OGDEN — A local private school is repurposing its facilities to provide child care for essential workers, and it's aiming to join a state program that provides free child care to essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like restaurants and some other businesses in Northern Utah, Anchored Roots Montessori school, a private early childhood and elementary school in Ogden, has encountered economic hardship as a result of its closure.
The school normally serves 83 students ranging in age from 2 months to 12 years old, said Emily Squadroni, the school's co-owner and director of administration. When public schools closed, the school elected to close also, giving families three options — virtual schooling, in-home care, or emergency care for essential workers.
Families of half the students, who are younger than school age, wanted to take a break, and didn't want to be part of the virtual learning — which can be tricky to do with the Montessori method of teaching and learning, since it's a hands-on approach. The elementary age students are all participating in the virtual schooling.
"We went form 83 students at the school to 3," Squadroni said. "... It hit us hard."
The families who have stayed in virtual learning also attend for shorter periods of time each day, she said.
The school's lead teachers are instructing in the virtual schooling, but all of the school's teaching assistants have been furloughed, she said.
As a result of these difficult times, and because the school could see a need to provide child care for essential workers, they've applied — and been approved — to be an emergency child care facility through the state. The designation came with the help of a global network of Montessori schools, Guidepost Montessori, which has a project manager, Kacee Weaver, who is local to the Ogden area.
Guidepost Montessori has been opening emergency care facilities across the country, Weaver said.
"We saw all of these schools shutting down, these child care centers shutting down, and yet so many of our essential workers ... have children, and we need them," Weaver said. "And so, child care really has become, I think, as the nation is understanding ... essential for our nation, and so providing that support for our central workers just made sense."
"We're kind of in the service of education," Squadroni said, "so our goal is to help children, help families and be there for them. ... We have to help whoever we can."
An application is available on Anchored Roots' website. A family that registers children Monday would able to bring them Wednesday, after staffing is arranged, Squadroni said.
The school's care, like most child care and private schools, has a cost, though the school can work with families to make special arrangements, Squadroni said. Child care rates at the school will be assessed weekly, according to a table shared by Squadroni, and parents can enroll children for three to five full or half days a week. Five full days range in cost from $207.50 a week for 3- to 12-year-olds, to $276.50 a week for infants ages 2 to 18 months.
However, the school is in the process of applying to be a care facility through One Utah Child Care, a program launched earlier this week by the state to help essential workers — primarily healthcare workers and first responders — during the COVID-19 pandemic. Essential workers who apply and are eligible can get child care for free, and information for parents is available at jobs.utah.gov on the site's COVID-19 webpage.
This care will be available from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, according to a statement by Tracy Gruber, director of the Utah Office of Child Care, at a press conference with Gov. Gary Herbert on Monday.
The program will also maintain a list of in-home providers with completed background checks and training, who can help parents that work night shifts or weekend hours, she said.
Parents who were already paying for child care for younger children aren't eligible for this free care, said Simon Bolivar, child care licensing administrator at the Utah Department of Health.
The program is designed for parents who have suddenly had to find care for children as a result of school closures, he said. Children in partial care prior to school closures can still be eligible, he said, if parents qualify.
These emergency child care facilities are still subject to background checks and other requirements for any child care facility. These include the new, additional requirements to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as a limit of 10 individuals in each room, including adults, Bolivar said.
Eligible workers could register for the program starting Monday, March 30. Ten such programs had been approved at that time, Gruber said, with plans for the first programs to open Wednesday, April 1.
Since then, that number has grown to about 30 approved facilities across the state, according to Bolivar. There are also applications in process that the state is working to quickly approve.
"We're working really hard to make sure that they're all ready, up and running by Monday," Bolivar said.
By then, the Department of Workforce Services aims to have a complete list and searchable map of these facilities on its website, Bolivar said.
Other essential workers who don't qualify for One Utah Child Care can visit another resource, careaboutchild care.utah.gov, for assistance.