By JAMES BELL
Former Hays residents Nick and Andrea Felder wanted their young children to have the same childhood they did growing up around Hays so, after some planning, they developed the idea to open and run a child care center in the city.
Now that plan is in action.
The Bright Minds Academy will be located at the intersection of 22nd and Wheatland, with the over 4,000 square feet facility expected to open in January of next year.
The center will have the room for up to 55 children from as young as two weeks old up to six years old.
“Right now, plans have been submitted to the city,” Andrea said. “So we are waiting for approval from them to start building,”
Construction is currently planned to be completed by early December.
The building will start with four rooms — an infant room named Beaming Babies, a room for children 1-2 years old, named Cosmic Kids, a room for children 2-3 years-old, named Twinkling Tots, and for the older children a room named Shining Scholars.
Originally they hoped the center would be open near the end of this summer, but were delayed during the permitting process with the city.
“They didn’t make it too painful. It was just submitting the requests,” Nick said. “It’s a three-meeting process, and they only meet once a month.”
They were further delayed after having to restart the process after the second plot of land was purchased to accommodate required parking.
While the process took longer than they hoped, they credited local realtors, Adam Prey, owner of the Platinum Group, 116 E. 11th St. and David Spady, agent, with keeping the project rolling while they were still living in Topeka.
“They have helped us out a lot,” Nick said. “They definitely went the extra mile on just about everything without any prompting from us, they were all over it.”
Nick said Pray found the location that perfectly fit their plans.
“We wanted something on this side of town,” Andrea said.
“The family area is here,” Nick said.”The other center is on the other side of town, so it’s nice to have the balance there for people to have two different options, not right in the same place to take their kids too.”
A labor of love
“After we had kids, we thought it would be so nice if they could be around their grandparents all the time and it just worked out perfectly that we are from the area and can be by both families why wouldn’t we want to come back,” Andrea said. “We want to give our kids the same upbringing that we had.”
Andrea grew up in Victoria and Nick was raised on a farm near Cedar Bluff, later attending Thomas More Prep-Marion, 1701 Hall St.
The academy not only allows the Felders to be closer to their extended family, but they also hope it will be a boon for the area and hope to partner with other business in the area in the future to provide child care to as an employee benefit.
“We are all in on this project,” Andrea said. “This is important to us, just from a personal standpoint, to provide care for people that need it because it is hard to find good quality care, so it’s become our personal mission to do as much as we can.”
In Topeka, both Nick and Andrea worked for Blue Cross, and while Andrea is still in her position, Nick is working in the Topeka daycare their children go to in order to fulfill a six-month experience requirement by the state to open their center.
“I used to take them to daycare and drop them off and go back to my job, now I just stay there,” Nick said.
“I didn’t know what to expect starting out, but it has definitely solidified the decision for me,” he said. “It’s made me more passionate about it.”
Andrea has an accounting background and Nick has an industrial engineering background.
Both have completed Masters’ of Business Administration degrees and see early education as a cornerstone of academic success.
“All of the programs will be education based,” Nick said. “That’s what our kids get and we see how much they are learning.”
Faith-based learning is also something the Felders’ believe strongly in and plan to incorporate that in their center.
“We are going to touch on Christian based faith as well,” Andrea said. “We think that is important.”
“Nobody is going to be forced to say anything, but it’s nice to participate if that is their background.”
Nick added, their goal is not to push religion, but rather to share with children the midwestern morals and values they grew up with.
Daycare vs. child care centers
While there are daycare centers peppered throughout the city, the Bright Minds academy will be classified as a child care center — only the second to be opened in Hays, the other being the Hays Area Children’s Center, 94 Lewis Dr.
“The regulations between a child care center and a daycare are completely different,” Andrea said. “You are getting a lot of different types of care at a center.”
“We are held to a little bit higher expectations as far as curriculum and education,” Nick said.
The staff to child ratio is also typically a lot lower in a child care center.
“Your child is getting more supervision, one teacher is not watching as many children in a center,” Andrea said.
The academy will also have a full day preschool.
“That’s kind of rare,” Andrea said.
While the academy will be open year-round, they plan to follow a typical nine-month school calendar for the preschool.
During the summer months, Nick said the learning will be a little less formalized, with a focus on exploration play, rather than curriculum.
Every staff member will be required to do safety training, including safe sleep practices, emergency preparedness, food handling.
“There are a lot of things that are common sense, when you go through those trainings, but there is also a lot of things that you haven’t thought about in a long time, or you didn’t know that exact way you are supposed to do it, so it irons out a lot of those details for people that might not be 100 percent confident in some of those things,” Nick said.
The center will also incorporate a live video feed parents can access at any time, something the Felders’ appreciate at their children’s current facility along with secure access.
“It provides extra piece of mind,” Nick said.
They will also utilize an app that will give daily tracking information, including naps, food, diapers, and educational activities.
As a full day child care center they plan to offer two snacks and a meal daily on a five-week rotating schedule.
They will prepare meals on site, with the goal of the programs director handling meals an experience Nick has received during his training.
The academy is currently accepting applications for staff as well as children, although infant spots are already full.
Applications can be sent via email with the address located on their facebook page.
“It’s all organic so far,” Nick said, “We sent up a backend end sales phone number for people to learn more about our facility and secure a spot by making a one-week deposit that will be credit back to their care once they start.”
As they prepare to open they will also be taking donations of any lightly used toys.
“The more stuff we can get from parents that don’t want it anymore…that’s just more we can provide to the kids sooner,” Nick said.