Vermont Child Care Centers Remaining Open Adjust To New Normal
Following several orders from Gov. Phil Scott, schools and child care centers around Vermont have closed to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Some, however, are still providing care to children of workers deemed "essential" in the state's response to COVID-19.
For Apple Tree Learning Centers in Stowe, that means watching over 20 kids each day, including several children who are new to the center.
VPR's Henry Epp spoke with Apple Tree Learning Centers owner Sonja Raymond, who is also executive director of the Vermont Association for the Education of Young Children. Their interview is below. It has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Henry Epp: Who are you caring for and who are you not caring for right now?
Sonja Raymond: We are not caring for the general public, but we are caring for those families who have one or more of the adults in their homes that are considered "essential personnel."
And are you taking on new children of essential workers who typically have different child care arrangements?
Yes. We've had maybe five or six new families and the rest are our own current families. We continue to get calls from folks from the school districts, from hospitals, from somebody in another town over saying their public school wasn't offering care, they heard we were. I anticipate we will probably see more children this week. I hope we can, because we have a fairly large space.
And are you dealing with staffing changes as well due to COVID-19 or due to having fewer kids to to watch at this time?
Yes, we actually are down to about a quarter of our staff right now.
And how have all these changes affected your daily routine and just what it feels like at Apple Tree right now?
That's very hard to describe. It's almost surreal. Honestly, it doesn't feel like the same program, obviously. You know, right now three of our classrooms are sitting completely empty. You know, I come in each day, and three-quarters of the staff I have had forever here are gone. And it just feels very odd and very sad, to be honest with you. It's just the unknown. It's a very difficult situation.
And how are the children adapting to this change, and how are their families adapting to bringing their kids to a space that doesn't have the usual, maybe, hustle and bustle?
Yeah, I think it's very odd for everybody. And I can sort of read stress on everybody at this point, right? I think the families are stressed in general. I think the kids, you can see that they're stressed. This is a difficult time for their family. I think they can sort of feel it. It doesn't feel quite the same here. They know it, whether they can express it or not. So it's a little discombobulated. And then, of course, we're taking in some new families, and that's always difficult for children to come. You know, normally we would have a fairly comprehensive transition for a student to come in.
Is this affecting your finances at all, having a drop in the number of children that are with you each day? Does that impact the payments that you're receiving from parents?
It does. For these first two weeks, we haven't required payment of our other families that we cannot have here. You know, we put out a letter letting them know that for two weeks, this is what we were doing. And if they could pay, we would greatly appreciate it. If they couldn't, we understood. We've had many, many parents who've lost their jobs. We have many parents who own businesses that are now closed. And we've gotten dozens of emails from people who know they can't pay. But we've also had about a dozen very kind, generous parents who, even though their children can't be here, they have said to us we'll continue to pay as well as we can.
You mentioned earlier some of the stress that so many in your community are feeling: The children, the staff, the parents. I'm curious if you've had any — as the leader of of this child care center — if you've had a message to your community to try to maybe relieve some of that stress or anxiety.
I guess, for me, I have to say that I have seen such amazing generosity in this community, in terms of their willingness to help in any way that they can. I mean, we've even had a parent in here helping us clean in between, you know, just turning from our normal programing into this type of care. Just because they wanted to be helpful, and they were home. We've seen tons of glimmers of hope within people, and I think I feel very supported by our community. And I am very grateful to them for their — if not monetary support necessarily — but certainly well wishes and willingness to do whatever they can to be helpful. And I think we should all take pride in our humanity at this point. Because we are going to have to lean on each other if we're gonna make it through this for sure.