by Hannah Geier As an elementary school teacher and the parent of a 3-year-old, I can say without reservation that the past 20 months have been the most challenging my colleagues and I have ever experienced. Right now, in the classroom and at home, I am focused on keeping my students and my child safe while trying to make up for lost learning and attendance and increased social and emotional needs.
The pandemic has impacted and exposed nearly every element of our communities, particularly our education system – from child care programs, through k-12 and higher ed. The early stages of the pandemic were especially hard, during which businesses were forced to temporarily close or change the way they operated, leaving child care centers and parents to make tough decisions about their children’s care and safety.
While it’s still been a struggle for my school district that receives state funding, it’s been even harder for child care centers, who do not benefit from state support. During the pandemic, it’s been a challenge, to say the least, for these child care operators to pay their staff equitably, offer proper benefits, while at the same time trying to keep costs affordable for parents.
It’s clear after speaking to colleagues in the field of education that Vermont’s child care system lacks much-needed infrastructure and is at a breaking point. Across the state, staffing shortages are becoming more common due to years of low pay and poor benefits. Child care programs are closing, cutting hours, and even shutting their doors permanently.
As a second-grade teacher, I know the impact high-quality child care (or the lack thereof) has on a student’s readiness to learn and be successful in school.
As a parent, I also understand the impact child care has on our workforce, businesses and economy. I would not be able to teach my students without access to high-quality early childhood education for my own children.
Like thousands of other Vermont parents and caregivers, I am able to show up at work and bring my best self to the students in my classroom because I know my 3-year-old is getting the nurturing care and learning that he needs. That is not something I take for granted.
It’s clear we desperately need a solution to this ongoing crisis and that is why I support Vermont’s Child Care Campaign to bring affordable, high-quality child care to all Vermont families.
Vermont’s Child Care Campaign is not just a stop-gap solution for the current childcare crisis. It includes policy plans that build for the future to help support and bring pay and benefits equity to our early childhood educator workforce. Most notably, the campaign advocates to ensure all early childhood educators working in Vermont have access to health insurance they can afford.
Early childhood educators provide the foundation for our children and for our communities. They not only deserve our respect and gratitude, they deserve fair wages and benefits to do the essential work of getting our youngest citizens off to a strong start. When that happens, families are supported and Vermont’s economy can thrive. Vermont’s Child Care Campaign provides this pathway and must be a part of our state’s pandemic recovery. If you’re a teacher, an early childhood educator, or a working parent, please join me in this campaign.
Hannah Geier is a second-grade teacher at Union Elementary School in Montpelier.