The Early Learning Academy at YWCA of Greater Atlanta
Like nearly everyone in our Atlanta community, YWCA of Greater Atlanta closed its doors last March when we were made aware that we were in a global pandemic. As an agency that has been in Atlanta since 1902, serving women and children through various programs, we were stunned and unsure of how we could continue to deliver services that were all face-to-face. How could we provide for our clients’ needs in the areas of education and empowerment, health and safety and advocacy and social justice?
As we lived through last year, taking inventory of all that transpired, we realized that we were not faced with just one pandemic, but two. As an organization that is on a mission to “eliminate racism, empower women and promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all” we knew we had much more to overcome than just the COVID-19 Pandemic. Together with YWCA USA, we took a deeper dive into the pandemics. Ultimately, we came to realize that we are living through our nation’s first female-driven recession, and it is of pandemic proportions. Fueled by disappearing service-sector jobs and a lack of childcare options, the COVID-19 public health and economic crises triggered a nationwide “shecession,” a word coined by YWCA USA.
When women joined the workforce during World War II, the need for childcare was apparent. Working moms became the backbone of the economy. The nation developed comprehensive and affordable childcare solutions to meet the needs. Unfortunately, we did not keep pace. Women of color lift the heaviest burden of the nation’s systemic failures and inequities. There is much opportunity for us as we journey back from this period of our lives.
We know that women need well-paying, stable jobs and comprehensive childcare solutions to achieve economic security. Women can no longer continue to carry the burden of the workforce support crisis.
Like everyone else, we took a day—maybe two—to catch our breath, determine where we were and what it would take to move forward. We looked hard at the ways we were delivering services and asked the question: how can we continue to deliver and what would that look like? How can we pivot? What will this new normal look like?
While our doors were closed, we found innovative ways to continue to connect with the children of our Early Learning Academy. Our teachers creatively met with the children for anywhere from 15-30 minutes a day using smartphones and computers. Some loaded up stories they could read to the youngest children using YouTube, keeping the littles ones familiar with their voices. Others took their smartphones outside and walked around in their gardens to help the children experience Earth Day and share other activities. Our childcare providers wanted to stay connected to the children so the children would remember them—and this was an opportunity to give moms a short break during the day, even virtually. We found ways to continue to serve.
Our doors remained shut for nearly four months, and just after the 4th of July holiday, we found our own independence and with a carefully crafted plan in place, we opened-up our facility on North Highland. We provided much needed daycare and child development services to our children and their parents who desperately needed to get back to work. Some of our parents were first responders in the healthcare field, others needed our help so they could go back to work or work effectively from home. Our children, ages 0-5 needed us, and we wanted to be there to support our mothers and families by providing Quality-Rated childcare.
When we learned that most elementary schools were going to be virtual classrooms for the first semester, we offered virtual learning in our facility as an addition to our usual childcare and Pre-K classes to a limited number of elementary-aged students.
We set up new protocols to keep our staff and students safe that we follow strictly every day. We temperature check everyone who comes into the building and ask series of questions provided by the CDC. Parents drop off their children outside of the building. We practice the three W’s—Wear a Mask, Wash your hands, and Watch your distance. Internal meetings are mostly virtual. Classroom sizes are smaller.
We knew it was important to get our doors open so we could resume in-person learning as soon as possible. Experts agree that early childhood care and education is much more than preparing children for primary school. It aids in the development of a child’s social, emotional, cognitive and physical needs that together build a solid foundation for lifelong learning and total wellbeing of that child. Early Learning is our commitment to the future of our community, state, nation and the world—one child at a time. We are committed to helping every child who comes through our doors to see the world through the lens of our mission, building a better, more inclusive and equitable world.
The Early Learning Academy at YWCA of Greater Atlanta is just one of four programs that we provide. We look forward to sharing more with you in this column over the course of this year.
Sharmen May Gowens
CEO/YWCA of Greater Atlanta