What does a hero look like to you?
Amidst all of the craziness of this year, the image that pops in your head is probably a person. Maybe it’s someone you know, personally.
It’s no longer a fantasy character fresh from the pages of a comic book or the big screen.
The heroes of 2020 are the essential workers. The medical professionals, farmers, grocery store workers, postal workers, and truck drivers; the delivery drivers, utility workers, K-12 educators, and manufacturing workers.
And they deserve credit. A lot of credit. So much credit. They are true heroes.
But the hero to the heroes?
They are the women and men working in early childhood education.
The ones providing safe, reliable care for the next generation.
Early childcare educators.
For many essential workers, their ability to work through the pandemic rests on the shoulders of these caregivers; these smart, reliable, talented human beings.
Think about it. Even when schools were shut down back in March, many child care centers applied for a waiver and remained open. They did this without much recognition, thanks, or any hazard pay.
These professionals, many of them degreed teachers, did this while earning on average $9 per hour. Yes, $9 an hour.
And without them, most essential employees would not be able to work.
The essential workers taking care of our sick loved ones. Delivering groceries and toilet paper to our stores and to our homes. Growing and making those items. The men and women keeping our lights on.
I remember so clearly a conversation back in mid-March. It was the day Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf closed schools. On the other end of the line was a mother of four. A frontline worker. A medical professional. My heart ached for her.
Through her panic, her exhaustion, she shared that her children’s elementary school closed. As did her children’s childcare provider. Overnight.
I have goosebumps thinking about it.
For many families, grandparent care was out of the question, too, because of the nature of the virus. Many parents felt they had nowhere to turn. All of their options vanished in an instant.
Luckily, home-based family providers were able to remain open without applying for a waiver, and my organization, Community Connections for Children, Inc., connected her with the quality care her family needed.
Child care is not just an educational issue. It’s a workforce development issue. It’s an economic development issue.
Early Childhood Education is on the Leading Edge
Long before the pandemic began, child care providers operated under policies designed to keep children safe and reduce illness spread. And, as a result, they’ve had to make fewer changes than many families, businesses, and even schools to cope with the novel coronavirus.
And since then, child care teachers stepped up. They quickly transitioned to supporting children who were learning remotely.
Most programs are the crucial link between the K-12 teacher and the child, ensuring that the child is participating in the virtual learning, supporting students who need assistance, and helping to promote connections between the teacher and parents.
They have secured laptops for students when school districts didn’t have enough for every child. They purchased hot spots, upgraded their WIFI, and purchased additional supplies. They set up workstations and provided PPE.
And cleaning supplies. They have purchased so many cleaning supplies.
Most programs have greatly reduced their staff to child ratio to meet COVID guidelines and meet the increased needs of the school-age children.
All these extra measures came with a price tag, an added financial burden. But to them, it didn’t matter. The safety of the children and their families came first.
Good Things are Happening in Central Pennsylvania
Ruby Martin and YWCA York dug deep when the pandemic hit. They quickly stepped up to serve school-age children when the School District of the City of York and Charter Schools went to all remote learning. From reassigning space in their building for classrooms to increasing capacity to reduce their staff-to-child ratio, they were there to serve our children and our community.
“This has been a very trying year for a profession that is already undervalued, underfunded, and underpaid.
Our Child Care program leadership across the state (and country), face a daily ethical dilemma opening and operating our programs to meet the needs of families and children while trying to keep staff healthy and safe during a pandemic.
Our child care teaching staff show up each day, ready to work, without complaint; leaving their personal concerns behind to provide reliable, quality care for essential working families.
Child Care staff are literally superheroes and deserve to be treated as such.”
‒ Ruby Martin, Chief Child and Youth Program Officer at YWCA York
Steps to Success
Michelle Harbaugh, Director of Steps to Success in Leola, acted quickly. She saw a need in her community when four school-age child care programs didn’t reopen for the 2020-21 school year.
She knew the impact it would have, on her community and the families she serves.
Michelle, with the backing of the Steps to Success Board of Directors, went to Conestoga Valley School District and petitioned to operate the programs.
Within a week, her request was granted and her program expanded overnight into a multi-site entity. The need for a school-age program within the district was clear and she knew her staff would provide the quality programming their children, families, and community needed.
Steps to Success now has five locations: four learning centers for school aged and one center for infants to school age.
Community Connections for Children, Inc.
In February 2020, we started working with staff from the human resource department of our regional healthcare system, WellSpan Health, as they began to realize that the pandemic was coming.
They knew their essential workers would need child care, including care for their school-age children in order to continue to serve the community. Since that time, we have communicated regularly regarding the status of child care, openings, referral services, and how to ensure their essential workers could, in fact, work.
And if you ask an essential worker what is essential to them, high on his or her list would be quality child care and school-age care for their children.
You see, most essential workers recognize the importance of early childhood education. They see the joy in their child’s face after a day of learning and playing. And watch patiently as their child shows off his or her latest worksheet or artistic creation.
They have peace of mind that their children are being cared for, safely, which allows them to focus on the monumental job at hand.
Early childhood educators are the backbone of our local, state, and national economies.
How to Support Early Childhood Educators
As you know, early childcare professionals go with little recognition, support, and pay.
And it’s time to change that.
It’s time for us to say, “We see you. We recognize your efforts and sacrifices. You are essential to essential workers. And you are essential to all of us.”
Child Care Educators are Essential Employees
These women and men are deserving of us standing outside their programs, ringing bells, banging on pots, and cheering.
They’re worthy of us debating whether or not it’s safe for them to remain open.
They’re worthy of people dropping off food, gift cards, and donations of all kinds.
Most importantly, they are deserving and worthy of increased respect and income. They are worthy of hazard pay.
Want to help?
Here’s Three Things You Can Do To Help the Industry
Talk to your children about early childhood educators, the profession itself, and how much its people mean to you and your family. Reinforce their importance.
Pay it forward by treating your children’s favorite people extra well this holiday season. Give a gift card, drop off a meal, or give cash.
Take a few moments to connect, to look your child’s teacher in the eyes ‒ your mask can’t take that away ‒ and smile. Ask about her or his day. Handwrite a note this holiday season telling her how much she means to you and your family. And help your little one(s) do the same.
And for the business and political leaders, and the community-at-large, remember the essential worker to the essential workers ‒ the child care workers.
Advocate for them.
Extend your gratitude to them.
Lift up their value, shine a light on it.
We all know it takes a village to raise a child.
And this year, more than ever, we recognize the talent and true abilities of early childcare educators.
There’s no forgetting it.
The early childcare profession is important, and its people are heroes.
They are at the center of our economic recovery.
Let’s show them a little love.
If you are a childcare worker or provider, and you are struggling, please reach out. We are here for you, both as a resource and as a friend.
We are in this together.
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About Community Connections for Children, Inc.
Community Connections for Children, Inc. (CCC) is a nonprofit centered in the heart of Pennsylvania. They, serve childcare providers and low-income families ‒ the ones that have been impacted the most by the pandemic.
For you and your business, CCC helps keep childcare options open for your employees ‒ saving missed work hours and lowering on-the-job stress levels. They work with early childhood education programs and home-based providers to improve the quality of care, ensuring that all children enter school ready to be successful.
Christy Renjilian serves as its Executive Director.
To learn more, visit childcareconsultants.org.