MiniBury: Tell me about yourself.
Jennifer: When I was a kid, my mom would play her favorite music while she worked around the house. Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All” resonated with me. It wasn’t until years later, and lots of self discovery that I realized why: As a child with a baby brother and a strong-willed twin sister, I often did not feel heard and seen. I wanted to make sure children didn’t have to feel that way.
I’ve been working with young children for many years in a variety of settings — as a summer camp counselor, a nanny, in an afterschool program. After I got my BA in psychology and human services, I continued to work with children in a preschool, parent/child center, and finally at Otter Creek Child Center here in Middlebury. I did a lot of learning and growing in my decade at OCCC.
Eventually, I found that I was spending a lot of time on paperwork and training students, staff meetings and reports. I needed to be able to focus on the kids again, so I switched to family childcare about eight years ago. And in the last few years I have become a mentor, leader and instructor for our early childhood network.
MiniBury: Before the pandemic, how many kids were in your care? Are they all at home with their parents now?
Jennifer: Prior to the pandemic, I typically had 5 children each day, 6 occasionally. These days, I have one child 3 days a week consistently. I have one family with 2 children that have come a day here and there only as needed. The rest are all at home with their families.
MiniBury: What is it like?
Jennifer: I had a few days off in the beginning, which I must confess, I enjoyed. I had not realized just how stressed I had been feeling with each sniffle, cough, and each turn of the doorknob. I gave myself some time to rest, physically, but mostly mentally. I also spent the beginning working on a letter of advocacy with the Addison County Early Childhood Education Community and some other community members which I found incredibly comforting and empowering.
MiniBury: What are you doing to stay connected to your children/families during the shutdown?
Jennifer: I have checked in with families individually via text, helped out a single parent a couple times go to appointments without her child. I also have been recording myself reading stories for the kids. I have actually gotten permission from some authors and share the stories publicly, along with my own published stories.
MiniBury: How are you being paid?
Jennifer: At this time, my families are paying 50 percent tuition and the state of VT is reimbursing the other 50 percent. I also receive an incentive payment for providing care for children of essential personnel. Vermont has been extremely supportive — they know how important it is to our communities and economy to have high quality affordable childcare available now and when this is over.
MiniBury: What have been the biggest challenges for you so far as an educator/care-provider during this uncertain time?
Jennifer: Honestly…staying focused on work…I wish I could just think of this as vacation and just go kayaking or hiking or plant my garden…because mentally, that’s what I need. I have been a little relaxed with just one kid here (we may perhaps watch an old episode of Mr Rogers Neighborhood occasionally.)
MiniBury: Any unexpected bright spots in all this?
Jennifer: Thankfully so many!! Here a list!
*I was tasked by Katherine Torres, Su White, Donna Bailey, Cheryl Mitchell to help write a beautiful letter of advocacy in late March.
*The virtual training organized by Lisa Guerrero has been wonderful! It’s a three day virtual conference to support us (early childhood educators) right now.
* DCF’s Child Development Division deputy commissioner Steven Berbeco and I spoke about how best to support family child care providers, and I also had a lengthy conversation with Lorraine Vernet of Let’s Grow Kids about how to support providers as well. (Even better…they heard me and I’ve seen the result.)
*WowToyz is coordinating with me to provide free toys to all children of enrolled home providers while the kids are at home in the hopes of reducing parent stress (how cool is that?!).
*Yale is offering an online class for free: “The Science of Well-being” and I’m taking it since I have a more relaxed schedule. I view it as practice for when I begin my masters program The Policies and Practices of Nurturing Care!