Adaptability is important to any child care center’s success, and Cayla Rush, Owner and Director of Precious Angels Child Care Center in Sioux Falls, SD, is a walking example of that. She’s been pivoting constantly as the result of the pandemic and ever-changing situations in her child care center.
“We had to make a lot of changes all at once to continue to serve our families, and while it certainly wasn’t easy, everyone rose to the challenge,” said Cayla. “Our community has many essential personnel, so was important to us that we were able to continue supporting them.”
Cayla said that while she has seen a 40 percent decrease in enrollment, she also has gained new families – many that have said they were switching schools because their previous school either closed or wasn’t adapting well to the new guidelines set by the health department.
“Parents are very concerned about the environments they’re sending their children into, and we’ve learned very quickly that they have no problem removing their children from a center if it isn’t meeting their expectations for health and safety,” Cayla said.
While the new enrollments helped, Cayla still needed financial support. That’s why she applied for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan during the first round it was offered.
“My sister is a CPA, so I was lucky to have the guidance and support I needed to get financial assistance prior to the funding running out,” said Cayla. “Our staff is incredibly committed to these children, so it was important to me to be able to do whatever I needed to keep them on board.”
To ensure as smooth of a transition to new policies and procedures, the staff felt it was important to prepare the children and families through constant communication, including using videos to ease any concerns. In one video, Cayla and her team recorded teachers talking in their masks in an upbeat, positive manner to help alleviate any fears or confusion the children may have. In addition, the team created a video of what drop-off and pick-up looks like to make sure parents felt comfortable and prepared.
“We provided these videos to our parents so that when they came to our center, there would be no surprises,” Cayla said.
To make drop-off and pick-up safe and seamless, Cayla and her team spray painted the sidewalk with markers six feet apart to guide parents on where to stand when waiting for staff members – who are in masks – to pick up their children.
“While this is clearly a big change, our families have taken it in stride,” Cayla said.
Prior to entering the building, every child has a temperature check, even infants.
“With infants, there’s a level of touching you can’t avoid, but we have parents leave them in their car seats outside the door, where we reach out to take the child’s temperature before bringing them into the building,” Cayla said.
Once children are in the building, they’re immediately brought to a handwashing station, then taken to their classroom, where they’ll remain the rest of the day, save for some much-needed outdoor time on the playground. To keep students and staff as safe as possible outdoors, Cayla and her team created a schedule allowing only one class on the playground at a time. In addition, each class has its own set of outside toys to avoid cross-contamination. In-between each playground session, her team sanitizes all of the equipment so it’s ready for the next class.
“One thing we do is spray our disinfectant on the equipment, then let it air dry for 10 minutes,” Cayla said. “Wiping is actually not advised, as it can introduce new germs.”
Disinfecting inside the building is a rigorous process, and forced Cayla to make some tough decisions on the sensory items she could allow.
“We love being able to provide our kiddos with a variety of toys and other items to help them learn, but we had to put away any of the things that were hard to clean, like Barbie dolls,” Cayla said.
Along with the deep cleaning process comes limited staff interaction. Cayla said that she can only have one staff member work in each room per day. However, her precautions proved vital after she discovered a child tested positive for COVID-19. Rather than closing the entire center, she only needed to close the room the child was in for two weeks. Which meant that only one staff member was required to stay home, helping her maintain staffing levels.
“It was a scary moment, but it also taught us how resilient we are as a center,” Cayla said. “Now that we’ve addressed the situation, we’re more prepared to take on any future challenges that come our way.”
When asked about any advice she has for other centers that are struggling, Cayla said, “It’s important to take a step back and review the guidelines one at a time. And it’s okay if it seems scary, but know that with the right mindset, it’s completely doable.”