Imagine this. At Elizabeth Peabody House, an early childhood education center in Somerville, the summer heat leaks through an old roof, turning up the temperature and making education an exercise in heat control. The cost of repair is high, and the money’s got to come from somewhere.
At Nurtury in Cambridge, a teacher needs an important loan to help support the young children she’s teaching, and her colleagues don’t have easily accessible lesson plan support.
Other childcare leaders face a wholly separate problem: an education background doesn’t always give great advice on how to actually run a business, and the whole program suffers for it.
Elizabeth Peabody House and Nurtury aren’t unique cases, either. Caregivers around Greater Boston make it work because they have to, pushing available time and resources to the limit so the kids they’re teaching get the best possible education and care.
Shared Services Offers Solutions
There’s a better way. It’s called Shared Services, and it’s all about solving these kinds of problems. Through Shared Services, Elizabeth Peabody House was able to secure a new, affordable, and expertly installed roof for the historical building where they operate, and the program offered solutions for the issues Nurtury faced.
Put simply, Shared Services allows early education and care programs to pool and share their resources so they can better care for the children in their charge, and do it while reducing the costs of doing business: money, time, and stress.
Shared Services members all have access to each other’s knowledge bases in addition to a huge number of other resources that allow them to better serve their kids. More importantly, they can come together as a group to tackle important problems, acting as a larger unit to accomplish goals they might never have reached alone. All the while they’ve got a solid support structure for whatever problems arise.
Members can also take advantage of resources like discounted insurance, utilities, and maintenance, as well as discounts on college courses for their teachers, and school supplies vital to improving the ability to teach.
In other words, Shared Services provides an oasis of support in an industry that sometimes seems like a desert of endless troubles.
Case in point: a Massachusetts summer camp discovered shortly before their program was scheduled to start that they needed a type of commercial insurance they’d never had before. Typically, applying for and securing this type of insurance can take up to 60 days. Families were counting on this program for their children, and some for themselves, so they could still get to work. As members of Shared Services, the camp had access to an insurance broker who reduces his commission for programs like theirs and is willing and able to drop everything to get people the materials they need. He helped push it through in a single day so the program could open on time and the director could keep her focus on the children and families.
Cellissa Hoyt, Director of the State Early Learning Alliance of New Hampshire, explains. “This is just one example of the value of these resources and support for some of the back office work that’s required for early childhood education programs. So often directors are also working directly and primarily with the children, making it extremely difficult for them to fit in time to coordinate a new business requirement. They need support and access to resources so they can continue to do their important work with children and families.”
For Colleen O’Hara, Parent Engagement Director and the team at Nurtury, access to the Shared Services website has been a tremendous boon. “The site is simple to navigate even for the non-tech savvy, and it’s great to have easy access to all the things we might need. If we need curated lesson plans, financial and administrative support resources, or day-to-day classroom materials, they’re all readily available. Plus, working with Melinda Weber at United Way has been a huge pleasure, and she and her team have added a ton of value to the service.”
The Power of Progress
For Melinda, Program Director for Shared Services of Massachusetts, one of the most rewarding parts of Shared Services is coaching and educating early childhood professionals about how to access thousands of valuable resources. “This sharing of resources is fairly unique in early childhood education, and once educators trust in the program and its operators, administrators are likely to embrace the concept. Those that have adopted the program have given an overwhelming amount of positive feedback.”
As the program evolves, the potential benefits continue to grow. Melinda is adamant that Shared Services will have a strong impact on the industry. “We need to get creative in the early childhood education space. Margins, of both money and time, are razor thin. Substitute teachers are in incredible demand, and as a result, program quality can suffer. Shared Services offers important support allowing educators to quickly access and share resources. It also connects program leaders with colleagues so they can pool ideas and provides opportunities for collaboration. The goal is for center and family child care leaders to save time and money using the Shared Services tools, streamlining their efforts so they can better focus their attention on improving the experience for children. ”
One of the greatest benefits the program delivers is a sense of community among child care providers, something Kretcha M. Roldán, Executive Director of Elizabeth Peabody House, knows is invaluable. “When a childcare center encounters a new or persistent problem, they’re not alone anymore. They can reach out and say, ‘I’ve got this issue, how do I deal with it?’ and another member will say, ‘Oh, you should talk to this person.’ It’s a huge weight off our shoulders to have that network to draw on. Sometimes all I have to do is pick up the phone and ask my peers if they have a solution to my issue.”
This fall, Shared Services will enter its second year of operation in Massachusetts. We’re hoping to engage even more early childhood care centers and educators in 2019. We want to offer even more support and resources and build an even stronger community. We know teachers can benefit from the program, and when teachers win, kids win, too.