With the child-care industry across the US in jeopardy, child-care centers in Washington move forward in the midst of the pandemic despite funding concerns

While some centers in Washington are open, many remain closed

By Lizzy Tarallo
Credit: Public Health Image Library from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention via Unsplash

The coronavirus pandemic has altered an already fragile early-childhood education and child-care system in the U.S., and child-care centers in Washington are also feeling the stress from the hardships of the pandemic. Lucy Recio, senior public policy and advocacy analyst at the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), said that early-childhood programs of all sizes have been facing immense challenges, both in the District and around the country. 

 “The devastation that has been caused as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has been indiscriminate in the sense that no matter the size of the program, no matter their location, no matter the type of families that they serve, whether they are more affluent or families with higher need, the impact is pretty much standard across the board,” Recio said in a Zoom interview. 

According to data from NAEYC, which is a national professional membership organization for people in the early-childhood education field, only 18 percent of child-care program owners and administrators in the U.S. are confident that their centers will be able to remain open next year if they are not given additional funding. Minority-owned centers have also been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

“For minority-owned programs, 50 percent of them are certain that they will have to close without the help they need,” Recio said. 

Kathy Hollowell-Makle, executive director of the District of Columbia Association for the Education of Young Children (DCAEYC), the DC affiliate of NAEYC, said in a phone interview that the landscape of early-childhood education in Washington was in a “precarious situation” even before the pandemic. Some child-care programs have received funding from the CARES Act, the $2.2 trillion government stimulus package passed in March. However, Hollowell-Makle and Recio said that child-care centers need another stimulus package to make it through the pandemic. 

Hollowell-Makle said that before the coronavirus hit, there were 470 child-care centers operating in the District. Right after the pandemic began, only about 40 centers remained open, mostly for children of essential workers. She said that just about 200 child-care centers are open as of September.

One of these centers is CCBC Children’s Center, located in northwest Washington. CCBC is a morning preschool that specializes in serving children ages 15 months to 5 years old. The center reopened in early September after having been closed since the middle of March.

CCBC operates with a “learning through play” philosophy. However, Emma Stewart, director of CCBC, said that the pandemic has made it more difficult for children to play the way they used to due to reduced class sizes and less opportunity for students to see each other. Usually, about 150 students total are enrolled at CCBC. Now, total enrollment is 106 students.

“Normally we’d have 20 in a class, and now there’s eight, so the opportunity to socialize with different kids has really gone down,” Stewart said in a phone interview. 

Children at CCBC used to be able to play outdoors with other classes. Now, only one class can play outdoors at a time. Additionally, special classes such as yoga, music and STEAM, also known as science, engineering, technology, arts and math, are currently not being offered. 

“The kids come in the building, they go to their classroom, and then apart from coming out to go to the bathroom or go outside, they’re in the class with their teachers the whole morning,” Stewart said.  

CCBC is a private preschool and was able to stay afloat over the summer due to a loan from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). CCBC has a contingency fund that it may need to use in order to continue operating during the current school year.

“Finances are a concern, but we kind of won’t know what happens until we get further through this year,” Stewart said. 

New Creation Child Development Center is located in the southeast region of the District. Harvey Reedy, New Creation’s administrator, said that the center is still closed due to the pandemic.

“We were not set up in a fashion that we would be able to isolate or separate the children socially,” Reedy said in a phone interview. Now, New Creation has taken the time to set up safeguards for when children do return to school. 

New Creation did not try to receive PPP funding, since Reedy did not know what sort of taxes the center would have to pay back later. When the center tried applying for funding later on, there were no more funds left. However, the center is subsidized by OSSE, the Office of the State Superintendent of Early Education. The CARES Act has made some funding available to non-profit schools such as New Creation through OSSE.

Reedy said that this funding helped him to keep his staff. Reedy hopes that New Creation will reopen by either the first or second week of October. 

“We know that we are not going to be completely funded any longer than the end of October,” Reedy said. He said that the center will open for all children, but he wants to ensure that children of essential workers get first priority. 

Reedy said that New Creation will be following guidelines from OSSE when it reopens. The center has set up dividers between classes, and children ages two and up will be required to wear masks when they are inside the building. Reedy also hopes to implement a system where parents will pick up and drop off children at 15-minute intervals in order to avoid crowding during these times. 

For Reedy, a concern of reopening is not just what will be going on within the confines of his center. He is also concerned about whether or not parents and children are following health and safety guidelines, such as masking and social distancing, when they are out in the greater community. 

“Unfortunately, the community that we’re in is a community where there does not seem to be a great deal of adherence,” Reedy said, adding later that, “Just along the corridors of Alabama Avenue, there have been some events that I’ve witnessed where there is social gatherings, and there were no safeguards.” 

Although the future of child care is uncertain, both Reedy and Stewart remain optimistic about the futures of their centers. Nonetheless, they are not sure when there will be a return to normalcy. 

“I’m excited that we think we’re ready to come back and open,” Reedy said. “Even though I don’t believe things will ever be what could be considered normal, I’m looking forward to establishing something else to be normal.” 

Stewart said that even though she is not sure when things will go back to normal, students, parents and staff are generally happy to be back at school. 

“There’s definitely a camaraderie that’s going on,” Stewart said. “You know, we’re here, we’re gonna try to make it work, we’re doing our best.”

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