New day care center helps fill a need in St. John Valley

1 month ago

VAN BUREN, Maine – With many child care centers throughout the St. John Valley filled to capacity, a new center in Van Buren is helping to meet the region’s high demand by offering parents a place for their children to learn and play.

Black Moon Learning Center owner Chelsea Schick was born and raised in Van Buren. She went to school for education, and has worked in various positions at the local school from assistant teacher to special education.

Now, Schick has found a calling operating the new day care center, which opened in February.

“I’ve always loved working with kids,” she said. “I like to help them reach their goals and milestones. It’s just fun.”

Schick knew the timing was right to start her business. There are 14 day care centers throughout the St. John Valley, according to the Maine Child Care Search website. There are eight in Fort Kent, four in Van Buren, one in Frenchville, and one in Madawaska. Many of these centers have long waiting lists for new children.

Schick said she has heard from parents in town that there is a need for a day care center, adding that a couple other local centers may be closing soon. 

One of Aroostook’s largest day care providers, Miss Jordyn’s Child Development Center in Caribou, closed last year, leaving close to 100 kids without child care.

Madawaska and Fort Kent, two major St. John Valley communities, are also seeing a high demand for day care services.

Josee Caron, who owns the My Little Rascals home day care and My Little Rascals Too day care center in Fort Kent, said she has noticed increasing demand. She said three centers in town have recently closed, and that she has a long waiting list for parents hoping to send their children to her day care.

Caron said she just received a text from a parent on Wednesday asking to be put on the waiting list, and that more day care centers in the area would be a huge help to local parents.

“There’s one that called me,” she said, “and she’s not going to be able to go to work, because there’s nobody here [to provide day care].”

And in Madawaska, there is only one day care center – Daigle Daycare.

Daigle Daycare owner Jenn Collin said she has been active for about four years, and in that time she has only seen a couple other day care centers briefly open. Many new day care owners, she said, are deterred by the need to constantly fill out paperwork. Collin said something as minor as a papercut requires daycare owners to fill out extensive documentation.

And she said nearly everyone brings up the need for more day care facilities.

“I hear it through everybody,” she said. “I wish I could open another one. I wish I could clone myself and have a bigger facility.”

Schick said the number of children she sees fluctuates. Earlier this year, she saw as many as 10 kids, at which point she employed an assistant to help. She now sees three kids, including her son, but said she will see close to 10 again as summer approaches and school lets out.

Schick sees children as young as six weeks old all the way up to 10 years old. She teaches them using a combination of Montessori, Waldorf, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) learning approaches. Montessori teaching focuses on fostering children’s natural curiosity and interest as opposed to formal lessons. And Waldorf teaching focuses on fostering skills through storytelling, imagination and creativity.

At Black Moon Learning Center, the day begins at 6:30 a.m. with songs and breakfast, followed by an activity such as crafts. The day’s schedule includes story time, nap time, activities, snacks, and plenty of time spent outside. Children are usually sent home around 5 p.m.

The rate for children six weeks to two years old is $185 per week. It costs $165 per week for children three to five years old, and $150 for children six to 12 years old. Schick accepts the childcare subsidy and is in the process of applying for a food assistance program via the Aroostook County Action Program.

Schick said that, through operating a day care center, she learned the importance of working with each child’s unique personalities and needs.

“I learned that pretty quickly,” she said. “You’re going to need to cater to personalities.”

Looking ahead, Schick said she hopes to continue operating the center for several years.

“I want this to be my full-time job,” she said. “And I homeschool [my son] here too. I can work and homeschool him here at the same time, so it’s perfect.”