'We are failing our young parents;' Community seeks way to resurrect TC High daycare – Traverse City Record Eagle

Cloudy. Low around 25F. Winds light and variable..
Cloudy. Low around 25F. Winds light and variable.
Updated: December 11, 2022 @ 6:32 pm
Kristin Marinoff helps a child decorate Christmas cookies from kits she put together at Traverse City High School.
Kristin Marinoff helps children and their parents decorate Christmas cookies at Traverse City High School.
Marjie Rich, executive director of Generations Ahead, shares a laugh with families decorating cookies at an event at Traverse City High School.

Kristin Marinoff helps a child decorate Christmas cookies from kits she put together at Traverse City High School.
Kristin Marinoff helps children and their parents decorate Christmas cookies at Traverse City High School.
Marjie Rich, executive director of Generations Ahead, shares a laugh with families decorating cookies at an event at Traverse City High School.
TRAVERSE CITY — When Miaya Running gave birth to her son Xaedian as a freshman at Traverse City High School, there was only one place she could turn to for his care while she was in class: the daycare at her school.
It was a vital resource that enabled her to get her diploma and bond with her son.
Running ate lunch with her son during the day, and she didn’t need to make any extra stops in the morning or afternoon. Plus, she was able to bond with the lead teacher, which gave her confidence in the care her son was receiving and helped her focus on being a student.
“It was a really special thing to graduate, and I don’t think I could have done it without the daycare,” Running said.
When the pandemic started in March 2020, Traverse City Area Public Schools pushed classes online and, as a result, closed the daycare at TC High.
Running remembers finishing the last three months of high school online with her son at home before graduating in June 2020. At that time, she struggled more with school than she had ever done in person.
It felt like there was never enough time to do her schoolwork and look after Xaedian, she said.
When students returned to in-person classes and the need for the TC High daycare resurfaced, TCAPS was unable to reopen it because of staffing shortages across all of its early child care offerings, said Christine Thomas-Hill, associate superintendent of finance and operations at TCAPS.
The region’s largest school district has been unable to reopen full extended day programming at three other schools — TCAPS Montessori, Long Lake Elementary School and Silver Lake Elementary School, in addition to TC High.
“The fact of the matter is, we’d be running it if we had the staff,” Thomas-Hill said. “We don’t have the staff … It’s not likely that that’s going to change anytime quickly.”
But the daycare at TC High was an important resource for teen parents like Running, and many came from all over the region to attend the school and use its daycare before the pandemic.
Without it, many teen parents in the region have had to pay for childcare; take classes online while looking after their children; or drop out of school completely, said Marjie Rich, executive director of Generations Ahead.
Generations Ahead is a local nonprofit organization that supports teen parents in the region and helps them access resources. Rich is adamant that TC High’s daycare needs to be reopened as soon as possible, and she is working with other organizations in the region to get it back.
Primarily, Rich is working alongside the The Great Start Collaborative of Traverse Bay’s Child Caring Now Initiative. The collaborative is working on a number of initiatives to increase the number of providers and teachers in the area and remove barriers for families to access quality child care, including the development of a request for proposal (RFP) that could be used to bring in a new provider to TC High’s daycare space.
Mary Manner, the coordinator for The Great Start Collaborative, is leading a group to create an RFP template that could be used by any organization seeking to bring in a child care provider for their employees or members of their community. It would be customizable for local organizations to adopt and insert their needs and values.
Manner and Rich had some preliminary conversations with TCAPS about giving the space a new life, and how the RFP for the TC High daycare would be managed has not yet been determined.
Respondents to the RFP would have to come up with a business plan for a daycare center in the current space at the high school.
The space is no longer licensed, but it’s all set to go to be licensed, plus there’s still equipment and supplies in the room that could be used for a new provider, Thomas-Hill said.
“If somebody can run programs for our teen parents at no cost to them, we’d be willing to let somebody use that space,” Thomas-Hill said.
The development of the RFP template is in its infant stages, but the plan is for it to be complete by March, Manner said.
As for the space at TC High, that could be primarily for teen parents at the school, but also for local parents, including those who could pay tuition, to address the wider need for child care in the region and make it more cost-effective.
“We have a critical need to serve student parents, but we have a larger need in our community,” Manner said. “There could be value added if the facility were large enough that we could also accept families paying tuition or families in a publicly funded program.”
The goal is for a provider to respond to the RFP and reopen the daycare by the start of next school year, Manner said.
But the need for the daycare to return is more urgent than that, and the sooner someone could open it back up, the better, Rich said.
Not only was the daycare at TC High free, it also gave teen parents attending the school the opportunity to learn from trained childcare professionals and be close to their children throughout the school day.
For parents of younger babies, that meant being able to breastfeed or bond with their infants.
With the daycare at TC High gone, those immediate benefits for the parents and the babies vanished.
But longer-term consequences linger as well: The daycare at TC High gave teen parents a secure avenue to continue their education, but without it, some have had to drop out, which has long-term socioeconomic impacts on them and their children, Rich said.
“We are failing our young parents right now and, ultimately, their children by not providing this,” Rich said. “It’s unacceptable.”
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