In this first “Provider Spotlight,” which will be a standard feature article in our newsletter, we recently sat down with Joseph Ziegler, Education Director at The Family Center / La Familia. One of only two nonprofit early childhood centers in Fort Collins, The Family Center / La Familia stands out by not only providing exceptional early care and education through its El Nidito (“The Little Nest”) program, but also by offering wraparound support services to meet the comprehensive needs of families.
“While early care and education are a top need and priority for many of the families we serve, we also provide other services that they might need,” Ziegler said. “We’ve been a trusted place for certain members of the community who might not feel like they have a safe place to go in Fort Collins, specifically the Latinx community.”
The Family Center / La Familia’s El Nidito program currently serves 55 children with the capacity for 65. Right now, the center has two infant, two toddler, and two preschool classrooms. As a Poudre School District community partner, they offer the Colorado Preschool Program for 3-5 year olds, and they are the only location in Larimer County to offer center-based Early Head Start for children under the age of 3. A third preschool classroom was opened in the fall of 2019, but demand fell due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the difficult decision was made to temporarily close that classroom. Ziegler hopes to reopen the third classroom in the coming months which would take their capacity up to 85. However this would largely be dependent on staffing, which as with most early childhood centers, continues to be a challenge, Ziegler said.
The Family Center / La Familia had a temporary closure of onsite services due to the pandemic last year, but Ziegler is proud that they were able to continue to provide services as much as possible and pay staff even during the closure. The center also put the health and safety of staff at the forefront when reopening, even offering half-day shifts with full-time pay for the majority of the summer of 2020.
“With so many unknowns, we did a good job of navigating through it all and not losing our minds,” he said.
Collaboration and Coaching
Through years of collaborating with and coaching from the Early Childhood Council of Larimer County, The Family Center / La Familia has been an engaged partner. Ziegler finds the Pyramid Model to be particularly impactful as his team promotes social and emotional development as a means of preventing and reducing challenging behaviors of young children.
Heather Soderberg, Early Childhood Coach at the Council, has worked with The Family Center / La Familia for several years. In addition to the center’s program-wide implementation of the Pyramid Model by teachers and administrators, Soderberg notes the teachers’ engagement during coaching sessions as a huge benefit to their learning and partnership with the Council.
“I appreciate their continued commitment to partnering with the Council,” Soderberg said. “In my experience, the teachers at the Family Center bring their questions, ideas and experiences to coaching conversations. Each teacher uses coaching sessions in ways that will meet their unique needs and help them continue to provide high-quality care.”
Early Childhood Council of Larimer County annually works with between 50 and 100 licensed child care programs in Larimer County, ranging from centers to family child care home providers, to support and improve quality care for children 0-8 years of age. As part of our services, our early childhood coaches collaborate with classroom teachers to strengthen practices through ongoing coaching and training, like the Pyramid Model, as well as support for engaging in Colorado’s Quality Rating Improvement System (Colorado Shines).
“Each educator I work with [at The Family Center / La Familia] is passionate and committed to every single child they work with and you can see that very consistently within their interactions,” said Taylor Ashby, Early Childhood Coach at the Council. “Each of them provide a warm and inviting environment and they are all just lovely to work with. I feel grateful to play a role in supporting each of them on their professional journey.”
In addition to continuing to focus on the Pyramid Model, Ziegler said The Family Center / La Familia is concentrating on diversity, equity, and inclusion and has formed an in-house committee to make sure they are serving families as equitably as possible.
“We’re always evolving and want to make sure we walk the walk, strengthen our work, and continue to check ourselves,” Ziegler said.
If Ziegler could have a wish come true for early childhood in Larimer County, he would opt for more money. “I’d love for our center and all other childcare providers to have resources and funds to pay staff higher wages,” he said. “One of our biggest challenges in early childhood is paying our staff salaries that they can live on in Larimer County. It’s complicated because families are already paying so much for childcare. We’re fortunate because we provide lots of different options to families. We’re paying our staff as much as we can, but it’s just not yet where we would like it to be.”
Early Childhood Council of Larimer County continues to make workforce development and teacher compensation a top priority through grants, programming, and the public awareness campaign, Larimer Thrive by Five.
“What the Council has been great with is keeping centers like ours aware of what’s going on in the larger childhood community and throughout the state,” Ziegler said. “More importantly, the Council takes the story of early childhood out to the community and advocates for early childhood and our needs. The Council is a really strong and much-needed voice.”
Words from Families
The Family Center / La Familia was nominated by parents during our Provider Appreciation Challenge in May. Here’s what they had to say:
“The Family Center has been a ray of light for us during this past year dealing with COVID. They’ve been amazing at implementing changes to keep their staff and all the children safe. We feel so lucky to have a place to take our child so we can continue working, that we know we can trust. They’re the most loving group of teachers and administrators. We can’t imagine not having them as a part of our family.”
“The Family Center is nothing short of amazing. They go above and beyond to meet families’ needs and provide a wonderful early childhood experience for all of the little ones who attend.”
“La Familia is exceptional in the care and resources they provide their families. We have three children attending there, and each of them LOVES their teachers. We have been blown away by the care they provide, the communication, the resources we have access to, and the support we get at every step. Our children are learning so much, especially around social and emotional skills. I can’t think of a childcare provider more deserving of this award.”
To learn more about The Family Center / La Familia, visit their website here.