Updated: Aug 15, 2022
I don’t often get political but it seems like we need to have a political discussion because frankly, the reason I closed my school was political.
The stimulus packages benefited medium to large small businesses and did not benefit tiny businesses like mine. This is the main reason why small childcare centers across this nation are closing their doors. Banks gave the aid to large businesses they already had a relationship with. I remember back in April when this aid was offered to us (in the form of a loan mind you which meant paying it back), working long hours frantically trying to find and fill out the forms needed only to find out that our small bank didn’t even have the forms ready. The door to that aid slammed shut as soon as it opened. At this point I was still committed to doing whatever it would take to re-open in the fall because I was still committed to my business and my families despite how disheartening it was. It forced us to take a good hard look at our business and it is in this post that I want to unpack some of it. For education’s sake.
First, Lets work the numbers: with sixteen families our income was barely enough to pay our bills. Also my husband and business partner volunteered his time as office manager and business manager – how could a business like ours even pay a business manager? We also did all the yard work and most of the remodeling ourselves (except for one big remodeling project in 2014 which we tied to the capital). We were already skating along the edge of unsustainable.
Now with the pandemic raging, we are only allowed to have a “pod” of ten children in our small space. We still have to pay all three teachers to keep our ratios and all of our other expenses essentially stay the same. We really couldn’t divide our space to accommodate two groups like many larger schools were able to do (because of square footage and the type of program we are). So with ten children – we would not have enough income to pay teachers and our bills. Some of our generous families offered to pay as much as needed for us to stay open – which is incredibly generous - but this is only sustainable for that first year – and it is too much to ask of families who already foot a too-large childcare bill.
What it comes down to is it is not up to parents to foot the bill to keep our school open. We either have a sustainable school – or we don’t. Small businesses operate on the same principles as large businesses. If you cannot make money – a profit, then what is the point of being in business?
Second, the rules and regulations around re-opening are not only unsustainable, they are unrealistic. Lets look at what our program would actually be like if we could make the numbers work to re-open. First every child would need their own space/table and not be able to freely move around – not very Montessori-like, but that is just the beginning. Daily sanitizing of all those tiny Montessori beads and wooden blocks would be impossible. This would amount to a full- time job for one of my staff, and remember she is there for the children, not to do endless cleaning and messing around in bleach. Many schools have made the decision to remove all those Montessori materials but then the question begs: does that mean we are still following the Montessori method? Is our school still even able to call itself Montessori if there are none of the things that define it as such?
The powers that be are also saying no shared items: lunch utensils, pencils, paper, glue bottles, art supplies, toys. This is also a very big part of Montessori as children learn to negotiate sharing the supplies available to them. What about our family-style lunch? Children would need to bring their own lunch packed from home. Staying six feet apart means playground time is difficult. How do we keep 3 and 4 year olds six feet apart? As all parents of this age group know, they don’t understand the concept of social distancing – they are all over each other. They don’t understand germs. They certainly don’t understand pandemics.
So not only is our program not Montessori, it is not even our program anymore since the main elements of our program are our meal program, our beautiful playground and the education we are giving to the children that is developmentally appropriate. We are now not able to offer any of these things.
Third is it even safe to re-open? This is the burning question that sparked so much debate. I agree children should be, for their mental health and well being – in their routine. But at what risk? We have children, parents and staff members who are immune-compromised and stand to lose a lot if they got sick. One teacher would have to be dedicated to health checks, contact tracing and other protocols – and of course all the accompanying paperwork that goes with things like that. Another teacher who is not working with your child. Teachers become the health gate-keepers which is really not in their job description.
And are we paying teachers to clean all day and become health gatekeepers so parents can go back to work? I don’t think so. The reason is because we are not primarily a care center, we are an educational facility. If we have to spend our days gate-keeping the health of the children and not educating them, well then – we are not who we say we are.
This brings me to my final (and most political) point: teachers are not baby sitters. We should not be asking them to risk their own health for the pittance they are paid, so parents can go back to work. I include early-childhood teachers in this statement; they are all too often left out of the equation. We all need to address this point. There is a difference between childcare and educational services and all too often they get mixed up in our minds. Education, whether its preschool or K-12 or even college is education. It is not food-service, or babysitting, or a social learning place. It is education. Care, on the other hand, is care – it encompasses food service, playtime, social after-school activities and this needs to be addressed as important, but care is not education (at least not in the traditional sense). All too often we confuse the two in our minds.
I’m not whining or complaining – but I did want to explain why child-care centers and preschools across the nation are having to close their doors. We’re not being selfish, we’re being realistic. What we really need to address is early childhood education in this country: why is it so unsustainable, why it is so un-affordable for parents, and what the government can do about the problem.
I am heart-broken for my little school: it was my life. I am sorry that now my families have to scramble to find another source for childcare and education. I’m still committed to Montessori education. But the issue at hand is: unsustainable is unsustainable.