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Demonstration Sites are being developed at 10 sites across Colorado that serve children under the age of five. Licensed child care centers, licensed preschools, and publicly accessible spaces that become Demonstration Sites receive design and planning assistance and $10,000 towards the installation of an outdoor learning environment (OLE) that features best practices as outlined in the Natural Learning Initiative OLE Toolkit. In return, the Demonstration Sites host biannual educational visits from other early childhood professionals and landscape designers and participate in evaluation of the project through surveys of parents and teachers. ECHO utilizes research-based best practices to achieve statewide adoption of high-quality outdoor learning environments at early childhood education (ECE) sites throughout New Mexico. Through a competitive process, two licensed child care center and preschool sites were selected in Fall 2017. In 2018, sites were selected as follows: a) Spring 2018: four sites (licensed child care centers or preschool sites and publicly accessible sites serving Family, Friend, and Neighbor child care) were selected and b) Fall 2018: four sites (licensed child care centers and preschool sites or publicly accessible sites serving Family, Friend, and Neighbor child care) were selected. See ECHO Stories to learn more about current Demonstration Sites.
Required commitments for demonstration sites:
- Utilize $10,000 (to be received in two payments) to enhance the outdoor learning environment based on designs provided by ECHO Design Team.
- Participate in a full-day Interactive Design Workshop led by ECHO Partners. ECHO Partners will support travel needs. Dates and locations will be announced to participating programs in advance.
- Identify two individuals to receive sponsored registration to the Annual ECHO Summit.
- Be available for on-site consultation from ECHO Design Team (e.g., site measurements, pictures, action planning, etc.) as needed.
- Host two on-site training events annually with support from ECHO Partners to share experiences with fellow early childhood professionals.
- Identify two individuals to receive sponsored registration for the "Outdoor Learning Environments for Young Children" online certificate program.
- Receive ongoing support from an ECHO Support Specialist and ECHO Partners through site visits, phone calls, online consultation, and email.
- Engage in program evaluation with instruments (e.g., surveys, etc.) furnished by ECHO Partners.
For-profit and non-profit licensed child care centers and preschools serving children under the age of five that meet the following minimum criteria are eligible to become ECHO Demonstration Sites:
- A minimum Colorado Shines Level 2 rating, with a preference for sites with higher rating levels. The license must be in good standing with the State of Colorado.
- Willing to serve as a demonstration site for other early childhood professionals and programs.
- Own or lease current space for at least 5 years into the future.
- Commit to naturalizing the outdoor learning environment, including edible species.
- Commit to gardening on-site.
- Commit to serving local, fresh food for meals and snacks, either produced in on-site gardens or procured from external food suppliers.
- Demonstrate interest in and capacity to serve in a leadership role.
- Serve vulnerable families and children, which can be demonstrated by meeting any of the following criteria:
- Demonstration of economic need for the population served (e.g., percent of families eligible for need-based child care subsidies in the county, level of participation in Colorado Child Care Assistance Program [CCCAP], number of low-income families that may be experiencing housing or food insecurity)
- Serving a diverse population, including a high percentage of ethnic and racial diversity
- Serving children who are English language learners
- Serving children with disabilities or special health care needs
Preference will be given to programs that:
- Prepare food for snacks or meals in an approved, functional on-site kitchen.
- Operate on a year-round calendar.
- Demonstrate previous experience with family and community engagement.
Publicly accessible sites that serve or attract families with young children are also eligible to become ECHO Demonstration Sites. Criteria are outlined below.