The school year is at an end, and many educators and leaders are reflecting and planning for the future. Today’s episode is about both.

Today, Marnetta is joined in conversation with Today's guests are Kristy Umfleet, early care and education specialist at Randolph Kids, and Katherine Davis, childcare director of the Growing Place, and Amy Cubbage, president of the North Carolina Partnership of Children and lead of Smart Start North Carolina.  Today's discussion focuses on how children, families, and educators in North Carolina have been impacted since the pandemic and how these leaders are planning ahead for the new school year.



Full Transcript

Marnetta: Hello and welcome to Impacting the Classroom. The podcast that talks about big topics that have an even bigger impact in early education. I'm your host, Marnetta Larrimer. Today I'm joined by, first of all, a familiar face, Ms. Amy Cubbage. President of the North Carolina Partnership of Children and also the lead for Smart Start North Carolina. How are you doing, Ms. Amy?

Amy: I am doing well, Marnetta. It's wonderful to see you again. You are a terrific, wonderful former colleague from Teachstone days. It's great to be here. Thank you.

Marnetta: I appreciate you making time. Yes, it's great seeing your face again too. We're also joined by two other amazing people. We have Kristy Umfleet, early care and education specialist at Randolph Kids, and Katherine Davis, childcare director of the Growing Place. Welcome ladies.

Kristy: Thank you.

Katherine: Thanks for having us.

Marnetta: Thanks for making the time because I know how your life is. Things are going and going so I hope that we don't have any major things happen while we're spending our time here together. Welcome everyone and thank you again for making time.

I think my first question is going to be this. In a previous episode, we heard from researchers who shared what they have learned about babies and how they're talking less than pre-pandemic babies. I'm curious what trends have you seen across North Carolina in young children's learning and experiences throughout the last couple of years.

Amy: I think that Marnetta, you will hear very specific examples and stories from Kristy and Katherine, but I will start by saying a resounding yes is what we're hearing from the field. I don't have the data and statistics right here to share with you. The research and data collection on that is on-going and needs to be.

We are hearing from the field, providers, and from families concerns about this. Healthcare providers, and pediatricians who are sounding the alarm not only with language loss, but literacy also. A lot of these children have been isolated far more than in pre-pandemic times. Families have been doing the best that they can, trying to stay connected to grandparents and the other supports in their communities.

Childcare centers remain open in most places doing a phenomenal job of being the backbone behind the essential workers—the essential workforce behind the essential workers. I think the change in children's development is going to be profound and we're going to continue to see it.

I also know and believe so strongly in the resiliency of our young children—that we are also going to see new ways of being that young children are adapting, that they will continue to adapt, and those who care and educate them are also incredibly resilient and adapting to meet the changing developmental needs.

Marnetta: Thank you for that. I think that's a very succinct statement, very concerning also, kind of scary. If we look at moving forward and how we support those children because we know all the things you mentioned are important foundational pillars for their success later in life. Before I go on, because I can talk, Katherine, Kristy, do you guys like to sound off and tell us what you can see?

Katherine: I can say that we really notice a setback just with unfortunately the mask and not having parents come down the hall not having that communication. I can definitely see some of the children that have missed out on that. I'm so grateful that we were able to stay open and be here for those families through the whole pandemic and I think that was important to our families.

It was sad that we did lose some and we were not able to help those families here at that time because they had to leave childcare, but we were grateful to have the opportunity to be open during that time. We did notice and have seen that setback and we really hope moving forward that we can reach those children again and get them caught up to where they need to be.

You have never felt that impact within [...] and we're seeing it. I know my teachers are working hard and now that the families are back in my center and that communication is there, we're seeing a lot of things change already but I'm only looking at my point of view for my center. I know Kristy can see a whole lot more from all the other sites that she sees at one time. But just on our site, we have seen this effect.

Kristy: I like to echo how grateful we are for our programs across Randolph County specifically for being able to stay open and really pushing through so many of the challenges. Many challenges were already there pre-pandemic and then more challenges came along and just escalated the crisis in early care and education.

Our early educators fought so hard and showed up every day for those families that needed them to be open in our community. Just a huge thanks and recognition to our programs for pushing through. I worked with Katherine, her programs, and her classrooms a lot. I also work with programs across the entire county.

I would say one of the biggest challenges that we're seeing are social and emotional needs and just some challenging behaviors that are coming out from the experiences that the children had during the pandemic. Families experienced a lot of loss whether it was the loss of loved ones or loss of career jobs and income. Our children experienced a lot in their early lives that no child should have to experience.

We are seeing some of the effects of that. Some of the behavioral effects and social and emotional needs that are coming to the forefront now. When I go into classrooms, a lot of that is social-emotional strategies that we are teaching the children, but also social-emotional strategies for the teachers to make sure that they are continuing to care for themselves so that they can give everything that they can to the children.

Marnetta: Yeah. The teachers are experiencing the same losses whether families, what's happening to their children, and still having to show up at work because that's what they are. They have those servant's hearts and care. That's why we do what we do just outside of ourselves consistently.

I appreciate you supporting them, joining up for them, and recognizing that they too are struggling and have these challenges while handling these challenges and struggle for the littles in the family in their lives.

As you guys have seen these changes with the children and their way of being in your facilities and across facilities across the state, has it impacted any group larger? Whether it be our English language learners or our students who may have experienced homelessness. Is there a greater rise in that?

Kristy: I would say in my experience, it probably has increased. We know that it has really highlighted a lot of disparities that were already in place. I do believe that there has been an increase in a lot of those areas that you just mentioned. I do think that with some of the money that has come from some of the COVID relief programs, there's a lot of work in those areas to really help with food, security, and some of those impacts.

One thing that I'm seeing in the programs with the children is an increase in children with special needs or an increase in children who need referrals for delays in different areas. For our child development services agency that provides services to children ages 0-3, as well as the exceptional children department, which provides services for 3 and up, they have just been flooded with referrals for children to go through and get evaluations so that they can receive the services that they need.

That includes developmental delays, it also includes those social-emotional needs as well, and then some of those speech needs that we're seeing with children who don't have that same language at a young age that we did see prior to the pandemic.

Katherine: I can say that we are seeing an increase there and there have been a lot of children. I've had more social and speech therapists in seminars than I have had, and I've been here for 25 years, this and the past years. It's like, wow. Seeing the impact on foster children, children having to go to foster care.

I've seen those families enroll in my center that have not in years so you can definitely see the impact and know that every time we have a child enrolls at ends services, we're like, how can we help? We're ready to step up to know what we can do to move forward and help those families.

Amy: I'm just going to add to Katherine and Kristy's great comments that we were fortunate in North Carolina to have already started with a Think Babies North Carolina Alliance that really hones in the [...] population. I would say I look cross and hear from providers that age range is not unusual when a crisis hits, it impacts infants and toddlers in a way that is so much more. Whether it's the parenting of an infant or toddler that takes so much, we know it takes a lot for the 3-4, but it takes a lot during those years.

When you don't have that network of support that you're used to having, it is a tremendous strain. We were already advocating for babies in the state and I think that's been helpful. We also have an awards program that is the wages, the compensation bonus. In many communities, infant and toddler teachers are getting some sort of a bonus to supplement the wages that are, as you know, perennially low—under-compensated. The benefits aren't there, et cetera.

We continue to advocate and tomorrow we have a wonderful strolling funded advocacy for them to promote the needs and advocate for those providers who are caring for the infants and toddlers.

Marnetta: I love that you guys handle that proactively because it is a huge area of development that has been impacted. If you're in the classroom and they're lucky enough to be in classrooms, in the classrooms teachers [...] and can't really interact with you in the way they would normally interact with you.

Of course, their social-emotional development will be a little bit stunted. Babies read faces to understand the world. I could only imagine the challenges, but I appreciate your proactiveness, and just like hey, let's put some things in place before it's bigger. It's already a problem, but it'll be bigger if we don't act now.

Amy: Marnetta, I don't want to also have us go through this wonderful conversation without highlighting that Randolph County is one of the leaders in North Carolina. From my perspective, nationally, in other learning and natural learning environments. That has been a wonderful benefit to the families and young children, but to the early childhood field in North Carolina.

Already programs are saying we know children and teachers benefit from outdoor learning, a natural learning environment, and physical activity is critically important. Then the pandemic hits and you know that's very important. Much more so the awareness of the benefits of outdoor learning. Randolph has been a leader in that with Kristy and Katherine. I'm sure that your program too is one of the ones that are involved so I want to highlight that.

Toddler OLE The Kids of Hope
Toddler Outdoor Learning Space at The Kids of Hope


I do have a few chips upon my shoulders from early childhood. Anyone who knows me knows that. I know our K-12 folks have their challenges, et cetera. In early childhood, we have been ahead of the curve on outdoor learning. We really have known that and North Carolina has been a pioneer, Randolph in particular.

Marnetta: That was a big shot out and I love that proponent of learning that has been added. You got a beautiful county out there, beautiful weather. I want to be outside. I don't know about you here in Louisiana though. Louisiana, I don't know how that works out here.

Kristy: Katherine site’s, specifically, is a demonstration site for shaping and seeing a lot of work that has been done over about 15 years, maybe even a little more, Katherine. Every single site, every single program in the county of Randolph has been touched only on the outdoor environment in some kind of way through those supports, through shaping [...], and other grants, outdoor initiatives.


Preschool and School Age Space at The Growing Place Child Care Center


Amy, you're right. This is something we knew before the pandemic. It was so critical for children to be outside. We know how therapeutic it is to be one with nature, to get the fresh air, and interact with green things—soil, experience how things grow, and how amazing all of that is. Then the pandemic hit and it was really nice that our centers had the opportunities to take kids outside even more.

I think they are trying to protect their health. We know that being outside was a lot safer than being closed indoors together. That was a great opportunity for our program to take the children out even more.

Going back to some of the impacts that COVID has had on both our teachers, our children, and our families—increase in mental health needs. We're seeing that increasing still, all the time, and the resources for getting adult and children's mental health needs met are very limited.

We have worked really hard to try to tap into all of the resources locally, but one of the things they have right there on-site is that amazing outdoor learning environment that we know helps so much with everyone's mental health. It's great that they can get those kids out there, they can get those teachers out there, get some therapy, and nature to help with that too.

Marnetta: While keeping everybody safe, I love that. Outside, fresh air, and the sun does a lot of things for you so it is very important. We've talked a lot about funding and money. Back in March, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona called for state school leaders to support children who are experiencing learning loss caused by COVID to use the American Rescue Plan Funds to implement summer programs. How are you thinking about learning loss in your program and what kind of plants are you implementing?

Katherine: We've been able to have a little round table and talk about that. We haven't had any definite plans moving forward, but being able to use some of that money for how to implement that in the classroom and help move forward some curriculum and some, hopefully, training. I know that they cost, but if we can get some training for those teachers that will make a difference.

We are getting their inputs and what their needs are so we can put our money where we know it will be beneficial to the teachers and the topics that they want to address in those classrooms. Those are some of our goals—just funding those resources and using that money that way.

Marnetta: That's a good use of funding. I also appreciate that you are meeting the teachers where they are. You're saying hey, how can we best support you? Let's follow that route because it will be arrogant for us to know exactly what they need, where they're struggling, and where their challenges are. I appreciate the approach that you have. Hey, where are you? How can we support you? What do you need to build on or more information about? Let's give you those things.

Katherine: Thank you.

Kristy: As far as summer learning programs, I know that the NC Pre-K Program here in North Carolina, as well as Head Start, have implemented some summer learning programs that were not previously in place. That was intentional because we felt that during the hottest part of the pandemic when children were trying to learn virtually, we knew that just wasn't really happening as we wanted it to.

They were really intentional about putting some summer learning programs in place and we got really good input and feedback from those programs. I don't know that they'll continue to do that now that children are back in school when we haven't had as much closings and children being sent home and quarantined, that kind of thing.

I think that, as Katherine said, what we're really trying to focus on is what do the teachers need in order to maintain and continue to show up every day and give their best and give their all? What do our children need that we can be really specific to those individual needs rather than just a mass summer learning program, that we're really looking at those individual needs and trying to get those services in place and getting those supports in place?

Marnetta: What are some of the examples? Amy, I want to hear from you, too but I want to catch this while it's hot. What are some of the examples of the things that were provided over your summer learnings? For people who need an idea of where to start or some of the things that can happen, what were some of the things that you guys did?

Kristy: Typically those programs are out over the summer. They extended those summer hours and opened up those programs to allow children and families to continue to benefit from those programs. Those programs in particular are geared toward low-income families and children who are more at risk. It was really critical that those who missed those in-person opportunities for so long, really were able to kind of catch up and get some of those in-person opportunities.

I know there's a huge need or push for preparing children for kindergarten. What we know is that we're not only preparing children for kindergarten, but we're preparing them for life. It's more than just getting them ready for that kindergarten year. It's really continuing to provide that critical foundation that they need, that they'll carry those skills through their entire lives.

Being in person for young children is so important. They did not learn well, virtually. That's not how young children learn, they need those hands-on opportunities. They need those relationships. They learn through relationships.

That's something you're not going to get through a screen. Money was extended through those programs to make sure those children can be in person over the summer and just extend those programs longer than what they typically offer. Then there was money extended for additional materials and things that children and families might need that they might not have in the home that would help continue those learning opportunities in the home.

Providing books, paper, crayons, and just different materials that children have access to when they're in the classroom that they might not have access to if they're at home. Since they were home for long periods, we wanted to make sure that there were learning opportunities available for those children even in the home.

Marnetta: That's wonderful. Screen time went out the window with COVID. I've noticed as I've started talking more with people in systems that they're trying to shift the classroom from virtual. We still live in this virtual setting and we are still relying so much on technology, that it's still the focus of what's happening in the classroom. People we're trying to do this to get back to how we use it each, have less technology, and more of those interactions that we know matter.

Have you guys noticed that shift for you as well? Has that been a struggle to get teachers to shift their practices from that virtual mindset because they were in it for two years, and back to what it was before in face-to-face, in-person, same-room teaching?

Katherine: For us in the preschool classroom, it has not been a challenge. I can imagine the school teachers and what they've had to go through, but we were able to actually keep it just minimal. While our young children were here, as soon as it was over and they got back to school, we just were like okay, we're back to the basics, what we need to do, and not use the screen time.

We're glad that they were back at school, but it did allow us to have the opportunity to go back to not having those computers in the classroom, even for the school-aged children. They did well. They didn't like it, but they did well. Yes, not too much of a challenge for us on our end.

Marnetta: Wonderful.

Kristy: In North Carolina, we have the North Carolina Rated License Assessment Project that comes in and assesses our programs to provide them with a star rating based on the quality of those programs. The pandemic hit and those in-person assessors could no longer come and provide those assessments that they were used to getting.

What we're hearing from teachers now, as we plan and provide training, is okay, we've missed out on these assessments and kind of keeping up with what we're supposed to be doing on a daily basis. Give us some refreshers. Let's make sure that every day we are providing a five-star classroom for these children, not just because we're going to be assessed, but just because we know that that's what's important. We are continuing to do training around curriculum and planning and training that contribute to different things like high-quality interactions and things that impact high quality.

Another area of focus that we have tried to look at is making sure that we're providing teachers with training around self-care and mindfulness. Again, just making sure they have those opportunities to have strategies for themselves, as well as having strategies for the children in their classroom. We have really actually had a lot more teachers interested in some of those than we initially thought. We're seeing that's a huge need too.

Amy: I can build on so much of what you shared Marnetta, Katherine, and Kristy. So many avenues to go down with your good thoughts. Early on in the pandemic, we're very grateful that the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services looked to the Smart Start Network to get some of their CARES dollars out so that was pre-ARPA. That was the COVID Relief first package, the CARES Act, and did that in multiple ways.

One that I'd highlight is this program called Resources for Resilience. It's a wonderful program based out of Western North Carolina that provides support training for providers, caregivers, and parents on how to reset and how to take a deep breath.

They have a really wonderful grouping of activities and practices to try to embed and inculcate in our lives as professionals in the caregiving and education field, in particular, to ensure we're able to keep going. I would add to that also, home visitors, parent educators that social workers and pediatricians could go on. But those folks who are doing that direct service work with young children. It's so important what you were saying, Kristy, that caregiving and taking care.

We have local partnerships that say one of the most valuable activities over the last year was a group call with providers on a regular basis, a weekly check-in just to say, are you hanging on? What more do you need?

The Department of Health and Human Services started a Hope 4 Healers hotline to provide the therapy online on the phone with a hotline available. I think it was 24 hours a day, that therapists are available to listen to childcare providers or a family member who is in crisis. Things like that, we got to find out a way to measure it.

Here I am preaching to the folks who've come up with a way of quantifying interactions. Let's quantify how that kind of backbone support to the early childhood workforce kept this already stressed and fragile system going. It's pretty phenomenal. I would also add that we are so grateful that the stabilization grants were put out and that the Department of Health and Human Service, through their Division of Child Development and Early Education, got that funding out to providers to be able to give the bonuses and keep some compensation levels up.

We are very worried about what happens when that ends. We have to find a way to make the argument. It's on folks like me to be very clear with policy makers that this system was in crisis pre-pandemic and that yes, we've stabilized the pandemic crisis, but we need to stabilize what had already been in crisis before—the under-resourcing, disrespect, and lack of compensation for early care and education professionals.

This system was in crisis pre-pandemic and that yes, we've stabilized the pandemic crisis, but we need to stabilize what had already been in crisis before.

I'm hopeful that more eyes have been opened. They certainly are paying [...] service to say it is so critically important and now we need to see the action follow. I'm very hopeful and I think that folks from places far and wide, in the business community, in K-12 education, are saying oh, wait, we do get it. You, early childhood folks, are critically important both to our current workforce and to the workforce coming.

As Kristy said, preparing children for that lifelong journey. It's not just for that kindergarten door but we know that these skills they develop in the early childhood years and social, emotional, cognitive, and physical are all for becoming lifelong productive adults.

I think that chip on my shoulder about early childhood being so great and we knew it with outdoor learning, pre-pandemic, and we knew it on social-emotional learning. We know that social-emotional learning has huge impacts and effects on academic outcomes in skills. Drawing those connections too, for folks. Yes, it may be hard right now. You're seeing some challenges in language and literacy. Let's remember, if we get this social-emotional learning right, the executive functioning skills are being developed in those early childhood years, and we will see great benefits in K3 and up.

Marnetta: I love that as a state, you are creating space for these people and acknowledging these challenges. Checking in with people is a minor thing to do but it has a big impact. It says I care about you, I value you, I know you're going through some things, let me give you a beat.

In that regard did you guys, as a state or as separate entities, you are suffering from the great resignation that happened. How’s staffing? Were you able to retain your people or did you have a big shift in people resigning?

Katherine: I can say, Marnetta, that it was very emotional. I was able to talk to each one of my staff members individually and just ask, personally, what their thoughts were and how they felt. Were they willing to help through everything we were going through? By being able to talk to them personally and individually, I felt it was necessary to do it by themselves and not a group because I was able to hear from them how they felt and what they were really going through. Were they scared? Yes.

I can just say, I was able to keep every one of my staff members. I did have to cut back their hours, but I am so grateful. Literally, when I say emotional, I cried for days because I didn't know what was going to happen. The unknown was so hard to face and then through it, trying to really embrace that I wanted them to know that I was there and we were there for each other through this, it was amazing to see.

All of my staff stayed and we celebrated after that to be able to say we did this together. We went through this. We've been there for each other and the children. I did see through the social-emotional, each teacher gave to each other, and they supported each other. When one was down, one would pick them up. It was great to see the collaboration and relationships between my staff and it was really emotional.

Even for myself, I was scared we were going to have to close. I just didn't know the unknown through it all, but here we are standing strong. I have lost staff, yes, but I can say that my staff have pulled together to get us to where we are today, and probably able to say that I've been able to interview two or three folks already and hope to really see that workforce come back. We really have been encouraging each other and know that we can do it. That's where we've been able to work with each other. I just am glad that it has been helpful for my staff to have each other as a team and family, honestly.

Even for myself, I was scared we were going to have to close. I just didn't know the unknown through it all, but here we are standing strong.


Marnetta: Adult to adult interactions are just as important.

Katherine: Yes.

Kristy: I think just to echo what Katherine said, again, being short-staffed and early childhood being in a crisis, we were already there before this pandemic hit. Staffing has been a challenge. I think we were very fortunate across Randolph County to not lose a lot of staff because of the pandemic and the challenges that came along with that.

We were very fortunate that we didn't have permanent closures. We had temporary closures for quarantining, following the CDC, and the local health department guidelines on keeping everyone safe. For the most part, all of our programs stayed open.

We still face some staff shortages. It's not great, thank goodness. We would like to get more teachers and more classrooms open because most of our childcare programs have waiting lists right now. We know there are children and families that are not being served, and we have got to figure out how to get served. I know other places were impacted more greatly with having child care programs having to close and permanently losing staff. I think that we are very grateful that in Randolph County that impact was fairly minimal.

There are children and families that are not being served, and we have got to figure out how to get served.

Marnetta: You said a lot in that statement—in my soul. Even before the pandemic, we were under-serving children. There are at-risk children who benefit from the environment that formalized setting creates, whether it be childcare. We were already struggling with that. These closures, the lessening of room ratios because of staffing, and things like that, only increased those children. Those waiting lists, as you said, are even longer.

I shudder to think about that across the country. I already know what it's like in Louisiana. I shudder to think about what that's like across the country and how that's going to impact these children because that's a whole another barrier to their success in life. They're not having access to the care that they need. I'm sorry, I had an emotional moment.

Kristy: I want to say our programs are doing the very best they can and they have every slot filled that they have available. This is a greater problem than our local programs. This is a greater problem. We've got to do better as a greater community, as a state, as a nation, and put our children first and make sure that we're providing for all children. There are a long ways to go.

We've got to do better as a greater community, as a state, as a nation, and put our children first and make sure that we're providing for all children. There are a long ways to go.

Marnetta: Every child that wants to go to school should have a space. No parent should have to find alternatives when they want an education for their children. Again, that's a whole another podcast. We might have to have you back for that.

Kristy: Invite me back and we could talk about that too.

Marnetta: Yeah, let's do that. Aside from learning loss and addressing that over the summer, what are some other goals or plans that you guys might have?

Amy: I was going to follow up on the prior discussion about the loss of staff or where we are at with the turnover in the early childhood field. In North Carolina, I'm thrilled that we do have strong relationships and a wonderful strong community college system. They are leaning in to say how are we going to solve this crisis, really support recruitment, and build that pipeline of teachers.

It's wonderful Katherine, the work you did, providing that intentional focus—really mentoring and coaching support to your teachers. You’ll see that, I'm sure, had an impact on their willingness and commitment to stay in as hard as it was. They knew they had a leader, mentor, and colleague who was saying, I believe in you, I know this is going to be hard. You were open and honest with them about probably your own concerns, as you said.

I think so often early care and education professionals who might be wanting to enter the field, or coming in early, or even if we can start in high school to develop programs through lab programs, child development programs, we need to have individualized support for folks coming into this field, because it is so challenging and you need to have a mentor or a coach who is saying, yes, you can do it. Yes, this is intensive work and hard work, but you can do it.

It supports academics so that people can get their associate's degrees, can get their BAs, et cetera. Childcare programs are on-site at community colleges to help support the folks who are going into it as students and community colleges because so often they have children of their own and need the childcare to study. I'm hopeful about that apprenticeship as well. We're starting up and investing in more and more. I do think there are some exciting new opportunities to build the pipeline coming out of this crisis.

Marnetta: I love that, again, this proactive look like what can we do? You guys are boots on the ground type of people. I like that. You got Amy screaming from the Hill, hey, we need some staff over here. I love it. What I've noticed, and this is just a side note, is when we lose teachers from this profession, I'm noticing they're out of education period. They're going to other professions.

It's not like we get to keep them and they move to a new space. They just are not really childhood people anymore. They're going to engineering. They're removing themselves from the space and that's a problem. They have so much knowledge.

What we do, what the teachers do, and what you guys do, is so integral. Yes, you go to school, but there are things that you can't teach people in this field that they just do naturally. It's innate, it's built-in, and it's hard to fill those spaces as just a body. It takes special people to do the work that you do. Okay, I'm done, but you get where I'm going.

To lose them to something else just hurts. It hurts a lot. But it says a lot about the space and how people view the space, how they fund the space, how they treat them as professionals, or don't treat them as professors. Legitimizing the work that they do just says a lot about our field.

I was going off again. My original question was, aside from mitigating learning loss, what other plans do you have?

Katherine: As I think about preparing for the summer, I did want to share with Amy real quick, that I'm partnering with our local high school this summer to bring in some interns that are going to see if they like this field, if it's something they want to do. I have an interview tomorrow with the students at the high school so I get to interview them myself.

That's going to be neat to bring in some interns and who knows where they might leave where we can keep them and then send them on to college after high school. I'm excited about that. Hopefully, more schools will jump on board and do that with us. I'll have to keep you posted on that.

Some goals this summer that I'm hoping to be able to do also are for our teachers, with some mindfulness. I'm meeting with Kristy and encouraging them to do some of those training. I'm hoping to find some time where I can actually have all of my staff get together and do some evening get-togethers. We have had an opportunity to use some of the money to spend on staff for benefits and we've talked about doing a huge pool party. I can kind of get a pool up here together here in town. Those are fun things to do.

We have a large gym where we can have volleyball night and we have not been able to do that. I'm really wanting to get our teachers together and try to do some fun stuff with our parents. If we can do an evening where we can have families come back and have activities outside in our outdoor learning environment. We haven't done that in a while. I hope to bring those back.

We did that at the zoo one year. I actually camped with my family. We had 30 families camp together at our local North Carolina Zoo. I've never done that, but it would be fun to bring them back this summer and have a Friday Night Movie Night. We've talked about setting up the outdoor learning environment, movie place, popcorn, s’mores, and something fun. We're hoping to just bring our families back together, enjoy this summer, and hopefully have some answers coming in and have some new folks learn about childcare.

Marnetta: You've got a lot of stuff going on. I just want to say you always had those people in the office who don't like people. They don't like people. The pandemic has got everybody loving everybody. I want to see people—I'll be honest, like, let's get together at [...]. That's everybody's favorite thing.

Katherine: Yes, that is so true. It's been weird because I've heard people say can I hug you? Are you okay with a hug? I'm like, permission? Yes.

Marnetta: Everyone wants a hug, like touching everybody. All right. Miss Kristy, did you want to add anything?

Kristy: In addition to, I think a lot of family engagement efforts, like Katherine was saying, that's something that it's like oh, now we get to see the families again. Teachers get to have those face-to-face relationships again instead of texting over an app to communicate with family. A lot of family engagement efforts.

Also, going back to the stabilization grant monies and being able to spend that on teachers in ways that they deserve. Many of our programs have increased paid vacation leave so that teachers can take time off. We know how important it is. We know how healing it is to be able to take a mental health day every now and then let them go on vacation. Just de-stress, regroup, and then come back again refreshed and ready to get back to the grind.

I've heard a lot of strategies that the directors have used to make sure that their teachers feel like they can have time off without losing pay, which is so important when pay is already so low for early educators.

Then thinking about the children, especially the school-aged children that are in the summer camps now over the summer, they're getting back to being able to do field trips. They're getting back to being able to do some of those fun experiences that were shut down for such a long time. I think there are going to be lots of fun opportunities for these children over the summer to reconnect, to have positive experiences, and positive interactions. Hopefully, boost their mental health and boost their social-emotional skills so that moving into this upcoming school year, we're going to be moving into it on a very positive note.

Marnetta: I love it. Mental health is important. My children, all the way through all their years, I always say you got to have a mental health day every semester, the teacher would just have to be okay with it. It's important. I want to create a foundation. It is okay, step away, and decompress. I love the focus on and the importance of making sure you check-in and take care of that because it impacts so many beings in a great way.

Amy, do you want to say something before we wrap this up? Time flew.

Amy: I am good. Thank you. I just want to thank you for having us. It was wonderful to be here and so grateful for your leadership, Katherine and Kristy, in Randolph and in early care and education. I'm so honored to be in partnership with you all. Marnetta, thank you for bringing the voices of the folks who are doing the work day in and day out elevating it whenever you can.

Marnetta: As much as I can do. It's a little, but we're trying to do what we can. You know how we do over here at Teachstone. We love the field, and always want to lead into it, huge support. It's people like you that make this work possible. I thank you guys so much for joining me today.

You can find today's episode and transcript on our website As always, behind great leading and teaching are powerful interactions. Let's build that culture together. Bye guys. You guys are great.