1. You’re Not Crazy. Childcare Is.
Gloria breaks down how we’re all breaking down: parents, teachers, and providers. And Kristen Bell joins to “call it like it is” on the cost of childcare. Parents are languishing on waitlists or drowning in tuition bills. Teachers are underpaid. And providers can barely afford to keep the lights on. “We set families up to struggle. We put every barrier we can in their way. And then when they do need assistance, we demonize them as though they’ve done something wrong and they haven’t.” With Lauren Kennedy and Sarah Muncey from Neighborhood Villages, and parents, teachers, and administrators from Ellis Early Education Center in Boston, MA.
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Miss Kaia, Kristen Bell, Gloria Riviera, Sarah Muncey, Lauren Kennedy, Brenda Barreto, Shane Dunn, Chris Shumate, Katrina Hardy.
Sarah Muncey 01:27
What started to go through my head was like, Okay, so I’m going to get up at five, I’ll pump, I’ll make Sadie’s lunch for the day. I’ll make sure I watched her nap map because she peed on it yesterday. And so they sent it home. I’ll sign up form, there’s an apple picking field trip. You know, I’ll get ready for my job, which is a big job. You know, there’s like a lot to think about. And the reality of it started to sit with me like, is this what it’s going to be like? Is this the secret thing that it’s like for everyone? And you just like, take pictures when you look good and put them on Instagram. So people think everything’s okay. But really like, this day I’m going through in my head sounds really hard. Is this really what we ask of women so that we can propagate? Like, could this be real? I’m gonna get through this, but like, oh, I didn’t realize like now I’m kind of get it, it’s gonna be like battle.
That’s Sarah Muncey talking about the challenge of doing all the things that come along with having a newborn, while doing all the things that come along with raising a toddler, while doing all the things that come along with working as a public-school administrator. You know, maybe it sounds kind of extreme to compare figuring out childcare to battle. But as someone with three children who has reported in literal war zones, I can tell you, no, they’re not exact comparisons. But Sarah is not far off.
Both scenarios have purpose, and both can feel like you have totally lost control. I’m Gloria Riviera, I’m a reporter, you might have seen me on TV. For most of my career, I’ve traveled around the world for network news, covering among other things, wars, natural disasters and confounding events like a commercial jetliner vanishing in Asia. But I’ve never cried on TV, even though I’ve covered hellish things. And you know what I hear when I listen to Sarah, and I did not expect it. I did not expect to be so affected by that but what I hear is being there again. I remember when I went back to work after my first son was born. And I mean, it was, yeah, it was just a nightmare.
Gloria Riviera 04:07
Because the expectations had not changed on me. I could get a call at any time. And a big part of me wanted these calls, like assignment calls, you know, which meant you have to leave tonight or you know, if I was lucky early the next morning, and we don’t know how long you’ll be gone. And we don’t know when you’re coming back. Try telling that to a three-year-old and I recently asked my 12-year-old son he’s 12 now you know what do you remember about that time? And he said with a straight face and right away.
I remember you were constantly leaving. You know, I never knew that. That’s what he remembered that he didn’t remember that coming home. You know, I have all these memories of coming home but he remembered the leaving. I remember the night before I would leave for a trip, my kids would ask to sleep with me. And to be honest, you know, we did that a lot. But before I was leaving, they would snuggle up next to me like little boy Velcro, they just […] right up next to me. I would never sleep well. Because they would clutch at me, you know, like tight little fists on my T-shirt. And I’d say like, it’s okay, I’m here. And I really can’t believe that the next day, I would just, I would get up and go. I mean, like, who does that?
You know who does that? Working parents. I was not a monster, for wanting to work hard, and be an amazing mother to my children. But in order to do my job, I needed childcare. I needed somewhere someone to look after my kids who I trusted with their lives. It sounds like it’s way too much to ask. But isn’t it what we’re all looking for? Somewhere, someone you trust with your child’s life. But here’s the thing they don’t tell you in parent school, which doesn’t exist, but definitely should. That is a very, very hard thing to come by. It’s hard to find great childcare and once you do that, it’s hard to get in. And once you do that, it’s hard to afford it.
Gloria Riviera 06:34
And I couldn’t stop thinking about this in light of my own struggles with little boy Velcro. Back home in the US, I kept seeing parents everywhere in the middle of the workday. And I wanted to sort of sidle up to them and ask, how are you doing this? Was it a choice? Did you want to stay home? Are you heading to work after this. And when you do, who’s going to watch that little person next to you. But I never did. Because we don’t talk about this. There’s some unspoken agreement to put on this invisible armor, suffer in silence, and just get through it. So I follow the rules. I stayed in my lane, I kept working. I had a third baby. But my heart kept breaking in the same way that every working parents heart breaks.
And I started to get this outrageous feeling that any reporter gets when you know, there’s a big story there that something just isn’t right that it shouldn’t be like this. The whole way we do child care in this country felt very broken. And then the pandemic hits. And what was hard became impossible. By December less than a year into COVID. 1 million women had left the workforce. 1000s of childcare centers simply shut down. And all of a sudden now I am taking phone calls about potential stories while also trying to make sure my daughter can get into her Microsoft team’s app, which I was like, I don’t know what Microsoft Teams is like, you know, a parent’s most valuable asset is time. And now. Now at the end of COVID, hopefully, hopefully, just insight. We’re all fried and now we have to go back to what was already a totally […] situation, a damaging situation, with serious repercussions. beyond what many of us can even imagine.
We. Need. Help. And history has shown us again and again. NO ONE IS COMING TO SAVE US. This is a four-part series about how we got into this complete mess and how we get ourselves out of it. So how do we even do this? Where do we start? Well, let’s start wrapping our heads around America’s very sorry excuse for an early childcare system with a typical day at a place called Ellis. It’s an early childcare center. And it’s in Boston South End its two brick buildings. By all accounts, Ellis is doing a lot really well, really the best they can do and what is a very broken system.
Gloria Riviera 10:07
Here’s what I can tell you about Ellis, they are nationally accredited, a very good thing. They have a level three quality rating in Massachusetts also a very good thing. They take care of a lot of different kids from very different financial backgrounds. The teachers there are really dedicated, and parents, parents do everything they can to try to get a spot at that school. Take Shane Dunn. He’s a dad of two little sweet ones at Ellis.
Even before we told our families we were expecting our first child. We got on waiting lists for infant childcare here in Boston.
And that childcare is a substantial expense.
It’s the biggest chunk of our income goes to childcare. And it is significantly more than our mortgage even.
Once they got that coveted spot for their son Liam and later their daughter Eleanor. Everything just fell into place. It was so nice. No one had to worry about anything ever again. Wrong. Just kidding. Like setup top. Every day is a battle. And for Shane, that battle is well underway by breakfast. That means jackets, boots, backpacks, ready. All the things you need to do just to get out the door. Buckle them in their seatbelts in their car seats. And their off. So Shane heads out for Ellis. And he is really finally looking forward to starting his day. Ellis isn’t far. But that doesn’t mean it’s an easy drive.
There’s a song from Frozen that they use the word crazy a few times. He said, look, I want to hear the song crazy. Literally the minute you get into the car and I buckle him into his car seat. He’s like I want to hear it.
Gloria Riviera 12:17
Shane’s in a bind because he’s using his phone to record them going to Ellis like we asked him to. He’s very nice to say yes. But it’s also his phone that plays the song Liam very desperately wants to hear. So what does he do? Because I don’t know if you know any little small people very cute, but very angry when you get between them. And anything that has to do with Frozen.
I will say our son is very strong willed. Love that about him.
Guess what? Frozen 1.
Hi, Liam. Kristen Bell here. Your Call It Like It Is correspondent. You know, I play Anna in Frozen. And I sing that song that you’re calling crazy. It’s actually called Love Is An Open Door. But it doesn’t matter. Let’s just keep it moving. Neither here nor there. I do have to say something actually crazy though. Your dad, the sweet exhausted guy you’re yelling at who’s paying more for preschool than the home you live in. He’s the kind of person that this system works well for. And it’s not even working that great for him. Here’s the truth. For most people, the childcare system is not awesome. I mean, when you turn five, you get to go to big kids school. And guess what? It’s free.
Kristen Bell 14:02
So everyone gets to go, and everyone has to go, it’s actually a law. And while you’re there, you’re safe. So your parents can do fun things like go to the DMV, or jump on a Zoom call or sit in traffic or clean the house or God forbid, get a workout in, you know, whatever it is that your parents need to do. This magical place is called public school. And it’s funded by something called taxes, which look can get kind of boring and complicated, and it’s very high-level math, but that basically means that everyone pitches in. But Liam, here’s the thing. Before you turn five, nobody cares about you or your parents, and you’re basically on your own.
So, if you’re a parent, and you want to work or you need to work, which is the case for almost all parents and please note that almost all is a scientific term. Here are your choices. Number one, Early Learning Centers. You’ve also probably heard the grownups call these preschool or daycare, like Ellis, where you’re headed now. And as you know, Liam, these places are awesome. If you’re lucky enough to get a spot, your dad had to get on the waitlist for childcare before he even told grandma and pop up that you were on the way. But if you get in, it is great. You’ve got trained teachers with lesson plans who do circle time and snacks, tons of snacks. And you get to hang out with a bunch of other kids your age, which means friends, and social skills, and conflict resolution.
All this for the cool price of, drumroll please. $30,000 a year, $20,000 if you’re lucky, and that’s before any extra fees, like before care or after care, so your dad can actually get to work on time, or stay for that 4pm meeting. But don’t worry, Liam, your dad can totes purchase that extra time for an additional fee. Oh, and tell him not to be late to pick you up because they do charge by the minute. Number two, family childcare, where a teacher takes care of kids in their own home. It’s cozy, it’s familiar, it’s often the best choice for parents who work night shifts. But this can still be crazy expensive. And they’re kind of hard to find.
Kristen Bell 16:29
Like, you got to know somebody who knows somebody who you know knows somebody. It’s tricky. Number three, nannies. This is custom childcare, they come to your house, you get to play with your own toys, you get to decide what fun things you do. Mom and dad get to choose the hours and it’s all about you, Liam, but like anything custom, it’s gonna cost ya.
Number four, do it yourself DIY baby. This includes stay at home parents, or grandma and pop pop or the neighbor down the street. And when it’s a choice, this can be a great option. But sometimes it’s not a choice. And that can be really hard. Like maybe you have to quit your dream job. And the thing that makes you really happy to take care of your son who’s notably strong willed. And then when you quit your job, you stop making money. And if you stop making money, then how are you supposed to pay for your home and all your favorite toys and snacks?
And the point is, everyone likes choices, Liam, even grownups. And when it comes to child care, every caregiver should have a choice. But it’s hard to have a choice when childcare can cost more than college tuition or your salary or your mortgage, Liam, your mortgage. And yes, in some cases, the government does help. There’s an awesome place called head start for kids who qualify, but there aren’t enough spots for those who do. And to be honest, most families don’t qualify. So just like that song you love. This is crazy.
Kristen Bell 18:05
It’s this super confusing maze of uber-expensive and drastically different options for how to take care of kids like you when your brain is the spongiest, it also happens to be the time when your parents feel so exhausted and need the most help. Wow, yeah, that was a lot. Liam, did I lose you? Buddy? Have you been napping this whole time? Okay, Gloria, back to you.
Thank you Kristen, reporting for NO ONE IS COMING TO SAVE US. That was our Call It Like It Is correspondent, Kristen Bell. We’re going to take a quick break. But when we come back, we’ll talk about what happens when the childcare math starts to break you.
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Gloria Riviera 20:50
I remember when I was pregnant with Tristan, and I was so excited, and I had this little bump, and the doctor told us he was as big as an avocado. And that was the coolest thing. It was this brand-new adventure. And that’s how it felt for Chris Shumate.
When you first find out that your partner is pregnant is like it starts this kind of like whirlwind of stuff, baby showers, and painting and crib purchasing and all is like kind of buildup. And then Jack just came on Father’s Day 2015, I started Father’s Day off with a bang.
At the end of his wife’s maternity leave, Chris took two weeks off. And his plan was to help jack transition into the first daycare that they could get him into, which was not Ellis.
I brought him to his new daycare for a couple hours a day, which was painful, because he didn’t know anybody other than us. And he cried and cried and cried and was upset, upset, upset. But you know, I love daycare providers, they’re so smart. They know kids so well, they’re like, don’t worry about it. He will figure this all out; he will get over it. And you know, after the first week or so, you could drop them off and walk out and he was cool with it.
Gloria Riviera 22:02
I remember that so well. I remember being told you know what, he’s gonna be fine. And like I was a mess. So another adult telling me, you know, he’s gonna be okay. I was like, thank you. And it’s amazing, because you know what, they are okay. And Jack did really well at that preschool. But Chris couldn’t help but notice, he was one of the only Black parents dropping his kids off at that school.
The director was a white woman. And then providers were Black and Brown. And then the students, majority of them were white, and there was my Black son. And so, you know, for Jack. I don’t think he noticed it, right? But as a parent, you notice it, right?
When Chris and his wife or joyfully expecting their second baby, they decided to look around and see what else might be out there.
I’d heard about Ellis; I’d heard about the diversity. I’d heard about the experience there. And so that was kind of a reason I felt like I could do better for my children.
Ellis serves families who pay full price, families who have some help from the state, and kids under the protection of the state. So the classrooms there are more diverse.
Also, I think they had a better program than the place we were at. So I put myself on the waitlist at Ellis. Then they were like, oh, yeah, waitlist is huge. So I did at Ellis was I called the front desk every single month, called every month called every month.
We got the call from Ellis; would you like to come? And we were so excited, and I gave up my deposit at the other place and just moved my kids over to Ellis. So they could be in that childcare facility with diversity and a great strong program. But it’s certainly a sport, trying to find the right place for your kids.
So Chris was good. In fact, he was great. And then the calculus changed.
Chris Shumate 24:03
My wife got pregnant with our third child. We were gonna have one child in preschool, one child in toddler and then one child in the infant classroom with a price tag of almost $4,600. That math really did not work out for us. I was looking at, you know, upwards of $50,000 a year in child care. My wife works as a nurse, it would have basically been all of her take home money and some. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love daycare. I love having teachers there teaching my children, my love how they learn from other kids. They see other people like organized early education is incredibly valuable to my children. At $50,000 a year it just didn’t make sense.
Chris’s wife switch to part time work and they traded off caring for their three little ones, pre-K and a part time babysitter helped. But their careers took a turn and they just at the end of the day, couldn’t give their kids, that early education experience they wish they could. So right before the family was about to leave Ellis, Chris took this broken math to the CEO of Ellis, Lauren Cook.
There wasn’t much I could say in the moment except for like, what? No. that was just my initial reaction. But the other is complete understanding and sympathy. Like yes, childcare is obscenely expensive. I’d have no idea how anyone could afford three market rate young children in childcare. That’s so much money. And the third is, I wish we could help but literally, we have no money to do it. Like we just have no money.
So how is that the parents are paying so much for childcare? so freaking much, but Ellis still has no money? Well, here’s the thing, that $50,000 from Chris, well, that’s nothing compared to the mountain of costs that Ellis has.
You need many teachers for a few students, because obviously, the younger the child is, the more care they need. Elementary kids can go to the bathroom themselves. They don’t need help with diapers, they don’t need help feeding themselves, we have more people to pay. So there’s just more salaries. First and foremost, we feed our kids breakfast, lunch, and a snack every day we have diapers. When you go to the doctor’s office and you sit on the table, that’s administrative staff, we own a bus. So we’re in the transportation business has the mortgage. There is always a leak. There is always something expensive, like our h-vac system broken one of our buildings last year it cost $480,000 to fix it, Everything about it is expensive.
Gloria Riviera 26:46
So that is a lot to have on your plate. But Lauren does this job because she loves these kids. And she loves these families too. So when one of them comes to her in pretty desperate need of help to pay their Ellis bill, she will bend over backwards, she will look at creative ways to find more public funding or finding another funding source to help these families pay their Ellis bills. But she told us that when Chris came to her, you know, he was not one of those desperate cases.
I hope this doesn’t sound bad. But I have all the challenges that we need to solve for, prioritizing a family with two professional jobs. It didn’t even cross my mind. Because comparatively to so many of our families like they are doing well.
And yeah, comparatively, Chris and his family are doing well. by shifting their work schedules and hiring a babysitter. They sent one kid to a local pre-K, it all came together and they were able to do it. But not everybody at Ellis has that flexibility. Every morning at Ellis when kids come through the doors, about two thirds of them receive some kind of financial assistance, some kind of government subsidy to help them pay the bill at Ellis Katrina Hardy is dropping off the youngest of her seven kids, Elijah. She’s been homeless for periods of her life. And it’s often been hard to rely on other family members to help her take care of her kids. So Ellis has been a huge help to Katrina since her first days there.
Katrina Hardy 28:25
Ellis was just clean; everybody was just happy and upbeat. So I took a chance with them with my six-week-old and she stayed until age five.
Katrina does qualify for help from the government. But that doesn’t mean that Ellis is suddenly magically cheap. The way it works in Massachusetts is that if you qualify, the government will help you. But it also requires that you pay a substantial portion of what you earn to pay the overall bill, right? So Katrina may get something but she’s worked really hard to pay the rest of the bill and take care of those seven kids.
I don’t sit down to about 8:30. You know, we’re doing a few homework, I get your work without the two pages, we’re doing dinner. And then I’m straightening up or I’m seasoning the meat for the next day. And then I immediately go get their clothes for the next day. So that’s where the stress comes in. Because I’m telling you at 8 or 9 o’clock, I’m burnt out. You know, and then I’m taking a shower and you know, sometimes I would cry, well, often I would turn on the shower and cry because I feel like my life is so structured. But then I would come out of it because I would say well Trina if your life was unstructured it will be all over the place. I’m not even getting a break. But if I don’t do it, it’ll fall apart. You know?
That’s real. If Katrina were to lose her job. It could threaten the working voucher that allows her to have enough money to stay send her kids to Ellis, we haven’t even mentioned the endless bureaucracy and paperwork Katrina has to stay on top of to keep those vouchers going. And here’s another thing about the voucher. Let’s look at it from Lauren side. Okay, so let’s add up what families like Katrina’s pay. And you add to that the amount that Massachusetts pays. And that number, that number is still less significantly less than what it costs Ellis to take care of every student. So on top of that massive to do list, all that other work that Lauren and her team are doing at Ellis, they are also constantly fundraising.
Lauren Kennedy 30:02
I have an operating budget of around $5 million. Ellis has to fundraise a million dollars a year just to maintain what we’re doing.
Oh, I forgot to mention, Lauren does have something else. She’s also dealing with her work.
Or, oh, hold on one second. Hello. Hi, Miss Jessie, she ready? Okay, thank you so much. I’ll be right there. I have to get my baby from downstairs from a classroom. I’m tired. It’s hard. But I love my own kids. And I love the kids here. So it’s a privilege really, if I actually stop and think about that every single day, people drop off their children in our care, and we have to keep them alive and safe and healthy and happy and thriving. Like what is a bigger, harder job than that. But I do have to go because I have a six-month-old.
It’s good. It’s good. We get it. When we come back, we’ll take a look at Ellis from the teachers perspective.
No one at Ellis has a simple job. Take Brenda Barreto. She started as an intern. Now her title is the Assistant Director at Ellis, sounds very official, but let me tell you like she does a little bit of everything.
Brenda Barreto 34:16
One day, I might have to take a teacher’s role. Sometime there might be an emergency in a building. And maybe the maintenance guys is not here that they, guess what I need to put his hat on.
Some of the hardest calls Brenda gets come when Ellis has a kid who’s clearly going through a lot. So many kids come to Ellis through the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families. These are kids the state takes into custody so they can protect them from abuse and neglect at home. And there is one kid Brenda will never forget.
A child who actually was in the custody of this day and didn’t trust in nobody. And I remember he was under the table. And he was throwing the chairs. And he will say, no, no, I don’t want you. I don’t want to come out. I don’t. And I went over there. And I sit down on the floor, and I say, you know what? I am mad, too. And he looked at me like, you’re mad? Yes, I am mad. But you throw out the chair. So now I don’t have chair to throw on the floor. And he looked at me like, you want to throw a chair? And I say, well, right now, No. Because, you’re talking to me, I feel good now. And he was like, okay, and I say, would you like to come out from this table?
And maybe we can call her and sit down on a chair, and he say, no, because I’m not safe outside. And that break my heart. So I took him and he allowed me to put him on my lap and hug him. He helped me tie. So I told him, I will keep you safe here with me. And he looked at me with a very sad face. And he told me, Miss Brenda, you love me. But you cannot keep me safe. And he beat my shoulder. And I be honest with you, I didn’t care that he beat my shoulder, the only thing that will scare was that he’s a three-year soul. And he was expressing very clear that he didn’t feel safe.
Gloria Riviera 36:42
That little boy has come back to see her, has come back to tell her. I still miss you. We know these teachers have a tremendous impact on these young students. And in fact, the data actually backs us up. We looked at studies that took a good hard look at preschool kids, and they followed them as they grew up. And they found that kids who have that preschool experience are more likely to go to high school and graduate to finish college and even pursue a graduate degree. So yes, of course, it is great for the parents, we know that. You remember Shane? The dad we met before? Well, after he listens to that Frozen soundtrack and drops the kids off, he finally gets him quiet.
back into the car. All right. So both kids are now at their buildings at Ellis. And now I can go to work as can my wife Elizabeth, and hopefully the kids have a great day.
Meanwhile, Liam, Liam walks through the doors into a safe, really happy classroom. That’s Kaia Savannah, or at Miss Kaia as the kids call her. And right now she’s getting everybody ready for circle time.
Miss Kaia 38:14
I like to have fun, like, my classroom is all about getting these kids rallied up. I just love doing different things with them that can get their little brains working and get them so excited. I think that’s the best part is when a kid is like overly excited about something. You’re like, yes, I nailed it. It doesn’t clash until I sit down and I have a moment to myself. You know, so like my break time. I think that’s when I like hit back to like reality. Okay, look at my phone. Let me see what to do next. Let me see what I didn’t pay. Let me check my account. Let me see. You know, like any emails about a new job opening?
Yeah, that amazing life changing teacher is looking for something else to do. And we’ll get back to the why. But I can tell you, it’s not because she doesn’t love what she does now. In fact, this is all she ever wanted to do. She got her college degree in early education and family care. And then she landed this dream job at Ellis. And she loves it. Even if it does sometimes, you know, get under her skin, that friends and even some family don’t really get it.
Like, oh, yeah, you babysit kids all day. No, it’s not just that. I really want to make sure when my children leave my classroom that they leave with something, they learn something. You know, it’s not just me changing their diaper and, you know, wiping their noses, it’s actually beginning to build their brain for their future.
Gloria Riviera 40:22
So when Kaia knew she was going to have a baby, a little girl, she named Kamaia. She knew right away. I mean, before she was born, she wanted that little girl to come to Ellis to get the kind of early education she was already giving so many other kids, but Kaia got stuck.
I definitely wasn’t really aware of the cost of childcare until I had her I just assumed that, you know, with my income, that I wouldn’t be paying arm and a leg for daycare, but that was totally wrong. It was definitely something that I just could not afford. So it was a little bit sad. You know, she was at Ellis for maybe like three weeks. And sadly, I just couldn’t keep up with the payments at that time.
I just think that’s crazy. I think that’s crazy that this qualified teacher of early education and family care, can’t afford what she’s doing for others for herself. I mean, it just it makes my head explode. So for a little bit Kaia had her grandmother watch Kamaia, and that worked for a while, but then COVID hit, and she had to try to find another solution.
I have to work I have to find someone or something to do my daughter while I work, I have to make money. You know, this field sally does not give you enough to have a family is where my heart is at. But it’s not going to help me to help her.
Kaia had to cut her hours. So she made less money and could qualify for state help so that she could afford to pay for her daughter’s preschool. But it’s still so hard that she’s looking for another better paying job. Because early ed teachers, they don’t make enough and LS can’t pay anymore, because they have this huge list of costs. I mean, that aged back bill alone, remember, that was like half a million dollars. And Ellis can’t charge their families anymore, because they’re like barely hanging on. And if they did, you know, the student body would be kids from wealthier families.
Gloria Riviera 42:37
And they would be the only ones getting the best that early education has to offer. And big picture in this country. That’s kind of what’s happening. And that has consequences. You guys remember Sarah Muncey, she was the public-school administrator at the beginning of this episode, whose second baby just like sent her over the edge, which then sent me over the edge and I dissolved into tears. Well, she saw those consequences over and over and over again, in her job working with middle schoolers.
I love my job, and I love my kids and my families I worked with. But increasingly, things were not getting better for families or for kids. Kids were coming to us at 10 more and more traumatized, because you can’t just fix things in K-12 in the schools, treating children as if they live on an island. And I stopped feeling okay, about this idea that we’re going to pat ourselves on the back for closing the achievement gap, there’s only one time we can prevent the achievement gap.
And it’s when people’s brains are forming. And yet we deny huge swaths of our population, access to the kind of environment that they would feel really good about leaving their child and during that time of development, either because they can’t afford it or they can’t find it. And then all of a sudden, when kids are five and six, that’s when we want to start trying when our window of opportunity while we’ll always try and will always work so hard for our students and they have unlimited potential, or window of opportunity for the change we can make is really closed. And so the more I learned about zero to five, the more I was outraged.
Gloria Riviera 44:26
Sarah felt that if she really wanted to help these families, middle school was just too late. So she teamed up with our good friend and public health policy expert, Lauren Kennedy, to do something about it. They created an organization called Neighborhood Villages, an idea that came to them when they were both in the newborn trenches. Here’s Lauren.
I think it really started to emerge, you know, sitting there on one of our couches, breastfeeding or cleaning up that diaper. Anyway, so there you go real life. So we you know, we’re sitting on a couch, breastfeeding, cleaning up diapers, you know, talking about what insanity happened the night before. And Neighborhood Villages, I think it really came to be because I don’t want to hear anymore. This sort of lamenting about the, you know, can women have it all or the plight of the American family, we’re going to do something about it. We continue to feel like in both of our fields, there were systemic barriers that were making this hard for everyone.
So just as Sara’s experience in middle school, was helping her see that it was really all about early education. Lauren was seeing all this buzzy talk around health care, and thinking that it would really apply to preschool. Because if you really care about public health, then you want to make sure that families have what they need. Right? When they’re raising tiny kids.
Where can you catch the whole family? And where can you do it more than twice a year, and a huge opportunity, then presented by a childcare center, the one place where we put pretty much no public dollars, really no meaningful dollars from the ed sector from the health sector could in fact, be your very best investment from the family’s perspective, this is all possible. It’s all doable, and it really is about looking at childcare is infrastructure, both investing in the infrastructure of childcare centers, but also looking at it not as like charity, because people, you know, made the poor life decision to have a child and now can’t go to work. No. This is public infrastructure. Our society can’t function without it. Why wouldn’t we want it to be good?
Gloria Riviera 46:50
These early education centers, the parents, the families, the teachers, they just need more money. We just need to prioritize and then fund something that is so critical. In so many ways, we can’t even count the ways down the road.
And I think what infuriates me and the like, COVID, this is just what makes me so so upset, is we set families up to struggle, we put every barrier we can in their way. And then when they do need assistance, we demonize them as though they’ve done something wrong. And they have it, we just made it impossible for them, like forget the American dream, to just be able to get by, like, give me a break. It’s not rocket science, it’s completely doable. It’s just again, a combination of spending some political capital to do it, and rolling up your sleeves. Because just wringing your hands and saying it’s too hard is also not acceptable. And families don’t have time to wait. You wait three years, you wait five years, you wait ten years, it’s an entire generation of kids who suffers because of our inaction.
Gloria Riviera 48:07
In this series, we’re going to talk more to Lauren and Sarah about what Neighborhood Villages is doing. We’re going to go around the country to look at places that are getting it right. We’re gonna go back in time to remember a chapter when this country almost, almost, got it right. And then mess it all up again. We’ll talk to experts; we’ll talk to legislators will talk to boots on the ground who are working so hard for new legislation to make early education better for all of us. Because if no one is coming to save us, we gotta save ourselves.
In Episode Two, we will learn how none of this is particularly new. And we’ll hear from one mom who struggled to find early childcare in the 1960s. My own mom actually.
NO ONE IS COMING TO SAVE US is a Lemonada Media original presented by and created with Neighborhood Villages. This episode was produced by Mickey Capper, Rae Solomon, Alex McOwen and Kristen Lepore. Mixing and scoring were done by Hannis Brown. Our executive producers are Stephanie Wittels Wachs, Jessica Cordova Kramer and me Gloria Riviera. Our Call It Like It Is correspondent is Kristen Bell. Special thanks to Ana Ayala, Adaline Sire, Monica Wright, and everyone who welcomed us at Ellis. This podcast was made with support from the McCormick Foundation Trust for Learning and Springpoint Partners. If you like the show, and you think that early childcare should not be a taboo topic, please tell your friends and family and help us out by leaving a rating and writing a review. Do you also think the childcare system in the US kind of sucks? Do you have ideas for what we should do to change it? We wanted to make a space for you to connect with other listeners and continue the conversation. So we set up a NO ON IS COMING TO SAVE US Facebook group. Join us there and we can all vent and share and bitch and moan together. You can also follow us in other Lemonada podcasts at @LemonadaMedia across all social platforms. This episode is brought to you by Spring Point Partners, a social impact organization that invests in the transformational leaders, networks and solutions that power community change and advanced justice for all.