Val Arkoosh Visits the Early Education Center

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Val Arkoosh Visits the Early Education Center

Categories: News

Challenges in operating early education programs and child care centers during the COVID-19 pandemic are being felt nationally as well as locally. YWCA Tri-County Area’s Early Education Center in Pottstown has multiple openings both for staff and for children, mirroring a national trend.

Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh dropped into YWCA Tri-County Area’s Early Education Center in Pottstown on October 8, and heard staff comments about the challenges the child care center is facing from the lingering pandemic, and the successes noted by teachers and parents.

“This visit helps me see what actual struggles are so we can develop solutions,” Arkoosh said. “Solutions come from people engaged in the work.  I appreciate the opportunity to talk with all of you about the challenges of child care.”

Capacity Issues

According to a survey of child care centers taken over the summer by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, centers are operating at an average 71% capacity:

  • 80% reported a staffing shortage
  • 1/3 are unable to open classrooms
  • 50% reported lower enrollments
  • 25% reported cutting hours

Locally, YW’s Early Education Center currently has openings for 21 lead and assistant teachers for multiple classrooms that serve children 6 months-6 years during the school day, and children K-6 after school. Hiring challenges have meant that classrooms cannot open, and children waiting for a classroom slot cannot be placed, because required student/teacher ratios cannot be met without additional staff.

Enrollment is a challenge as well. YW has capacity for 268 children in all programs, with a current enrollment of 102. Before the pandemic, enrollment was as high as 165 children.

COVID-19

YW’s CEO Stacey Woodland told Arkoosh the disruptions stem from a variety of sources: short-term closures in the event of a staff member being exposed to COVID-19; parents staying home with their children; and parents finding other arrangements for their children.

Following state and federal pandemic guidelines “can wreak havoc on our families,” Woodland said, and when children must quarantine at home or classrooms close because of exposure, families may opt to send their children to friends or relatives.

“I may have to ask a family to come get their child and not return until the child has a negative (COVID-19) test,” said Pre-K teacher Casi Seals. “Teachers are at a higher risk (of being exposed to COVID-19) every day. We end up short staffed when other teachers are exposed. Parents have to leave work to pick up their children. It’s a struggle for families and for our staff.”

Seals related an incident when two children from one family had symptoms. She called the parent to ask that the children be picked up. That parent lost her job because she had to stay home with her children.

“The parent said ‘I know this is not your fault. I know you’re following protocol’,” Seals said.

Woodland said YW’s Early Education Center has provided additional pay for teachers, and supports them if they are required to quarantine.

“We want to keep our teachers whole,” she said.

Other challenges, Woodland said, include child care subsidy rates that have not increased in more than a decade, multiple funding streams for different classrooms, and funding that may not support a living wage for teachers.

“No one at YW earns less than $15/hour with benefits, she said. “But the gap between cost and reimbursement is $150 per week per child. We do so much without the funding to support our families.”

The Early Education Center Persists

Pre-K teacher Terri Phillips said despite the challenges “this is a great place to be for families. We offer a lot for children and for their families.”

Marenda Henderson, a parent of three children enrolled in YW’s after-school and preschool programs, told Arkoosh she appreciates the resources YW offers that help not only her children but her entire family.

YW’s teachers are “special people” with whom Henderson said she has built personal relationships.

“When I’m at work, I don’t have to worry about my kids,” she said. “I love the communication. I love the passion.”

Kathleen Seeley, YW’s senior director of early education, said the teachers and staff help children and families prepare for success in kindergarten and beyond.

“Parents use the resources they gain as their children move through school,” Seeley said. “We want not only for the children to be ready for kindergarten, but also for the family to be ready engage with their children’s school and teachers.”

Arkoosh told staff and parents that she understands the importance of getting children “off to the right start.” And when faced with complex problems such as the challenges faced by early education centers, she said, people often ask “Where do we start?

“We start with this generation of kids,” Arkoosh said. “Ther is nothing more important than our kids. They are our future.”

Contact:

For information about YW’s pre-kindergarten and after-school programming, please contact Kathleen Seeley at kseeley@ywcatricountyarea.org