Child care centers scrambling to prepare for upcoming school year

Becky Stemhagen’s dream for decades has been to open a Blossoms Daycare Center in Bellevue. But that dream arrived in April, during the nightmare of a pandemic.

“This was a big project, and we had been doing this since October,” said Stemhagen. “We were all very excited about the opening and the fanfare that would come, but instead what came was COVID.

She says federal disaster loans kept her afloat, along with the faith of her families.

“This is life and, okay, now how are we going to ride it," Stemhagen said. 

It’s the new reality at a lot of daycare centers that have to figure out how to make locations safer.

At Kindercare location, there are now wellness station right at the entrance where kids have their temperatures taken.

Managers have also set up pods, where the same children are in the same classroom with the same teachers. And now they prepare for students who will do their online learning at the daycare instead of a classroom.

“Right now we know parents are faced with a tough choice,” said Sara Cunningham of Kindercare. “They have to decide whether to put kids in child care, and if they’re going to stay safe and healthy and that’s what we’re here for, to help them.”

Parents Hannah and Boone Helm feel good about their daycare in Issaquah, but say the stress never stops. Their advice for other parents is to do a lot of research about safety precautions before choosing a provider and get ready for a lot of emails.

“It’s not uncommon to get two or three a day, sometimes with new policy changes and updates,” said Boone. “It has the feeling that everybody is sort of scrambling to figure this out.”

“Trust is involved in any childcare situation,” added Hannah.

Becky Stemhagen says the trust of her families is what keeps her going. She’s invested in a whole new air filtration system, UV boxes to sanitize items, and handwashing stations.

Most parents have stuck with her, and in the midst of a pandemic, she’s hoping to build on that.

“I’ve been doing daycare for 30 years so I thought I had it perfected and then, bam, everything changed.”