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“Teachers are standing on the front line with a smile”

By Margaux Austin | December 14, 2020 | 2 min read | Community Health, Coronavirus

Michele profile shot

Before COVID-19, First Presbyterian Day School functioned as any other childcare center. As a 5-star center, they were just shy of full capacity and had 14 teachers on staff. In March, their executive director Michele said the team excitedly started planning a summer graduation party for the 4-year-olds going off to Kindergarten.

But on March 14, Michele and her board of directors made the decision to close the school.

“I remember watching the news constantly and being frightened. There was so much unknown, and I couldn’t tell my staff when we would be back at work,” she said. “We did a lot of staff training while we were shut down, and my teachers did so much to stay connected with the kids and families.”

While Michele and her team learned to adjust to a new online world, they also found unique ways to check in on the families they have worked so closely with.

“My teachers went above and beyond. I asked them to check in once a week with our families, but so many of them were doing much more. They scheduled drive-by visits to wave at the kids and drop off gifts to them. Even with the youngest infants, they wanted to keep the connection going and would schedule zoom calls to say hello.”

With the dedication her teachers showed, Michele was grateful the center was able to continue paying teachers their full salary and health benefits through September. But as the months went by, things became more difficult.

“In September we had to reduce staff hours from 40 to 30. That is when I started looking into hazard pay. I saw the state offered it, but because our center was not open at the time, we missed that opportunity.”

Michele was awarded a grant from the Child Care Services Association (CCSA) COVID-19 Relief Fund that was supported by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation. The grant allowed her to give a hazard pay bonus to her staff and help make up some of the difference from their cut hours. It also gave her the needed funds to cover important PPE equipment the team needed to stay safe.

Since the start of the pandemic, the independent Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation had approved 89 grants with more than $2.4 million in support of immediate COVID-19 relief and long-term community response. One of those grants was to a relief fund at the Child Care Services Association to support childcare centers’ ability to meet enhanced health and safety standards to keep children and employees safe.

“When I decided to apply for the CCSA COVID Relief grant, I said to the assistant director, we really need to give a clear understanding of how hard and dedicated the teachers and staff have been to the program through this pandemic. We wanted their voices to be heard and their hard work not to go unnoticed. We waited until a staff meeting to share that they would be receiving a hazard pay bonus. Oh my goodness, the excitement on their faces and the emotions they expressed were overwhelming- it was like Christmas in October!” she said.

“Nothing warms my heart more than to be able to provide support to teachers and staff who are standing on the front line every day with smiles on their faces, knowing that deep down inside they are scared every day they come to work.”

Founded in 2000, the Blue Cross NC Foundation has invested more than $150 million in organizations and communities across the state in support of its mission to improve the health and well-being of everyone in North Carolina. The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation is a private, charitable foundation established as an independent entity by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina.