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New childcare centers open for Effingham School employees’ children
Childcare centers will be used to help recruit and retain district employees who struggle to find quality childcare.
Kensley and Kendyll Black
Kendyll Black, 7, is a second-grader at Rincon Elementary. Her sister Kensley, 17 months, will be at the daycare center. Their parents – Corey and Leah Black – are both bus drivers for Effingham County Schools. (Photo by Barbara Augsdorfer/Effingham Herald.)

By Barbara Augsdorfer, Editor for the Effingham Herald


Hoping to attract and retain more employees – especially employees with new babies and small children in need of childcare – the Effingham County School District opened two daycare centers at opposite ends of the county Jan. 3.

The new daycare centers – STARS (Supports Teachers and Rising Students) early learning centers -- are located at Rincon and Guyton elementary schools. The centers are open from 6:30 a.m.-5 p.m.

Effingham County students were on their final day of Winter Break, but teachers had to attend an in-service day – allowing staff and children to get used to the new facilities.

“It was a ‘soft opening’,” said Effingham County Schools Superintendent Dr. Yancy Ford.

Westphal family
Dustin and Susan Westphal brought their son Tristan, 16 months, to the STARS open house Jan. 2 at Rincon Elementary. Susan is a school psychologist at Rincon Elementary. (Photos by Barbara Augsdorfer/Effingham Herald.)
And that’s one of the selling points of these centers. They are open when school is in session plus the ten in-service days that educators must attend. The school district is using the availability of daycare as a benefit to recruit employees.

“We've got our annual job fair coming up in early February and we will make sure that's at the forefront of our recruitment process,” Dr. Ford said. “Some people have family members here that they can rely on to help with daycare, but there's a lot (of people) that don't have that opportunity and don't have that luxury, and so this is something that's pretty special to us.

“It's a vision that our board had and we're just so thankful that we're able to make it a reality today and it's really a dream come true,” Dr. Ford added.

Each room at the new facility is uniquely fitted and decorated for each age group – from six-week-old babies to four-year-old toddlers. The babies’ room has cribs, colorful wall decorations and rugs for crawling on; cubbies for each child’s items. Each room also has a refrigerator, two adult-level sinks, one child-level sink and a microwave oven

Across from the classrooms is a “nursing” room with a rocking chair so moms can come to breastfeed or pump.

While there will be plenty of time for the children to play, explore, take naps, and get cuddles, Dr. Ford added, “It’s not just babysitting.”

All the children – even the babies – will have a curriculum that will prepare them for success in pre-K and beyond, according to Dr. Ford.
“We have a specific curriculum that we use through Bright from the Start,” Dr. Ford explained. “Our teachers are trained. We have teacher leaders. We have site directors. Our teachers will be working very closely with the boys and girls, beginning at six weeks old all the way up until four years old, so that they can be the most prepared students once they enter pre-K.”

Literacy, even for the babies, is an important element of the program that gets children ready for school and learning.

Jill Vandenbos, site lead for the Rincon location, explained, “We've got lesson plans, even for infants. Our big push is literacy; to have conversations with these children. That's something that we found through a lot of research. It really helps even as infants for them to be able to have that literacy.”

School district employees who brought their tiny tots to the grand opening on Jan. 2 used words like “more convenient,” and “lifts a burden,” to describe the new facility and work perk.

Dr. Ford said 41 children are currently enrolled at the Rincon Daycare and 42 children at the Guyton Daycare; but the facilities can handle 115 to 150 children at each site as the county grows and the school district hires more employees.

Dr. Ford added the cost to the parents is comparable to other private daycares in the area. The district has set up a schedule and pay plan with the Lillio app, which makes scheduling, teacher planning, communication, and paying a one-stop-shop convenience.

And because these centers are open during the school year, parents don’t have to pay when their child doesn’t attend – such as during summer and winter breaks – to keep their “spot” like some privately run daycares.

The facilities were built using Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (ESPLOST) funds.

“I just want to say a special thank you to our community and to our board for allowing us to use ESPLOST funds to make this a reality for our educators,” Dr. Ford added. “They pour their life, their heart and soul into the boys and girls in this district. And I just want to say thank you to our community and to our board to make this a reality. It's truly important, and it's a blessing. We're very thankful for that.”

Daycare for children of school district employees is not new in the Coastal Empire. Bryan County Schools began offering daycare services for its employees’ children in September 2020.