MARIETTA — On teacher work days, when students have the day off from school but employees don’t, many parents have to scramble to find someone to watch their children, according to JoEve Carthers, mother of four and attendance clerk at Marietta Middle School.
Carthers has two teenagers and two elementary school students in the Marietta City School District. She says since her younger children aren’t signed up for ongoing day care and she’s uneasy leaving them at home all day without adult supervision, planning days have always been difficult.
“It’s just the stress of constantly calling in, not taking my lunch break to run home and make sure everybody’s good, make sure they’re eating — it’s just always very stressful,” Carthers said.
She added that most of the people she would trust to watch her children work in the school system, including her husband, Tommy Carthers, assistant director of athletics and graphic design teacher at Marietta High School.
But soon employees of the Marietta school system won’t have to worry about scrambling to find a sitter.
Starting in January, Marietta City Schools will offer free child care to employees with children ages 4-12 on pre- and post-planning days, as well as teacher work days.
During the 2019-20 school year, there are four such days, and for the following school year, there are 13, according to Superintendent Grant Rivera. Registration is open through the online employee portal until Nov. 1, and so far more than 50 families have signed up their children, Rivera said.
He estimated the program would cost the district $9,000 for staffing, supplies and programming. The district says 4-year-olds will go to the Emily Lembeck Early Learning Center, while older children will head to West Side Elementary.
Programming will include visits from the Boy Scouts and athletes from Life University, as well as the potential for dance activities, among others, Rivera said.
The idea, said the superintendent, sprang up after a conversation with his daughter Lauren’s kindergarten teacher, Autumn Martin, last year.
Martin, who teaches at West Side Elementary School, told the MDJ when she shared that she and others in the district struggled to find temporary child care on teacher work days, Rivera began searching for ways to solve the problem.
With so many families with two working parents, it can be difficult to make accommodations, she said.
Before, Martin said, her husband would have to take sick days to watch their 4-year-old son or the couple would have to rely on shuffling around friends’ schedules. She called the free child care a “game-changer.”
“You have to focus on what you’re doing with your child first before you can come in and focus on planning for other people’s children,” Martin said. “And it’s not just child care, it’s quality child care, because it’s through the school.”
Martin and JoEve Carthers said they’ll also be able to breathe a sigh of relief knowing they won’t have to worry about paying higher fees for short stints at day care. When she’s explored part-time or drop-in day care and after-school program availability, JoEve Carthers said, the options have been restrictive.
“It’s really not an option,” she said. “You have to enroll them, and you usually have to pay for a month. They don’t do these two-day drop-in rates. And again, my kids know no other people there. Even if it was an option, I don’t know if I’d be totally OK with it.”
She said the program is a win for both parents and children in the school system because it will provide parents the peace of mind they seek and give young children the chance to interact with other students their own age, as well as explore the available programming.
And Marietta could be setting a precedent.
The school system appears to be the first in the state offering child care, according to Ramona Mills, a spokesperson for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators.
Mills said the ability of working parents to find a reliable and safe place to leave their children for the day is an important factor in their own productivity.
“They can focus better ... and also they’re able to get to work. If you’re having to scramble for child care and if the person that you’ve hired to take care of your child is sick that day or cancels that day, you’re having to shuffle everything around,” she said. “This offers consistency. ... There’s no need to worry. You get up, you get dressed, you take your child and then you go to do your work.”
Mills said she hopes other districts in the state will follow Marietta’s lead. Everything has to start somewhere, she said, and there has already been considerable positive feedback from educator families and the education community.
“Obviously this is something that is really wonderful. It’s a great asset to teachers ... and the school systems they serve,” she said. “Our hope is that other districts will see and hear and feel what is happening here and then consider implementing that in their districts as well.”