Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, essential employees continue to get up and travel into work each day.
Many of those employees are parents tasked with finding childcare as schools continue to be closed.
Luckily, for many families in Frederick County, they have been able to turn to places like the Celebree School in Ballenger Creek, which has provided childcare for 12 hours a day for essential workers since late March.
After Gov. Larry Hogan announced the shutdown of all nonessential businesses, daycare and childcare centers throughout the state had a choice on whether to become an approved childcare site for essential workers or to simply close their doors while the state remains shut down.
Caroline Walker, director of the Celebree School in Ballenger Creek, said she and staff knew they wanted to help.
“We felt it was something that we should do, it’s kind of our job here in the community to be here for people when they need us,” Walker said.
Walker’s school is one of two Celebree School locations in Frederick and one of 26 throughout the state of Maryland, many of which became approved sites.
Under normal business operation, the Celebree School provides childcare and classroom instruction to children as young as six weeks all the way up to 12 years.
Walker said the age range of children they are serving at this time has stayed the same but due to restrictions from the state they cut their capacity in half.
The families they serve work in a variety of sectors from healthcare to government to food services and Walker said they are happy to help parents and give them a sense of ease during an otherwise uncertain time.
“These parents, they still have to go to work so they want to know that they have somewhere where their child is safe, their child is still being educated and loved,” Walker said. “And we are striving to do our best for that every day.”
Samantha Bullock’s daughter, Collins, is in Pre-K and has attended the Celebree School since she was 4 months old. They are one of the few families who were able to continue attending the school since Bullock’s husband is an essential employee.
“Had Celebree not said we’re going to be open for essential personnel I honestly don’t know, I probably wouldn’t be working and have my job right now because I would just be so dedicated to caring for my daughter,” Walker said.
Families of essential workers who need childcare from approved sites must fill out an application and provide documentation proving their employment status.
The service is free to families and participating centers are reimbursed by the state. Walker said at this point, only the first round of payments have come in from the state and that the process for reimbursement seems to be slow.
They are trying to be frugal, Walkers said, and prioritize needs over wants.
One area they are not compromising on is ensuring the cleanliness and health.
Parents must wear masks when dropping off and picking up their children, and when children arrive in their temperatures are checked either by Celebree staff or the child’s parent or guardian.
“As long as everyone is healthy, we take the children back and the parents’ kind of do a kiss and go in the lobby. They are not allowed in the back of the building,” Walker said.
For the rest of the day, the Celebree staff tries to create a normal and fun environment for the kids.
Pre-K classes proceed as normal and for the older kids, teachers try and help them get their school work done.
Even though Collins was out of school for about a month when everything began, returning to Celebree has helped her regain a sense of normalcy, Bullock said.
“Collins is so used to a routine and so are we so it was really important to us during this crisis to try and get back on some sort of a normal routine,” Bullock said. “[Celebree] were able to provide that and we could not be any more grateful.”
Walker said there is no indication from the state as to when the school can return to normal operation. Childcare is included in stage two of Hogan’s recovery plan but Walker said she is unsure what that means in terms of how the school can operate.
For now, though, Walker said they are glad to still be servicing families.
“We are just happy to be here and happy to be working,” she said.