Montevideo takes on the challenge of providing quality child care as Montessori school looks to expand

·4 min read

May 15—MONTEVIDEO — The first question a young couple moving to town will ask is: "What's the day care like?"

"There's a tremendous need for day care and everyone understands it," said Patrick Moore, speaking recently as a member of the board of directors for the Wildwood Montessori School with Child Care in Montevideo.

Child care has become an economic development issue in rural Minnesota, he pointed out recently to the Chippewa County Board of Commissioners.

Moore and Katie Pieh, executive director of the school, are speaking about the need as they meet with local business owners and elected officials to outline their plans to help meet it.

The Wildwood Montessori School is preparing to move to the former Montevideo Family Dentistry office on the east side of Montevideo. It will expand the school's capacity from 13 current students to 42. It will be able to provide quality education and child care for a complement of eight infants, 14 toddlers and 20 preschoolers.

The plan to expand the school has brought home the challenge that exists for building the child care infrastructure that is so badly needed in rural Minnesota, according to Moore. There is no direct support from state or federal sources for the upfront costs.

As a result, the Montessori School has launched an $80,000 campaign to meet a shortfall in what it needs to open its new doors on July 1. The funds are needed for playground and other educational equipment, as well as to provide training for new teachers, said Moore.

Pieh and Moore are optimistic about the campaign.

An anonymous donor has stepped forward this past week to offer a $40,000 grant toward the goal, if the community matches it.

They also said that the Montevideo Community Development Corporation has offered a $10,000 grant and the Economic Development Authority a $5,000 grant for the expansion. The organizations recognize the importance of quality child care to the community, said Moore.

The school is also being aided by the Zenk and Baukol families, owners of the former dental office building. They remodeled and prepared the building for its new use, and are offering a reduced cost on its lease in the startup years.

The school is operated as a nonprofit organization. It is budgeting for a break-even operation when full enrollment of 42 students is achieved, according to Moore.

The need for child care in the area has been highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many women stopped working to care for their children, Moore said. And now, the demand in Montevideo will grow further. The development of the Minnesota Veterans Home in the community will be creating 100 new jobs.

The Center for Rural Policy and Development of St. Peter, Minnesota, recently released a report identifying a shortage of 3,134 spaces for child care in the region served by the Southwest Initiative Foundation. Moore said its director has also emphasized to him how big the challenge is in meeting the need and, especially, in finding the startup funds.

The Montessori School in Montevideo was started with community support over six years ago. It offers the authentic Montessori method of education that provides children with hands-on learning with an emphasis on life skills and working with others.

It offers quality child care at costs comparable to other child care services in the area, according to Moore. The school has obtained financial support from First Children's Finance, which evaluated its cost structure and found it right in the middle. "We're right there. Not higher or lower," he told the Chippewa County Board of Commissioners.

The school has a three-tiered tuition structure of $695, $550 or $395 per month, depending on family income. It also offers scholarships for those unable to afford the tuition.

Pieh and Moore said the school's strength is the support of the parents who value and understand the importance of quality child care, as well as the support it enjoys from the community.

Moore said he is hopeful that the local community will once again "step up and do what we need to do to. It's a beautiful story of a small town coming together," he said.

Interested donors can give online via www.givemn.org/organization/Wildwood-Montessori-School-1 or call the following Wildwood board members: Karen Kling at 320-295 9062, Patrick Moore at 320-841-1487, Mary Saeger at 320-905-0126 or Katie Pieh at 862-754-4391.