might be like to live in a typical low-income family trying to survive from one month to the next.

“The theme of this year’s summit is diversity, and diversity includes socioeconomic poverty,” Beghtol said. “We have a lot of families living in poverty and working through that.”

“It helps to raise awareness of why families might do or say some of the things they do as a result of living in poverty and the challenges they face,” said Ginger Knisley, Early Childhood Iowa director for Lee and Van Buren counties. “It helps the professionals understand some of those circumstances. Some things that come out could come off as a person not being cooperative. If they have a greater understanding of what it means to live in poverty day in and day out.”

While the conference and poverty simulation is mostly for early childhood educators and child care businesses, there are some spots available to the public. An RSVP is necessary.

To RSVP to the lunch and learn, the child care conference or the Poverty Simulation, contact Tasha Beghtol at tbeghtol@dhlw.org or call 319-461-1369. No RSVP is required for the viewing of “No Small Matter” at Main Street Cinemas or Family Fun Night.