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Childcare program popular perk for school personnel
Teachers with babies
Christiana Grant, a Pre-K teacher at Guyton Elementary, holds her eight-month-old son Deacon; and Amy Thomas, a kindergarten teacher at Rincon Elementary, holds her two-year-old daughter Kallie Rae. Grant and Thomas updated the Effingham County School Board about the first semester of the STARS childcare program for school district employees. (Photo by Barbara Augsdorfer/Effingham Herald.)

By Barbara Augsdorfer, Editor for the Effingham Herald

Many working parents may struggle to find high quality childcare – especially if they don’t have willing and able relatives living nearby to help out. Then there’s the cost, which could mean the difference between a two-income household or one, if the cost of childcare eats up most, if not all, of the second income.

In 2023, the Effingham County School District realized one way it could attract and retain employees is by offering childcare. Thus, STARS (Support Teachers and Rising Students) childcare centers at Rincon and Guyton elementary schools was born.

Both centers opened in January and have grown in both staff numbers and number of children served. And the centers are not just for teachers’ children. All district employees are eligible to participate in this benefit.

Jill Vandenbos, early learning specialist and site lead for the Rincon location, updated the school board on the centers’ first semester at the board’s regular meeting June 5.

Vandenbos told the board that all staff members have completed compliance director modules, in addition to CPR/first aid, AED certification and a ten-hour required course from the state in health and safety.

“We have at least two teachers in every classroom, sometimes three. It depends on the number of children in the room at the time,” Vandenbos said. She added that some high school students come at various times during the day to help out. “They are never alone with the children, and they don’t change diapers,” Vandenboss added. High school workers must be at least 16 years old.

Tuition, Vandenbos explained, is per family and one price, regardless of a child’s age -- $555 per month – with discounts for siblings.

As for activities, Vandenbos said the administrative staffs at both schools have been accommodating for the children at the daycare centers.

“We’ve focused on exploration, learning, and family,” Vandenbos said. Among the activities the children experienced were meeting some goats, going on Easter egg hunts, and “water” day.

“We also had fire- and severe weather drills, reading with Piper the therapy dog in Guyton; and at Rincon, the children got to watch and participate in May Day,” Vandenbos said.

STARS logo
For employees working at the schools, just being able to drop off their children and walk down a hallway to their classroom is an added perk.

Vandenbos shared some numbers from the centers’ first five months.

·       10 classrooms were filled with children

·       21,825 diapers were changed

·       24,735 meals were served (breakfast, lunch, and snack are included with tuition)

·       23 infants were rocked

·       17 one-year-olds toddled

·       20 two-year-olds explored; and

·       30 three-year-olds prepared for Pre-K.

When the centers opened in January, total number of staff at both locations was 21 and in May the number of staff had grown to 30.

The number of children enrolled in the program grew from 83 in January to 90 in May; and there are 122 enrolled to start in August – which still leaves a lot of room for growth. At the centers’ opening in January, Effingham County Schools Superintendent Dr. Yancy Ford said the centers can handle 115 to 150 children at each site.

Christiana Grant, a Pre-K teacher at Guyton Elementary, brought her eight-month-old son Deacon to the school board meeting.

She explained that when she found out she was pregnant last year, she immediately put herself on waiting lists at nearby daycare centers. “I was like 176th on a couple of lists, and when he was born, I still did not have a place,” Grant said.

“Then when STARS became a thing, it was such a blessing, and it was at my school, which was an added bonus,” Grant added.

Grant recalled when her maternity leave was ending and she had to go back to work.

“I was dreading going back to work. I was so sad that my time was ending with my newborn. (But) I didn't even cry on that first day,” Grant said. “I just handed him over and I knew he was going to be well taken care of and he was. It was such a blessing. Every teacher knows every student in that building. And that just makes you feel amazing to know that your child is loved by not just his two or three teachers, but (by) the whole staff.”

Amy Thomas, a kindergarten teacher at Rincon Elementary echoed Grant’s feelings with her two-year-old daughter Kallie Rae.

“She cried at first, but by the end she wouldn’t even tell me ‘bye’. She would just walk right in and say, ‘See you later’,” Thomas said.

And when the center would text an update, Thomas added, “Getting those updates throughout the day, it just makes your heart (say) ‘She’s okay.’ Not that I was worried, but it gives your momma heart a moment to know that she’s okay.”