By Curt Peterson
PLYMOUTH— Preschool education entrepreneur Lauren Skaskiw will use a $21,000 Vermont State “Make Way for Kids” grant to expand her Plymouth Schoolhouse Child Care center, adding birth-to-toddler age kids this summer and continuing that age group service during the 2019-20 school year.
The grant is part of a $400,000 state program to provide pre-school child care and education.
The grant money comes with mentorship provided by Brenda Metzler, of non-profit Let’s Grow Kids, who Skaskiw said has been invaluable.
The energetic Skaskiw also operates the pre-kindergarten education program in Rochester during the school year. In Plymouth she offers a monthly “Date Night” service, providing child care at the center from 3-7 p.m. so parents can have some kid-free time together.
The Bridgewater native will use the grant to hire and train a full-time educator for the lower age group – Skaskiw will work with him or her through the summer. The employee will continue during the school year. New equipment for the existing space and additional room is on order.
The center occupies the old Plymouth Schoolhouse, not used as a school for since low enrolment closed it. Plymouth students now attend the Woodstock Central consolidated district system. Buses use the center as a pick up and drop off point. Skaskiw is now in her fifth year of operation.
A center-sponsored survey discovered 19 children in Plymouth wanting day care on a full or part-time basis.
“There is a need. We have a nice population of really young kids in the one and two-year-old age group,” Skaskiw said.
Skaskiw got her bachelor’s degree at the University of Vermont, then won a Rotary International scholarship through the Woodstock Rotary Club and headed to Griffith University in Australia for her master’s degree in early education. She has given presentations describing her experience to various Rotary gatherings in both countries.
Getting her business started was a challenge, she said, and she followed the process carefully, wanting to “do everything by the book”. First a prospective child care director has to be approved before even applying for the license to operate – this process alone took 1 1/2 months. The facility was inspected for safety by the state fire marshall, the water was tested, another inspection checked “essential maintenance practices” – meaning testing for lead paint, she said, and then there was a final state inspection.
“There’s also a random surprise inspection at least once a year,” she said, pushing the 100-plus page state child care operating manual across the table.
The child care center co-occupies the building with the Plymouth Historical Society. Skaskiw also serves as the community center director, and coordinates events so while parents visit the child care area they can also access the Historical Society displays.
She lives in Plymouth with her husband, Matt Harootunian, who works as a finish carpenter.
Skaskiw said support from the community has made her success possible. “The local families have supported us in every way. They’ve donated toys and gear, Larry Lynds scraped away topsoil and old mulch so we could resurface the existing playground, and the community comes out for every center event.”
“I am grateful to be able to bring this service to Plymouth,” Skaskiw said. “The town has been supportive without pressuring us in any way.”