According to the 2019 Oklahoma Department of Human Services annual report, the number of licensed daycare centers continues to decline in Oklahoma, as well as nationally. OKDHS reports more than 500 daycare homes and centers have closed across the state in the last five years.
Two Edmond daycares working to fill this void for working parents are Strong Foundation Academy, which moved from an in-home daycare to a commercial space on E. Ayers last summer and is owned by former teacher Caroline Jarvis, and Primrose of East Edmond, set to open early September on E. 2nd Street, co-owned by Sarah Albahadily.
The essentialness of daycares was proven ten-fold this spring when COVID-19 hit. Not that they weren’t essential before, but perhaps parents became complacent by their availability. In March, when the pandemic was declared and virus cases started hitting the Edmond area, families tended to fall into two camps: those with non-essential jobs who transitioned to working at home, many with their children as their new co-workers; and those with essential jobs who needed childcare in order to continue providing needed services for the community during a time of crisis.
The Oklahoma Department of Human Services, which oversees licensing for all daycares and childcare centers in the state, issued a statement on March 18 encouraging centers to remain open if at all possible, as they support the children of essential workers, first responders, and health care workers working to provide support in fighting the virus.
“Things changed day by day,” said Albahadily, who currently co-owns the Primrose School of Northwest Oklahoma City in addition to the East Edmond location. “There are no right answers, and you have to take information as it comes and constantly re-evaluate. The health and safety of our kids, staff, and families are most important, regardless of COVID-19. We had to be even more transparent with our policies and figure it out together. Our families have been incredibly supportive of our staff and our decisions.”
Most daycares fall into two camps: corporate — some locally owned, others not — and locally owned small businesses. While both were impacted financially as they lost revenue due to children not attending, they were impacted in different ways.
Primrose of East Edmond, which is currently under construction and will provide care for up to 200 children, was slated to open in early summer. When the pandemic hit, their construction was delayed and took longer to complete, resulting in delayed start dates. Some families with Strong Foundation Academy made the decision to keep their kids home temporarily as information about the spread of the virus was still being researched. A few families pulled out of the childcare center permanently as remote work has become more permanent for many parents.
Neither center has had children with positive cases of COVID-19.
It doesn’t take an expert to know this, but you can’t really tell a toddler to social distance. Both daycares significantly adjusted or increased sanitization, drop-off procedures for both caregivers and children, and keeping children in an environment that felt as routine and normal as possible to hopefully decrease any anxiety they might feel. This increased attention to limiting the spread of the virus means more hours spent cleaning before and after daily operation. Both centers rely on OKDHS to supply them with guidelines, and Primrose School’s parent company also provides recommendations for their entire operation across over 20 states.
“We never closed a single day or had to lay off any of our employees, fortunately,” said Jarvis. “I would love for it to go back to not taking temperatures at the door or sanitizing every day, but I don’t see that changing anytime soon. This is likely the new normal for our industry. My goal has always been to provide the same care for these children that I would give my own kids, and that will not change no matter the phases of the virus. We will continue to be a place where children will feel comfortable playing and learning.”
Both daycares currently have openings for children. Caregivers can contact Primrose of East Edmond at 306-9559, which has openings for 3- and 4-year-olds. Strong Foundation Academy can be contacted at 420-1241, which has openings for ages 2 and up.
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About Susan Hoover
By day, Susan Hoover is a bridgebuilder for students at Oklahoma Christian University, her alma mater, overseeing the Calling and Career Office: Day Six. In this role, Susan walks alongside prospective students, current students and alumni to help them discover their gifts, launch a career, and give them the tools to turn that dream into a reality. By night, she wrangles a toddler, watches too much tv, and tackles the occasional DIY project.
Previously, Susan worked in communications for a statewide nonprofit, a PR agency with cross-country clientele, and a Level I trauma hospital. After spending some time in the Dallas area, Susan and her native Edmondite husband, Taylor, returned to Edmond with their daughter, Avery. Though a native Kansan, Edmond has always felt like home.