Derry’s Pinkerton Academy launches on-site childcare for staff
The program is open to children in kindergarten through 8th grade who are enrolled in remote learning
By Kelly Burch via Granite State News Collaborative
Jennifer Barriere didn’t think she’d be able to return to teaching Spanish at Pinkerton Academy in Derry this school year. She was eager to get back in the classroom but her own children, 9-year-old Teddy and 6-year-old Annabelle, would be doing remote instruction, so Barriere needed to supervise them.
“I was feeling really down thinking about missing the rest of this year with my amazing colleagues and incredible students,” said Barriere, who lives in Goffstown.
Then Barriere checked her email one evening and saw an announcement from Jennifer Resmini, dean of faculty at Pinkerton Academy: the school would provide on-site childcare to staff-member’s children who are doing remote learning for kindergarten through 8th grade.
“It was such a rush of relief,” Barriere said.
During a year when many New Hampshire families are struggling to find childcare solutions that allow parents to work while students learn remotely, the school wanted to ensure that its 510 employees wouldn’t have to choose between working and supervising their own kids, said Timothy J. Powers, headmaster of Pinkerton Academy. The independent school has contracts with six towns — Auburn, Candia, Chester, Hampstead, Hooksett and Derry — to provide education to their high-schoolers.
The program, called Junior Astro Scholars, allows students enrolled in remote learning to come to work with their parents. The kids complete their assignments in a spare space at Pinkerton Academy, helped by a certified educator who was already employed by the school. The program is free for staff.
“We want to support employees and not have them make the choice between working and staying home with the kids who are in districts that are fully remote,” said Powers.
The child care option can take up to 12 children. If demand exceeded those slots, the school would aim to expand the program, Powers said. He declined to specify the cost of the program, but he said it pales in comparison to the cost of replacing staff who may otherwise be unable to work this year.
“If we had 12 employees who couldn’t work, that would be a lot more costly than what we’re offering,” he said.
Right now, only the Barrieres and one other family are using the program, although more have expressed interest. Still, Powers said that if only two educators benefit, the program will be worth it.
“It’s a domino effect,” he said. “If those teachers have 100 different students, that’s 100 families being impacted positively.”
Barriere said having her kids in the same building where she works has made her more comfortable returning to work.
“This has really reduced our collective stress level,” she said. “My children will have consistency in their time at the Junior Academy; I won’t have to divide my time in worry if I am giving enough to both my children and my students; and we all will have essentially the same exposure ‘pod’ here at Pinkerton, which I think really helps in this time of precaution and safety.”
Pinkerton first started considering on-site childcare in July after educators expressed concern about how they’d be able to work and oversee remote learning for their own kids.
“It was just on our radar,” Powers said. “We felt this is something we needed to sort out, get ahead of, and do something we feel is the right thing to do for employees.
For Barriere, the school’s effort of offering on-site childcare felt like an acknowledgement of her challenges as a working mom.
“Being a teacher and a parent or primary caregiver has always been a challenge, but one that many work hard to achieve. The Junior Academy makes this incredibly challenging time of COVID-19 just a little less hard for people like me,” she said.
Pinkerton Academy is governed by a Board of Trustees, an approach that Powers said gives him a bit more flexibility to implement unusual solutions. He said he didn’t know whether a public school would have been able to start a similar program.
“There are some different challenges to a public school that we can do a little bit differently,” Powers said.
Still, the program shows that can happen when the community as a whole comes together to support schools, educators and working parents, Barriere said.
“They say it takes a village to raise a child and I love seeing our village work together so that my children can learn safely, so that I can in turn help other community members learn,” she said. “I would love to see this in other communities.”
These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.