Birmingham child-care center weathers impact of COVID-19

Birmingham, Ala. — For mother-daughter team Janice McShan and Ava Young, running Metropolitan Day School is a natural fit for their experience, knowledge and passion.

Before opening the school in west Birmingham, McShan had taught kindergarten for 20 years and served as pre-K director for Birmingham City Schools. Young had taught kindergarten 14 years. Both have master’s degrees in early childhood development.

“We’re both educators at heart,” Young said.

With their expertise, Young and her mother created structured days full of activities that are age-appropriate, educational and fun. Their goal isn’t to babysit their pre-K students, but to engage them and prepare them for school.

As Metropolitan Day School entered its fourth year of operation in 2020, more than 50 children were enrolled, four teachers and a cook were employed, and preparations were being made for the grand opening of an annex to accommodate future growth.

Then, COVID-19 arrived.

Childcare centers were among the businesses ordered to close during the early attempts to contain the virus. Over five months of the shutdown, Metropolitan Day School’s income stopped while expenses, naturally, continued.

“It was very, very hard,” Young said. “Just the uncertainty of it — we didn’t know anything. It just came through and shook everything up. During that whole time, we were trying to dig into savings, whatever we had, to keep things going.”

Fortunately, they got help through the federal Paycheck Protection Program and also through BhamStrong, a local relief fund launched last spring through the city of Birmingham’s Office of Innovation and Economic Opportunity.

The loan fund included $1.2 million approved by the City Council and an additional $1 million from area businesses. BhamStrong oversaw the public-private fund along with the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham and the Birmingham Business Resource Center. At least 85 local businesses received assistance.

“BhamStrong helped us out tremendously,” Young said.

Now reopened, Metropolitan Day School is working to recover lost ground and adapt to a world still shaped by COVID.

Only about 30 children are enrolled. Some parents are no longer working; they lost jobs because of the pandemic. Some parents are working from home and keeping their children with them. Some parents simply aren’t comfortable sending their children to a group setting yet.

COVID realities also cost Metropolitan Day Schools two of its teachers, who stayed at home with their own children because of virtual schools. “We lost some really, really good teachers who had been with us from day one,” Young said.

To reopen, Metropolitan Day School also had to make some investments and develop new protocols to enhance safety for employees and children alike. There are additional cleaning supplies and protocols, additional chairs and tables to encourage social distancing, new procedures for parents picking up children, and new activity structures to keep children in smaller groups.

The ongoing changes serve as a reminder about the pandemic. “It’s not over,” Young said. “We’re still in the midst of it.”

Lifestyle changes triggered by COVID — such as working from home and alternatives to in-person schools — are also creating uncertainty about the future of the child-care industry. That makes planning for the future difficult. But Young is hopeful the day will come when Metropolitan Day School will rebuild its enrollment, bring back its full staff, and start filling that annex with even more children and teachers.

Metropolitan Day School is located at 2817 Lomb Ave. For more information, visit the school’s Facebook page.

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