GALLUP, N.M. — Gallup-McKinley County Schools and The University of New Mexico-Gallup are partnering to provide daycare services for the children of school district teachers and administration plus college students on the UNM-Gallup campus starting in August.

Bright Futures Childcare Center is accepting enrollment applications for children ages 6 months old to 3 years old. Parents can pick up applications in person at the childcare center, which is located at 700 Lion Hall on the UNM-Gallup campus.

“We are excited to offer childcare to mothers and families in our educational community,” GMCS Superintendent Mike Hyatt said. “This opportunity for our families will be another step forward in serving them as they serve our students.”

Currently, the childcare center is only available to the children of GMCS teachers and administration plus UNM-G students — with the enrollment slots split in half and shared equally between GMCS and UNM-G.

Children will be enrolled on a first-come, first-served basis. If enrollment reaches capacity, a waiting list will be created in the order applications are received, so parents are encouraged to continue submitting applications.

If children will reach the age of 36 months old before Sept. 1, they should enroll in their local preschool.

There are 42 total slots available at the childcare center: six for infants, 12 for ages 12 months to 24 months, and 24 for ages 24 months to 36 months.

“We’re excited to open the center and have little feet running around again,” Bright Futures Co-Director Tammy Hall said.

Children's bouncer
A bouncer and other toys and books sit ready inside the infant room of the Bright Futures Childcare Center. Photo credit: Richard Reyes

Bright Futures will officially open Tuesday, Aug. 1. The hours of the childcare center are 7:15 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Monday through Friday. The center will follow the GMCS school calendar for days in session.

There will also be an open house event from 10 a.m.-noon Monday, July 31, to give enrolled children and their families an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the staff and facility. The event will be open to the community too.

“I’m so excited to be part of this center and to create a really wonderful environment for our kids to thrive in,” Bright Futures Co-Director Heidi Hancey said. “These years are so important. We want to offer quality childcare for kids to learn and grow in their knowledge — social, emotional and physical as well.”

For more information about the childcare center and enrollment, contact Missy Garcia at 505-721-4231.

Affordable childcare services
The Bright Futures Childcare Center is available to GMCS administration and teachers at a significant discount. The school district covers 75% percent of the childcare cost. Parents pay the remaining 25%.

Hall said GMCS is managing the childcare center and providing discounts by using its own operating budget for the first year, but there are plans to pursue state and grant funding to keep the center running for years to come.

“People are excited when they come in, especially our new teachers,” Hall said. “Teachers from the district are excited for this. Many of them have been praying that something like this would happen.”

As for UNM-Gallup students, there are state reimbursements available to those who apply.

The New Mexico Early Childhood Education & Care Department subsidizes the cost of child care for families who are at or below 400% of the federal poverty level and who are working, in school, or searching for employment.

Students can visit the website for more information. There is a 2-minute tutorial video that shows how to apply for assistance.

Students can also contact the Child Care Assistance Gallup Field Office, located at 1720 E. Aztec Ave., by calling 505-726-8449.  

Meeting the needs of the community
UNM-Gallup, under the leadership of Chancellor Sabrina Ezzell, has been focused on reopening the campus daycare since the summer of 2022. The former daycare closed for financial reasons around 2017.

“UNM-G recognizes the value of daycare,” Ezzell said. “Benefits for child development are well documented; however, student-parents benefit as well.”

Ezzell cited a 2019 fact sheet released by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research that stated child care for single mothers pursuing higher education has a 5.5% return on investment and increases graduation by 21%.

UNM-Gallup recently received a grant to cover operations of a childcare center and attempted to find a new operator through a request for proposals, but no proposals were received.

Childcare Center decorated wall
A decorated wall that encourages children to "play, learn and grow together" shines in the morning light at the Bright Futures Childcare Center on The University of New Mexico-Gallup campus.

Meanwhile, Hyatt and other school district leaders were thinking outside the box to recruit teachers to work for GMCS, including sign-on bonuses.

However, a major challenge in hiring was the lack of childcare providers in the area. Educators with children were unable to relocate if they could not find reliable and affordable childcare.

“Childcare services are extremely difficult to obtain in our community, so we are glad we can serve as a relief to our families in this way,” Hyatt said. “My team has worked quickly to organize and prepare to provide services this school year and I could not be more pleased with their efforts. This endeavor GMCS has undertaken would also not be possible without our incredible relationship and partnership with UNM-G, Dr. Ezzell and her great staff.”

Hancey said she and her husband actually benefited from both the sign-on bonus and now the childcare center.

The couple moved from Wyoming with their three kids. Hancey’s husband started teaching art at Gallup Middle School in August. Then Hancey started working for the district as a parent-educator in January before becoming co-director of the childcare center.

“I would not be able to keep this job without this childcare,” she said.

Teaching lifelong skills
The childcare center has three separate classrooms for each age group plus a large common area for activities and a fenced outdoor play area. There is also a kitchen, so a chef can prepare meals for the children on site.

As co-directors, Hancey and Hall have been working to organize and decorate the center as supplies and materials are delivered. A new playground for the outdoor area is expected to arrive soon plus other landscaping updates.

Hall said the curriculum and day-to-day operations will be child-centered. There will be varied activities focused on a different theme every month to keep children engaged and interested, but it will not be too structured or forced.

While staff will follow a child’s lead, they will also provide redirection and correction to ensure the safety and development of all the children.  

“In my experience, many of our children who come to us are very school dependent on learning about the world outside of Gallup,” Hall said. “When they come to us at a young age, we provide the experiences that they may not be able to have at home. They’re able to socialize with other children and understand what sharing is.”

Hall said the school district saw a loss of self-regulation and socializing for many children who were isolated at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Self-regulation is very important because when children feel like they can control themselves, they’re more confident and can better communicate and express themselves and their emotions and become a better partner (or collaborator) in life,” she said.

Hancey agreed, saying that learning how to collaborate at a young age is important.

“Self-regulation is not just simply not screaming at somebody,” she said. “It’s learning how to solve your problems. That’s something we’re focused on here:  not just teaching appropriate emotional expression but also how to solve their problems. Those will be lifelong skills they have.”

Opportunities for field experience
Bright Futures Childcare Center will not only cater to the educational needs of young children, but also of UNM-Gallup students seeking work experience opportunities.  

“The daycare center will also provide a learning environment for students in early childhood or nursing programs where they observe different developmental milestones from infants to toddlers,” Ezzell said.

Hall said the center will be open to early childhood education students who need field experience hours, internships or student teaching opportunities.  

UNM-Gallup currently offers a certificate and associate degree in early childhood education, both of which can lead directly into career opportunities.

The associate degree hours also count toward the bachelor’s degree program in family and child studies at UNM in Albuquerque as well as bachelor’s degree programs in early childhood education at other universities.

Hall said nursing students can also come to the childcare center to complete pediatric hours as part of their education programs.

UNM-Gallup offers a certified nursing assistant program, an Associate of Applied Science in nursing, and a Bachelor of Science in nursing.