Depending on where you live in the country, you’re likely at least a few weeks into government mandated changes to day-to-day behavior in response to COVID-19. Regardless of whether you’re living under a stay-at-home order or social distancing advice, if you’re finding it challenging to maximize student enrollment, here are some ideas to help.
Be Proactive With Your Parents
First and foremost, proactively address how your center is minimizing the risk of infection. Parents are worried their children could get sick. So, by acknowledging what you’re doing, you’re giving current and prospective parents peace of mind in a very unsettled time.
Publish what you’re doing front and center on your website. An example would be, “At Smartcare School we are committed to keeping your children and our staff healthy. We are following the advice of public health experts, by requiring these policies:
Temperature checks at drop-off. No child with a fever can attend that day.
Regular hand washing, especially any time a staff member or child enters the center or moves from one room to another.
Disinfecting staff and children belongings upon arrival.
Staff and children must always wear masks.
Children are kept separate as much as is possible.”
Look Out for Potential Enrollment Opportunities
The first place to start is providing care for essential workers. Many essential workers are working more and longer shifts, and many have had their normal childcare options disrupted. Many more might not know that your center is able to provide care. Not only would you help an essential worker who needs childcare, but you would be contributing meaningfully to your community’s efforts to address the pandemic. Here’s what we recommend:
First, reach out to employers of essential workers in your community such as hospitals, police departments, fire departments, grocery stores, and distribution centers.
It might take some effort but starting with a call or email to the general number and asking to speak with the organization’s HR department is the best place to start. Once you’re in contact with the HR department, ask if they provide a list of childcare providers to their staff, and if they do, ask to be on the list, and if they do not, ask that their staff be made aware of your offerings.
Next, think about extending your service hours.
Most essential workers are not working normal “9 to 5” shifts, but they still need childcare. Under normal circumstances, it might not have made sense to offer care outside of normal business hours, or it may have been difficult to find teachers willing to do so. But we aren’t living under normal circumstances. Offering longer service hours will allow you to care for more children.
Once you’ve contacted employers of essential workers and expanded your service hours to care for their children when they’re working, the next thing you should do is focus on local search.
Many parents, even those who aren’t essential workers, are looking for new childcare options. Most of those parents use one or more of the following services to find care. At a minimum, you should make sure you’re signed up for and have a complete profile with each service, which is normally free. The list below includes links to sign-up if you aren’t already:
We hope this helps your center maximize enrollment in challenging times. Most importantly, thank you for continuing to provide childcare to workers in all occupations. Your efforts are the reason many people can continue to work today, and your efforts will be the foundation which will allows many more people to get back to work in what we hope is the not too distant future.
During this unprecedented time, many childcare facilities are unsure about the future. This series of blogs covers ways to help our audience navigate this confusing time. As childcare centers navigate the events occurring in response to COVID-19, the Small Business Administration (SBA) has multiple programs available to help.
If you are in a disaster area, then you will need to apply for an EIDL. You can submit the application here: https://covid19relief.sba.gov/#/. This is an online, step-by-step application.
To be prepared, have these items on hand:
Your most recent tax return
Business formation documents (such as your LLC agreement or articles of incorporation)
Note that the website underwent a major overhaul recently and many users have reported slowness, so be patient. Expect to hear back from the SBA in about 3 weeks. If your application is approved, then you will work with the SBA to determine the amount of a loan for which you qualify, up to $2 million, and the terms of repayment.
Advance on an Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL)
After you have completed the EIDL application (https://covid19relief.sba.gov/#/) you will also qualify for a $10,000 advance, issued before your application is reviewed, and possibly forgivable at a later date.
You must submit the current application on the EIDL site to qualify for the advance. If you submitted the older application, you must re-submit an application using the new format to qualify for the advance. You can determine if you submitted the old application by looking at the PDF copy, in the top right corner of the first page for “OMB No.: 3245-0017” which is the form ID for the old application. If you are not interested in the advance, and you submitted the old application, then you don’t need to submit the new application.
Payroll Protection Act Loan (PPAL)
As part of the CARES Act, the government has authorized businesses to borrow 250% of their average monthly payroll up to $10 million. Specifically, you will qualify for 250% of the average monthly payroll expense, including employer paid taxes and employer paid benefits, but excluding any compensation to an employee in a payroll period that exceeds $100,000 on an annualized basis.
Unlike EIDL, the PPAL program will be administered by private banks rather than the SBA. Private banks that are current “SBA 7a” lenders will most likely participate, and other banks may participate as well. All banks are currently waiting on the SBA to publish final rules and guidelines for the program. The SBA has indicated that those rules will be published in the next 1-2 weeks. After the rules are published, banks will open applications.
Based on reading the law, you can be prepared by having records for your total payroll by employee for the past 12 months as well as the past 12 months mortgage, rent and debt payments. You will also want to keep records of all payroll payments, by employee, starting now through June 30 to qualify for loan forgiveness. The specific terms of the loan will be finalized with the lender. We will publish an updated blog post when the SBA publishes its guidelines with more actionable information.
Demand for high-quality, developmentally engaging early child care is growing. Parents of young children seek out exceptional child care, and the demand for preschool programs that support kindergarten readiness is increasing.
Your early child care center’s prestige can increase with a defined growth strategy. Create a solid program that connects your academic focus with that of local public or independent school readiness requirements. By focusing on both quality child care and academic kindergarten readiness, you can propel your reputation as your graduates enroll at public, private, or independent kindergarten programs.
Based on our experience with thousands of schools across the country, we’re seeing a renewed demand for developmentally engaging child care services and successful implementation of strategies to grow enrollment and quality.
How can you grow enrollment and quality in your child care program into a school growth strategy?
1. Start with the Data
Changing needs and expectations of young families show that they want developmentally engaging learning services. They are more often working parents who want a broader range of services that are individually and personally delivered.
The majority of U.S. children under five are students of color, so diversity and cultural awareness are even more critical in the training and recruitment of faculty, in the development of the curriculum, in communications to families, and out to the broader community.
The more educated parents are, the more likely they are to enroll their children in a child care center.
In 2016, the percentage of 3 to 5-year-olds enrolled in preschool was:
54% for those children whose parents had a graduate or professional degree 41% if the parents earned only a bachelor’s degree 37% for parents who ended their education with an associate’s degree 37% for those with some college but no degree 33% if they stopped with a high school credential (33%), 30% if parents didn’t complete high school
Public demand for early childhood education is accelerating. Philanthropists, community leaders and policy makers are seeking “opportunities to build new capacity in the early learning field as it enters a critical next stage.” For example, in 2018 Jeff Bezos announced a $2 billion plan to fund full scholarships for low-income children to attend “Montessori-inspired” preschools. The Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative at Harvard University is another example.
As students transition from child care to the education system, it’s important for them to have skills in learning behaviors, such as their ability to:
Pay attention in class
Follow classroom rules
Complete tasks independently
Show eagerness to learn
At kindergarten entry, students who perform well in learning behaviors have a positive correlation to test scores.
When students enter kindergarten, many of them are not equipped with the skills to support learning success:
A national survey of kindergarten teachers reported that 35% of their students were not ready to “participate successfully in school”.
Problems that affected readiness included deficiencies in language, emotional maturity, general knowledge, social confidence, moral awareness, and physical well being.
Fact: Demand for High Quality, Developmentally Engaging Early Child Care Services is Growing
2. Develop Strategic Growth Plans for Child Care Centers and Preschools
Both independent child care programs and private school pre-K to grade 8 programs will benefit by having a strategic growth plan.
For independent child care programs where students move to public or private schools:
Understand that your center needs goals and plans for growing and sustaining. Your center plays an important part in your community. Your families are relying on you to be aware of local school academic and behavior readiness. Building community relations with local schools should be an important part of your growth plan. Network with local educators and school principals to share news about your center, ask for their input on your program, and work together to build a strong bridge to kindergarten.
For private and faith-based pre-K through Grade 8 schools:
With an integrated marketing and enrollment management strategy, your preschool program can provide a strong base of students for your kindergarten and elementary grades. Certainly not every student will be expected to stay beyond preschool, with a national average of 40-60% reenrolled/retained into kindergarten, but these classes should provide a reliable base for elementary grades.
With some preschool families you will have to Bless and Release them, assuring them of your support for their next decision and your genuine appreciation for the positive contributions they have made in preschool. They may have already pre-determined their plan to attend another school, but you can still cultivate them as brand ambassadors for your school out in the community.
After leaving your school, some may eventually Return to Sender, where they come back to your school after becoming disillusioned with their other choice and remembering the quality of the relationships and education provided at your school. Because families today are increasingly opting for private education in the middle school and high school years, your child care services should be viewed as a long-term investment to build your brand and grow the upper grades.
Fact: It’s important to establish a strategic growth plan to build intentional relationships
Retaining families in your child care program begins with intentionally cultivating deep relationships with each one. This requires a commitment from the center’s leadership and every employee to sustain a culture that values genuine interest in people, active listening, and responding appropriately to sustain trust and engagement.
3. Work with Neighboring Schools
In A Unified Foundation to Support a Highly Qualified Early Childhood Workforce, experts in education came together to discuss the importance of aligning early child care programs with larger education efforts to build a unified foundation for children, noting:
“To provide guidance and support for efforts at the local, state, and national levels, national nongovernmental organizations that offer resources and support for the care and education workforce should collaborate to provide and periodically update shared, coherent foundational guidance for care and education professionals working with children from birth through age 8. This collaborative effort should represent professional roles across settings and age ranges to improve the consistency and continuity of high-quality developmental support and learning experiences for children as they age.” (p. 545)
Academic and behavioral expectations
Working with the larger K-12 community allows child care centers to better prepare their students for the next step in their education. In many states, children are not school ready when they enter kindergarten. In fact, in Mississippi, kindergarten teachers report the lack of school readiness as their top challenge.
Positive networking can increase awareness of your school
Positive experiences for families in early child care centers and in K-12 educational programs can result in a buzz around the community for both. By communicating a dynamic partnership to the community as a whole, there are more opportunities for parents to hear about your school or child care center.
Children benefit from great foundational expectations
School and community partnerships can result in a seamless transition for students moving from a child care center to elementary school. Research confirms quality early child care set students up for a lifetime of academic success.
Parents benefit when educators are informed and working in tandem
When child care centers and schools work together, they are able to develop community programs that can help parents develop social networks and better understand the education system.
Question: How does your state stack up?
Check out the state-by-state map, at ceelo.org/state-map, developed by The Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes, to learn more about early learning guidelines for early child care, along with documents for teachers and families to better understand the standards.
If you’re looking for examples of ways child care centers and schools partner together, the Institute of Education Sciences has a wealth of resources!
4. Propel Your Growth Strategy
Build Your Team
Faculty quality and engagement is the leading predictor of student growth and school growth. Don’t compromise when it comes to building a talented team of gifted educators and then nurturing a culture in which they can thrive.
Talent is a discipline that starts at the top and must assure alignment with the mission, culture, strategies, and expectations—in that order. Build a team of talented, energized, engaged educators and you will grow.
Craft Your Story
Your brand narrative is critical as you seek to establish your child care center as a launching point for success for young students. Craft your story as an invitation to join together in the journey of raising each child. Cast the parent as the hero of the narrative rather than repeating a similar list of features that can be heard at other schools in the area. Train every employee in how to tell your story consistently and effectively.
Share Your Story
There’s no advantage for your child care center to be the best kept secret in town. Equip your faculty and families to be ambassadors for the school, telling a consistent and compelling story.
Use Your Data
You have a wealth of data in your student information system. Use your data to learn, improve, and grow.
Craft an Engaging Value Proposition
Distinguish your child care center with a plan that maximizes your unique organizational genius and delivers remarkable value.
There’s never been a more important time to establish a growth strategy.
Since 1985, the cost of child care has nearly doubled, even when adjusted for inflation. As a matter of fact, child care is the costliest annual expense for most families.
You have the privilege of partnering with families as they seek to raise children who can enjoy their childhood while also effectively preparing them for their educational future. Parents want gifted teachers who will genuinely love their child, friends who will be a positive influence and share their values, curriculum that includes social/emotional learning to help their child build healthy relationships with peers, and the opportunity for their child to learn through play.
Families are looking for a child care center that will help their children manage their behavior and emotions to be learners, deal with their emotions, and pay attention in an educational environment. These are ideals and values both child care centers and the larger K-12 education community can help bring to fruition through a strong growth strategy and partnership.
Adams, D., L. A. Bornfreund, J. E. Carinci, L. Connors-Tadros, L. Fraga, A. Guarino, W. Hao, B. Hudson, R. M. Kor, S. LeMoine, J. Lockwood-Shabat, J. Martella, D. S. Mathias, C. McLean, C. Polk, P.S. Rogers, T. Rucker, S. D. Russell, A. A. Samuel, C. Stevens, T. N. Talan, V. Washington, and V. Williams. (2017). A Unified Foundation to Support a Highly Qualified Early Childhood Workforce. NAM Perspectives. Discussion Paper, National Academy of Medicine, Washington, DC. doi: 10.31478/201706b
Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes. (n.d.). State-By-State. [online] Available at: http://ceelo.org/state-map/
Franks, E. (2019). A Leadership Shift. [online] NAESP. Available at: https://www.naesp.org/blog/leadership-shift
Harris, L. (2019). School readiness for children in the United States. [online] Uptodate.com. Available at: https://www.uptodate.com/contents/school-readiness-for-children-in-the-united-states
Nces.ed.gov. (n.d.). Fast Facts: Knowledge and skills at kindergarten. [online] Available at: https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=680
Nces.ed.gov. (2019) Preschool and Kindergarten Enrollment. [online] Available at: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cfa.asp
Riddell, R., Jacobson, L. and Campisi, J. (2019). 6 K-12 trends to watch in 2019. [online] Education Dive. Available at: https://www.educationdive.com/news/6-k-12-trends-to-watch-in-2019/543915/
Sonenshein, J. (2015). 8 facts about childcare that will make you think twice about whether you can afford to have children. [online] Business Insider.
Squires, J. (2015). SCHOOL-COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS FOR EARLY LEARNING SUCCESS. [online] Ceelo.org. Available at: http://ceelo.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/ceelo_presentations_squires_ms_ec_conf_school_community_partner_2015_07.pdf