Apr 2, 2024

Franklin County Child Care Programs Merging to Open Spark Academy, Tripling Local Capacity

Franklin County Child Care Programs Merging to Open Spark Academy, Tripling Local Capacity

(Swanton, VT) – Swanton and the surrounding communities are celebrating a new child care program, set to open this summer, after two home-based programs announced they are merging to form a larger center that will triple the capacity of local child care spaces. The new program, Spark Academy, was made possible by funding from Act 76, Vermont’s new child care law, and from a Make Way for Kids grant from First Children’s Finance and the Child Development Division. It is scheduled to open in July and will offer 37 child care spaces and employ at least seven staff, five of which will be new jobs. The two home-based programs, owned by Michelle Marchant-Sheldon and Vickie Gratton, will remain open until the new center can start serving families in the new facility this summer.

Marchant-Sheldon and Gratton have over 70 years of combined experience in child care and are long-time Universal Pre-K partners. Marchant-Sheldon has run her own registered, in-home child care program for 30 years, and Gratton worked in a early childhood education for 25 years before opening her own registered home program 15 years ago. “Although our home-based programs have been a huge success, Swanton currently has no licensed child care centers, and with new funding available from Act 76 to make this project possible, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for us to step up and meet the demand for more quality, affordable child care in our area,” said Marchant-Sheldon.

Marchant-Sheldon brought Gratton in on the idea, and by merging their programs and bringing in new staff, they will be tripling their capacity – a welcome boost for families in the area who have struggled to access child care. Gratton explained: “We know how hard it has been for Vermonters to access and afford child care – and it impacts the whole community, not just the family, when parents have to stay home from work or spend most of their paycheck on child care. That’s why we’re so excited to be able to offer more quality spots for local children and to be creating new job opportunities as we hire program staff.”

Despite nationwide difficulties with hiring and retaining early childhood educators, Spark Academy has already filled all of their new positions Marchant-Sheldon explained: “With the stability created by new state funding and higher reimbursement rates for programs, we’ve been able to offer competitive wages to our new staff. And we really emphasize that we don’t want our staff to feel overwhelmed or worried about job security if they need to take a day off. We’re trying to make Spark Academy a real place for community – for working as a team with staff, parents and kids, and to support our community beyond the program.”

This newfound stability is critical for families and businesses. Aly Richards, CEO of Let’s Grow Kids, the advocacy organization leading Vermont’s child care movement, shared: “A year ago, we were in a very different place with over 100 programs were facing closures. Our state lawmakers stepped in to reverse the course of this crisis and pass historic public investment in child care through Act 76. Now, we’re seeing the positive impacts, and instead of programs closing from a lack of funds, we’re seeing programs, like Spark Academy in Swanton, open and expand capacity to better serve their community! Across the state, other programs are doing the same and offering compensation increases and new benefits like heath care to their staff. Our work is not done, but it’s clear that that the system is improving, which will lead to a stronger economy and greater stability for Vermont families.”

In addition to readiness payments last fall and a permanent 35 percent reimbursement rate increase that began in January, Act 76 is also expanding access to child care tuition assistance in April and again in October. By the end of 2024, 7,000 more children and their families may be eligible for free or reduced child care tuition. At Spark Academy, Gratton and Marchant-Sheldon are ready to support new families who may become eligible through the process of applying for tuition assistance. “We’ve helped so many families through this application process over the years, and we know it well – we speak the language of child care tuition assistance and want to help as many new parents as possible access this amazing resource,” said Gratton.


About Spark Academy

Spark Academy is a newly licensed child care program in Swanton, Vermont. The program emphasizes working together with families to ensure each child develops the skills and confidence to reach their full potential as independent thinkers and enthusiastic lifelong learners. Through supporting children's natural and playful learning, Spark Academy will offer activities stimulating children’s development through opportunities in STEM, Play, Art, developing Reasoning skills, and, most of all, letting them be Kids.

About Vermont's Child Care Campaign

Vermont's Child Care Campaign is led by Let’s Grow Kids, a nonprofit organization on a mission to ensure affordable access to quality child care for all Vermont families by 2025. With nearly 40,000 supporters, Let’s Grow Kids, in partnership with Let’s Grow Kids Action Network, is empowering Vermonters to advocate for sustainable child care policy change. Learn more at www.letsgrowkids.org.

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