Conant’s Little Orioles day care helps staff stay in the district

Mya Cote and Michael Dibble enjoy snack time at the Little Orioles day care program at Conant Middle High School.

Mya Cote and Michael Dibble enjoy snack time at the Little Orioles day care program at Conant Middle High School. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI

Juliet Dibble plays peek-a-boo with a blanket on a table.

Juliet Dibble plays peek-a-boo with a blanket on a table. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

Michael Dibble climbs to the top of a wooden slide in the Conant day care playroom, along with his sister, Juliet Dibble.

Michael Dibble climbs to the top of a wooden slide in the Conant day care playroom, along with his sister, Juliet Dibble. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

Ramona Wright-Douston beams while enjoying some Cheerios during snack time.

Ramona Wright-Douston beams while enjoying some Cheerios during snack time. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI

Abigail Jones has a lot to say while enjoying snack time.

Abigail Jones has a lot to say while enjoying snack time. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI

The youngest member of the Conant Middle High School daycare, Atlas Ahern, is cheerful after waking from a nap.

The youngest member of the Conant Middle High School daycare, Atlas Ahern, is cheerful after waking from a nap. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI

Arlo Gravell and Mya Cote enjoy free play in the day care’s playroom.

Arlo Gravell and Mya Cote enjoy free play in the day care’s playroom. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI

Romona Wright-Douston and Juliet Dibble get some exercise bouncing on a mini-trampoline.

Romona Wright-Douston and Juliet Dibble get some exercise bouncing on a mini-trampoline. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI

Mya Cote and Michael Dibble use a playmat laid out like a streetmap for Matchbox cars in the Conant day care playroom.

Mya Cote and Michael Dibble use a playmat laid out like a streetmap for Matchbox cars in the Conant day care playroom. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

Mya Cote and Michael Dibble make a determined climb to the top of a wooden slide in the playroom.

Mya Cote and Michael Dibble make a determined climb to the top of a wooden slide in the playroom. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

By ASHLEY SAARI

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 02-29-2024 8:33 AM

Modified: 03-06-2024 9:07 AM


Prior to the start of the school year, Jaffrey-Rindge teacher Taylor Furtado had a major problem.

She had just recently given birth and her son Atlas was four months old. In order to return to work, the first order of business was finding him child care during the day.

And that was the major problem, she said.

“Everywhere was full,” Furtado said.

Day cares that would take a child as young as hers had waiting lists – sometimes a year long. It had gotten to the point where Furtado was accepting that she would have to take time off from teaching to care for her son, at least until a spot opened up. That’s when she learned that the district was going to be opening a day care program at Conant Middle High School for the first time at the start of the school year in the fall of 2023.

For Furtado, it made the difference in her being able to return to her job.

The Little Orioles program

Conant Middle High School Principal David Dustin said conversations around starting a day care program started the prior year. Several teachers were either expecting children, he said, and it was a great sign to have employees starting families and settling down in the district.

Superintendent Reuben Duncan said the first purpose of the day care was to provide support for district employees – and in turn make it possible to retain teachers like Furtado, for whom access to child care might mean the difference between staying or leaving.

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“Life gets busy, and life gets expensive. If we can make it easier, that’s what we want to do,” Duncan said.

Duncan said the district is able to offer the day care for much less cost than other private facilities because costs such as rent and utilities are covered by the building’s budget. The cost for a child to attend the day care is about $600 per month. The day care is available only to district employees, including teachers, administrative staff and contracted staff who work in the district’s buildings, such as food service.

Dustin said it was also a learning opportunity for Conant students who were interested in pursuing careers dealing with early childhood. Currently, two students who are looking at a career in education work in the day care after school hours, and another two or three are participating during school hours as an Extended Learning Opportunity. The day care children also participate in school culture by doing things like dressing to theme during Spirit Week or having a Halloween parade.

Currently, the program is partially supported by a grant and partially supported by users, and Duncan said the goal is to have the program be completely self-sustaining. The program has a capacity of 16 children, and currently 14 attend, with two staff members who are currently expecting children anticipating filling those slots by the end of the year.

Duncan said there is room for the program to grow in the future, though there are no current plans to expand yet.

The rising cost of child care

According to the New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute, the issues of high cost and low availability reported by Conant staff is a systemic problem in New Hampshire.

According to NHFPI, in 2022, the average annual price for an infant in a child care center was $15,340.

For family child care, the annual cost was an average of $10,140. For families with more than one child, prices were even steeper – the average annual price for both and infant and a 4-year-old in a child care center was $28,340.

“Affordable” child care, as defined by the federal government, should cost about 7% of a families income – but based on the median income for families in New Hampshire, those average costs are much higher than that. A married couple on average spends 11% of income on child care, but for single-income families, it’s about 23% of their income for men, and 36% for women.

In 2021, there were 756 licensed child care providers in the state, or a capacity of about 45,660 child care spots – but that still fell short of the demand at the time by about an estimated 8,300 children. But rather than increasing due to the demand, licensed child care providers in the state actually reduced in 2022, with 717 licensed providers, with a capacity to serve 44,515 children.

Keeping staff in the job

Lindsay Pelissier, the lead child care teacher for the day care, is also one of its clients: Her child comes to the day care with her.

“If I didn’t have a job where I could bring my child, I would have to be put on a waitlist. It’s frustrating,” Pelissier said.

She said in her previous job, at another child care center, the waiting list for infants was 70 people deep.

“It’s crazy. Having a benefit where our staff can bring kids in, it’s much easier for us to have parents come back to work, sooner,” she said.

Amanda Dibble, who has been a teacher at Conant her entire career, said she had been relying on family for child care for her son Michael and daughter Juliet since Michael was born in 2020. But she said that wasn’t always reliable – if a family member had another commitment, they had to send out the call for another family member to step in or stay home themselves. But she said there wasn’t much in the way of other options.

“We started looking at other day cares, and the cost was almost double our mortgage payment for two kids, which felt insane,” Dibble said.

“And even then, we had to pay to get on a waiting list, which at that point, we weren’t guaranteed for my son to get in before he was in kindergarten. It was tough.”

Dibble said it had gotten so bad that she and her husband had sat down and were looking at their household budget, trying to determine if they could cut expenses and make it on a single income while one of them stayed home with the children. Then she had a conversation with Duncan, who brought up the day care proposal.

Megan Jones, who has been a teacher in the district for six years, said she had her daughter last December and closed out the school year relying on child care from family members, some of whom were driving an hour and a half to help or took time off their own full-time jobs to get Jones through the remainder of the school year.

“We had a lot of family chip in for three months, but it was not something that could last long-term,” Jones said. “We had no child care in place for this year, and we were getting pretty desperate. Everywhere around us had insane prices. We were having conversations about me not being able to return this year.”

Jones said she commutes to Conant from her hometown of Washington, an hour away, and that’s a commute she has been willing to make because Conant has been her home since she started teaching. She said the day care made the difference between her taking at least a year off and being able to continue in the district.

“Now, not only do I get to work here, but my baby is just downstairs from me,” she said. “I can stop in when she’s sick, or having trouble with teething. I can see what’s going on, and I can see her and be part of decisions about what to do next.”

Sara Gravell works in the district’s administration, said that proximity was a key factor in choosing to enroll her two children in the new program. Previously, she said they had been attending a day care in Peterborough, but the reduced cost and the convenience of having her children in the same building as her during the day were tipping points for their family, she said.

“To have this benefit for employees is huge and not something you hear about much,” Gravell said. “Having your children on the site is really nice – it’s one stop in the morning.”

Ashley Saari can be reached at 603-924-7172, Ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on X @AshleySaariMLT.