Erika Apathy has been Director of Betty Eliason Child Care Center since August of 2019. Some people might say, “What a time for her to pick!” The 28-year-old understands the challenges and rewards of providing high quality childcare. Part of the center’s success Apathy credits to Assistant Director Ellen Hughes and her decades of experience with young children.
“Right now, the biggest challenge is Covid. Currently, we are not allowing parents into the classrooms. In June of 2020, parents weren’t even allowed into the building.” Apathy tells how the Center closed completely on March 16, 2020. They then staged re-opening, one classroom at a time, beginning with the preschool room. “I met with every single parent before we re-opened and explained Covid policies. We follow the rule book as far as there is one, but we also have to do creative problem-solving. New policies all go to our Board for approval.”
The center currently has only fulltime employees. “Workers are often not interested in having that exposure for their families for just parttime work. The state requires continuing education but it’s more difficult to get those CEUs now that we can’t just go to a 2-day conference in Juneau. Although the quality of online learning can be high. I did almost my entire education online, including my Master’s in educational technology.”
Wait lists are an old story in the world of childcare, and BECCC is no exception. “We always have a wait list, especially for infants and toddlers. Right now, we are the only facility that takes the youngest kids. Part of why we closed initially,” she explains, “was to scope out the distancing and mask requirements and how to juggle different age groups. We do not have the kids wear masks inside our buildings.”
Then, Apathy comes to her favorite topic – improvements.
“We opened our infant room in 2016-17. Then closed it for two years, with a bunch of construction and the intent to re-open it on March 16, 2020. Well, of course, that didn’t happen, not until August of 2020. I wrote several grants and there have been really cool changes. Such as new storage and running water where there was none. Ellen came up with a way of re-configuring the infant space to include a food prep area. This all makes it work better for the people we take care of.
“Outdoors, we completely re-did our sprinkler system. We’re re-doing our playground, added concrete bike paths and plan to add a play structure. Kids love our new “mud pit.” We have spring riders like those at SJ, and we’re having a play boat built, called “Sheet’ka.” These things are meaningful to the kids. We’ve gotten new furniture with help from Sitka Tribe. We re-did our floors. Previously, we had tiles attached with asbestos glue (!!)
“Covid, though, complicates everything. I will have these great ideas, but wood is now more expensive. Expense and supply chain stuff impact projects I want to do.”
Another focus for Apathy has been BECCC’s website. “I pushed to have a good website. Having all the policies, rate sheets, etc. online was something I wanted. The woman who designed the website worked closely with me, like when we changed our hours.
“Oftentimes folks ask about making donations, wondering if they can give books. But now, what I am really looking for is volunteers to help build sheds for bikes and take old stuff to the dump. Help in the spring moving and assembling playground equipment. I am proud of all our projects, but especially of bringing them all together to raise the quality of care. To improve the building to make it look like someone cares. And to make it functional for now and on into the future.”