Last Dance

Sitka Fine Arts Camp elementary age campers dance with instructor Brendan Jones in their final day of camp today at the Sheldon Jackson College Campus. Middle School Camp, for grades seven thru nine, begins Monday. Registration is still open at 907-747-3085. (Sentinel Photo by Klas Stolpe)

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Daily Sitka Sentinel

Child Care Advocates Convene for Summit

By SHANNON HAUGLAND

Sentinel Staff Writer

The local Childcare Now group is taking aim at one angle of the child care crisis in Sitka: the shortage of workers.

The Childcare Pathways Summit kicked off this afternoon and continues Saturday with a focus on how Sitka can facilitate an increase in the child care workforce through the education system. Some 40 people have signed up to attend, at Harrigan Centennial Hall.

From right, Lauren Wild, Melissa Henshaw and Melissa Wentzel look over a computer presentation at Harrigan Centennial Hall this afternoon at the beginning of the Child Care Pathways Summit. The summit is part of a local coalition’s effort to address a shortage of workers in the child care industry. The “ultimate goal,” the group said in its announcement, is “to create and implement a career pathways program that works for Sitka’s students, school systems, and child care providers by the start of the Fall 2024 school year.” (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

The program is organized by Childcare Now, a subgroup of the Early Childhood Coalition, which formed when “sustainable and affordable child care” was selected as a health summit goal a year ago. The group has been meeting weekly since then to address the pressing problem of a worker shortage in Sitka.

The summit is for invited guests, but those leading the event will share the results of their work after the summit.

The “ultimate goal,” the group said in its announcement, is “to create and implement a career pathways program that works for Sitka’s students, school systems, and child care providers by the start of the Fall 2024 school year.”

Another goal is to establish a working group dedicated to following through on a plan, and “making this happen,” said Lauren Wild, one of the coordinators of the event.

Solutions could include the creation of childcare training or certification programs that would feed into the childcare industry.

“A child care education program would benefit all Sitkans, whether they want to work in the industry or raise their own children,” said Kari Sagel, coordinator of the Early Childhood Coalition. The ad hoc group works on various issues related to children from birth to those age 5 and their families.

Rachel Roy, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, said child care is an important workforce issue.

“The work this weekend is focused around creating a pathway for careers in child care, introducing the career path in the high schools and working through the education community and in collaboration with employers, to funnel new talent into the field,” Roy said.

Those attending include representatives from the child care industry, Sitka School District, Mt. Edgecumbe High School, Sitka Tribe of Alaska, the city, SEARHC and U.S. Coast Guard. Roy said it was important to include major employers in the group, since they may have solutions also.

Key speakers include Dr. Tonia Dousay from the University of Alaska Anchorage School of Education, and Lauren Wild from Childcare Now, who will set the framework for the discussion.

“Where we’re at in Sitka, and what the big issues are,” said Wild, a parent who has compiled child care statistics for Sitka, and regularly updates the Assembly on the issues.

Melissa Marconi-Wentzel of Sitka is the facilitator.

Roy said Sitka is considered to be in a “child care desert,” a problem facing 51 percent of the U.S. and 61 percent of Alaska, according to the nonprofit Center for American Progress.

Most challenging in Sitka in that area, is the lack of care for infants to 3-year-olds, advocates have said. Sitka currently has 8 to 10 spots for about 120 kids in the birth to 18-month range, and 14 spots for the 120 toddlers (18 months to age 3 range).

“That means it’s difficult to return to work after giving birth, and people have to restructure their lives around not having child care,” Roy said.

 She said the workforce shortage is just one of many challenges facing Sitka in the child care arena, but it’s an important first step toward solutions.

“As a top workforce issue, focused efforts on finding solutions for childcare are critical,” Roy said. 

Other areas of the problem are high operating costs of care centers, turnover, pay and benefits, and lack of capacity for multiple age levels.

“Our next steps will be to look at large employers and municipality for solutions,” Sagel said.

The summit ran 2:30 to 4 p.m. today; and will run 8:30 to noon on Saturday. Those with questions may email sagelk@sitkaschools.org.

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20 YEARS AGO

June 2004 

Advertisement: Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital Caring Employee of the month! Franklin Thomas Hospital Nutrition Services.

50 YEARS AGO

June 1974

Edna Revard is enjoying a much-deserved vacation: she and youngest son Joe are in Italy visiting her older son, Jack, his wife and child. Jack is with the military, stationed in Italy. Edna will be gone a month, the crew at Revard’s Restaurant says.

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