McCullick enjoys connecting with kids as Dr. Smith director

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Director Jennifer McCullick (seated) enjoyed celebrating Wacky Wednesday at the Dr. Smith center in September. She took over as director in June and enjoys connecting with the kids and their families. (Submitted photo)

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register


Jennifer McCullick is enjoying the opportunity to connect with kids and their families as director of the Dr. Smith childcare center in McGregor. She took over the position in June, after working in the baby room since October 2019.


“I went to school for early childhood education, so it was always something at the back of my mind. I thought it would be a nice change,” said McCullick about the decision to pursue the director role. “I pretty much knew the routine of everything every day, so it was learning the office stuff.”


Dr. Smith had 34 kids as of October, and the total will increase to 36 later this month, according to McCullick. The wait list to get in is lengthy.


“Our baby room is about a year out,” she said. “I have lots of expecting moms who already have kids here, so that’s keeping our list pretty full.”


“It is a very important need,” McCullick continued. “My phone is constantly ringing off the hook: ‘Do you have openings?’ But with staff, we’re kind of at our cap. We just did hire two new teachers, so I’m waiting to see how it goes with that. I don’t want to all of a sudden have all these kids and not enough staff.”


The staff number is currently at 10, and McCullick is open to having high school students help out after school. The experience will let them see if a career in child care is a good fit, she said.


“It’s a whole lot different than babysitting at a house, where you have two kids versus a group of kids,” she stated.


Working with the kids is the best part.


“Every morning, I usually go around to every room and say hi to all the kids. As soon as I walk in, it’s ‘Jennifer!’ and they run to give hugs. That’s totally worth it for me,” she shared.


According to McCullick, a day at Dr. Smith starts with breakfast at 8 a.m. After diaper changes and using the restroom, kids enjoy free play and often go for a walk. Other adventures include going for ice cream and playing at the Turner Park splash pad in the summer. “Miss Lu,” the children’s librarian from the McGregor Public Library, visits for story time. A fire truck even stopped at the center in October, for Fire Prevention activities.


Over the summer, a 2021 Upper Mississippi Gaming Corporation grant to both Dr. Smith and Little Bulldog yielded a slew of new equipment. 


That included sensory boards, playground equipment and educational toys and books. The childcare and learning centers were able to expand their outdoor play and physical wellness with balance bikes (including helmets) and promote creativity with four outdoor chalk boards for children to utilize.


McCullick said these upgrades wouldn’t have been possible without the grant. Other donations are welcome too.


“We’re always looking for donations, if someone has toys they don’t use anymore, or winter clothes. We could always use wash cloths, bibs,” she added.

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