Photo: Ellery Lamm/Save the Children
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S., I transitioned from spending my days in a bustling preschool classroom to sitting on a computer at my dining room table. My co-teacher and I, both teachers at the University of Vermont Campus Children’s School in Burlington, Vermont, discussed how the relationships we had built with children and families within the walls of our classroom were showing up in our connections remotely.
During our morning meetings, the children adapted the beloved game of “Hide and Seek” to be played over Zoom. The seeker counts, while the rest of the group ducks outside their camera frames – leaving the seeker to discover a collection of “empty” zoom windows and detect any trace of shadow or movement, in a sense ‘finding’ you. Acknowledging the game’s limitations on this platform, it was the subtle thrill and joy of a new take on an ordinary game that brought delight and authenticity to our meetings. It was the closest thing to the joy and camaraderie we felt in the classroom.
As June approached, other childcare programs around the state were gearing up to re-open under new pandemic-era guidelines. But the University of Vermont announced its decision to permanently close the Campus Children’s School, citing budgetary concerns and restrictions associated with COVID. The news was devastating to many layers of the community, including the children, families and teachers directly impacted by the loss of their jobs, school and childcare.
As I sort out the many feelings that I’ve had in response to this decision, I find myself resolved to continue advocating:
For our communities and country to see and value children as citizens. The United States is the only country in the United Nations that has not ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child defining children’s right to education, healthcare, protection, education, health care, shelter and good nutrition.
For increased public will to effect policy change. The child care system has been long-broken, with families paying too much, and child care programs making too little. Organizations like Let’s Grow Kids in Vermont have a mission to strengthen early education by calling for policy change together with families, educators, businesses and legislators.
For sustainable public investments in the childcare system. In 2018 the Center for American Progress reported that over 50% of families with young children live in a child care desert. During the pandemic, two-thirds of child care programs surveyed by the National Association for the Education of Young Children would not be able to sustain a closure of more than a month without significant public investment.
Communities across the country can tell you that the razor thin margins plaguing most childcare programs are part of broader financial concerns – with parents paying too much and providers making too little. Rather than deflect the responsibility of a broken system to individual programs, we need our leaders and institutions to stand alongside child care programs and create sustainable infrastructure and investments that support our youngest citizens, and the environment they’re growing up in.