I was supposed to be on a plane to New Zealand…

I was supposed to be on a plane to New Zealand today for a preschool study tour.

To make this trip possible, I’d sold my car, took on an extra class this summer, and applied for scholarships. I also recently transitioned from a dual-income household to a single-income one (thanks divorce!).

Instead I’m trying to find ways to help my tiny preschool survive the next two-and-a-half months. 

My number one goal is help to my staff avoid filing for unemployment. I work with two fabulous teachers; teachers with degrees, teachers who I’ve known since they were students in my college classrooms. 

The average assistant preschool teacher in Oregon earns between $12 and $15 an hour. My employees work approximately 20 to 22 hours a week. If they apply and qualify for unemployment, do the math on what 60% of that income looks like for them. That few hundred dollar discrepancy could mean the difference between evictions, missed car payments, and so on.

So, I sent this email out to my preschool families (names edited to protect privacy):

Dear Families,

Last summer I read several of Brené Brown’s books (didn’t we all?). This seems like a great time to put the power of vulnerability into practice. 

  • Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”

Right now, we have no control over the outcomes; reaching out to you with this request requires courage on my part, and a lot of vulnerability. 

In light of Governor Brown’s declaration that all Oregon schools remain closed until April 28th, we have decided to extend our planned closure through April 28th. As such, the first possible date that we will return to preschool will be Wednesday, April 29th, and we will continue to re-evaluate this date as new information and recommendations unfold.

My first priority during this time is to maintain Wilma and Thelma as employees of our school, while helping them to avoid unemployment. I don’t want to lose them! My goal is to continue to pay them (regardless of what happens) through their last day of the 2019/2020 school year – June 10th. My second priority is to ensure all bills related to the school are paid in full and on-time. Continuing to provide a high quality, model preschool program has many hidden costs. Luckily at this time, we are not paying for snacks or replenishing supplies. 

While I believe strongly in our ‘preschool’ model, at the end of the day I technically operate a “Certified Family Child Care.” Providers, like myself, do not qualify for unemployment benefits or paid family leave. As a result, there are many small programs permanently closing their programs; some may never re-open. I don’t want to see us in the same position. 

My wish is to be able to charge full tuition in April because our program budget (including staff pay, mandatory bills, and so on) is based on receiving full tuition from all children enrolled. I realize this is a very BIG wish. 

My hope would be to implement some sort of sliding scale tuition model, based upon the acknowledgement that there exists financial disparities between many of our enrolled families. I want to continue to safeguard access for all currently enrolled families who wish to remain a part of our school community. I would like to raise funds to support our program’s commitment to equity and access for all currently enrolled families (if needed).

Many of you are experiencing the reduction of work hours, unemployment, and added costs of child-care for families working from home. Following is what I envision moving forward (for April): 

  • The spring term supply is waived. This can be credited to families who paid for the entire year upfront. 
  • For those of you who paid for the year up-front, please let me know if you would like any tuition refunded or credited for April.
  • For those of you paying monthly, please pay what you can. 
  • If you can contribute nothing for April, please connect with me to make arrangements holding your child’s spot. 
  • If you feel you will no longer need our services for the duration of the 2020 school year, a 30-day paid notice is kindly requested.
  • I’m happy to think outside-the-box with anyone! One example I came across was the local Waldorf started a GoFundMe to continue to pay their educators. 

In the meantime, Wilma has started a series of educational emails and social media posts we’ll be sharing with families soon. Thelma is working on getting children’s scrapbooks together for our June Family Social (fingers crossed!). And I’m doing everything in between! 

It is my hope, with your understanding, flexibility, diligent handwashing, and continued support, we can get through this together. 

I was hoping for an It’s a Wonderful Life type of moment where everyone realizes the hard work George Bailey has done for the community. In my case, the intentional work, dedication, and passion I’ve put into creating this phenomenal early learning environment; a program like no other in our community. Largely, I am experiencing my George Bailey moment (at least for April’s tuition). 

I am not entitled. I am vulnerable. The average owner of a Certified Family Child Care Home (what my preschool operates according to State licensing) earns less than $30,000/year. 

I am also fortunate to be a university instructor at two different universities. But as contingent faculty, I lack job security and access to unemployment benefits. As one university I work for moved exclusively to on-line learning for spring term (although, they would prefer the term ‘remote’ – that’s a topic for another post), my 60-hour practicum course in local preschools is in jeopardy.

I am also losing my university-sponsored health insurance coverage as soon as April 1st. My two classes put me at .43 FTE (while last term, two classes put be above .50 FTE) due to expected low enrollment numbers.

I had insurance coverage for the preschool study tour and have thus far recouped the initial hotel and the majority of flight costs (thanks Air New Zealand!). The study tour was a $2500 experience, of which I had been awarded a scholarship from one university and departmental funds from another. Yep, I work for TWO universities and own an in-home preschool. As the tour didn’t occur, I’m out the entirety of study tour funds, as I won’t be receiving the 40% support funds I had anticipated. My fingers are crossed than my travel insurance coverage pulls through.

I remain so grateful for my preschool families; we’re all on this journey together. Families whose businesses have been forced to close are telling me they will continue to pay. Families in quarantine are paying. People are doing what they can to help my school remain viable, because they believe in what we do.

One suggestion was to start ‘teaching’ the preschoolers on-line. Young children do NOT need screens; parents need screens. We live in a beautiful mountain town. Most of my preschool families have access to yards, private transportation, and personally-owned recreation equipment. The kids need to be outside. They need to build. They need to dig. They need to create. They need to be read to. They need to sing. They need to be held and snuggled. They need to PLAY. 

And play we will, because we will survive this. My staff will survive this. I will survive this and I’m determined my little preschool will too.