Back to school
Coping with the state’s shutdown
“Every day I woke up feeling like a bomb was about to go off and I just didn’t know when or where,” says Alyssa Lavoie.
The pandemic’s health and economic impacts were sudden and severe for businesses of all types. But for child care providers who serve babies and toddlers, and whose profit margins are paper-thin in the best of times, the stress was relentless.
Alyssa and her husband, Jonathan, bought Tumbleweeds Child Care Center in Wilton with financing from the Community Loan Fund in January 2020. Within weeks, they met their first challenge. As Alyssa was hiring more teachers and looking to implement a new curriculum, the flu hit the center. So many teachers were out that Jonathan had to take a day off from his regular job to help.
Then, with the whole staff back to work in mid-March, the governor ordered public schools closed to slow the spread of COVID-19. “That’s when we knew there’s gonna be a big shift here,” says Alyssa.Some parents, who continued to work outside their homes and needed care, were panicked. Others weren’t comfortable having their little ones in child care and immediately withdrew. Alyssa and Jonathan wrestled with all the tough choices in front of them: Do they stay open? If they do, should their own boys attend?
Alyssa says they partnered with the Community Loan Fund not only because of our child care loans, but also our customized technical assistance. Our staff helped her think through the fiscal aspects of running the business, and she appreciated their quick responses to questions. Julie McConnell, our child care expert, was Alyssa’s panic call the afternoon the state issued its initial pandemic child care guidelines: “This doesn’t work! What am I supposed to do?”
“She was that calming ‘Don’t worry, we’re going to make it work,’ voice,” Alyssa says. Fortunately, the state soon revised its public health guidance to make it more practical.
The Lavoies decided to keep Tumbleweeds open for as long as they could and discounted tuition for several weeks. Nearly all the center’s families remained enrolled.
Other than adjusting tuition, the only concession Tumbleweeds made to the pandemic was not allowing parents in the building. Alyssa says her staff constantly cleaned and disinfected even before the outbreak. They also decided that, for child developmental reasons, teachers and students wouldn’t wear masks.
So far, so good. By the end of summer, the state’s coronavirus case numbers fell to their lowest level since early March, with no reported cases in Wilton or Lyndeborough. No staff or children have tested positive for the virus. And Tumbleweeds’ classrooms are full again.
This article was first published in the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund’s 2020 annual report.