Childcare took on a whole new meaning for the seventh-graders at the Juneau Community Charter School who, as just kids themselves, helped out at childcare centers and in their school’s second-grade classroom for their community service project.
“In their classroom they first learn about child development and developmentally appropriate practice in childcare programs. Armed with that knowledge they then spend an hour a week in classrooms at local child care centers. They help with the daily routines of the children and try to learn technique from the staff.” Blue Shibler, owner of Discovery Preschool, said.
According to Shibler, the students were observant and curious, asking questions that went beyond best practices for caring for young children.
“Our discussion started with the children noticing that some of my employees seemed to be more knowledgeable and more effective than others. We talked about how most people who work in this industry do not have a college education because the wages are low.” Shibler said, “We then compared some statistical data from the (Juneau Economic Development Council), which compared salaries of childcare workers to those of school district teachers. The children were shocked at the discrepancy because they had just learned that the first five years of life are the most important in terms of development.”
The students were so concerned by the financial difficulty of running a childcare and preschool facility that they wrote a letter to their legislators, detailing some of their experiences.
Student Summer Putman wrote, “I want the legislators to fund some of the cost of running a childcare. It isn’t funded like elementary, middle and high school. Parents of young children have to pay heavy expenses to send their kids to daycare…”
Student Nelli Wayne wrote, “It was a lot of fun working in daycares such as Puddle Jumpers and Discovery Preschool, but I learned about some problems surrounding daycare programs. One of those problems was the fact that the majority of the people that choose daycare as a job don’t have a college education.”
In a brief interview, Summer explained why she felt childcare providers might not get more education.
“Even though it’s so much fun, it gets paid really little, so people who go into childcare can’t go to college because they can’t cover the costs.” she said.
The students also visited with Rep. Cathy Munoz to talk about their concerns for childcare in Juneau.
“I hope it makes a difference, I mean, it is an important issue because the first five years of a child’s education, first five years of a child’s life, they learn the most they ever do in their lives and if they don’t learn, it might be hard for them to learn later on.” Summer said.
On top of learning the serious stuff about early childhood development and the financial struggles of providing childcare, the students had quite a bit of fun. Rhys Gentili spent most of his time playing outdoors with the children, helping push them on the swings.
There were some admitted challenges.
“Some things were challenging, like if kids ran off it was hard to get them back because some of them followed like sheep.” Rhys said.
But the overall experience was positive.
“When I first started I didn’t want to do it, but by the end, the last day was the best day… I had a lot of fun.” he said.
“I like it when you went in there and the infants are all smiling and happy and running around with joy. It’s really funny.” Nelli said.
And it seems the preschoolers enjoyed the program as well.
“Sometimes younger people don’t actually know when you are leaving leaving. They asked when I was coming back on my last day.”
“It would be a nice career to have if it had the right amount of pay that a person would need.” Summer said. The students all hope their plea to the legislature will help.
Shibler was impressed with the students for asking hard questions and going to the legislature. “It was amazing timing too because the assembly had just funded the HEARTS For Kids Initiative that will help increase wages for providers.”
• Contact Neighbors Editor Melissa Griffiths at 523-2272 or at email@example.com.