Mount Holyoke little one care heart closing spurs protest

SOUTH HADLEY – Mount Holyoke College announced on Wednesday that it will be closing the Gorse Children’s Center and suspending childcare on campus in late June, causing outcry from community members relying on the center.

The announcement has sparked families looking for an alternative between daycare, which parents who spoke to the newspaper said are overflowing with long waiting lists. Now families, employees and community members are calling on the college to reverse its decision and seek alternative solutions.

The center, which opened in 1952 as the Gorse Lab School, is located on the college campus and, according to its website, is managed by Bright Horizons Family Solutions, a Watertown childcare worker who works with over 1,100 organizations. With the college’s contract with Bright Horizons expiring on June 30, Mount Holyoke officials “made the very difficult decision not to renew the deal,” said college spokeswoman Christian Feuerstein.

According to an announcement on the college’s website, “the cost of running gorse exceeds tuition fees,” and the college pays Bright Horizons an average of $ 325,000 per year to run the center. Rather than renewing the contract, the college will add $ 100,000 to the Emergency Employee Fund “to expand its financial support beyond those employees who have chosen the Gorse Children’s Center to provide childcare,” the announcement said.

Allison Lepper, a parent enrolling their child with Gorse, said the announcement caused “shock and sadness” among families. Lepper has a particularly deep relationship with Gorse: She was a student there 30 years ago, worked with the center during her time as a psychology student at Mount Holyoke, lives in South Hadley and is now enrolling her son at the center.

“I’m not sure what families will do,” she said. “I personally reached out to the local day care workers and learned that there are significant waiting lists right now … and I really doubt the other available day care workers in the community have the ability to take in all the children in need of care in college, in fact, closes the center. ”

Feuerstein said she had no information on how many children are currently enrolled at the center and that Bright Horizons could not be reached to provide a number for enrollment or the number of employees at Gorse.

Not enough to notice

Choosing a childcare provider is “not a decision that parents make lightly,” said Lepper, and many chose Gorse “for really important reasons,” such as their confidence in the school’s curriculum and staffing levels. After announcing the closure, Lepper began handing out a letter of protest, which she said had received hundreds of signatures within 12 hours.

In addition, four months are “nowhere near enough to enable families to sensibly secure alternative care,” said Lepper, especially in view of the high demand for childcare, as many parents have difficulties working from home with the care to reconcile their children.

Jessica Maier, associate professor of art history at Mount Holyoke and parents of Gorse students, also spoke out against the announcement and described Gorse as an “absolutely critical” resource.

“Without good quality, full-time childcare, it is impossible for me to do my job,” she said, which “became more apparent during the COVID,” as many parents struggled to balance work and childcare than the centers last had to be closed spring. Like Lepper, Maier struggled to find a day-care center that could take her children until the summer.

According to Maier, the announcement also contradicts the college’s mission, which it characterized as “all about supporting women’s career and career choices, personal choices and progressive concerns in general.” But “women bear the burden of childcare disproportionately, and this will add to this problem – not help alleviate it.”

Lepper agreed with this assessment.

With “the impact that the loss of childcare has on families – especially women, who are inevitably responsible for childcare – it just seems inexplicably at odds with Mount Holyoke’s mission,” she said.

Community feedback

According to Feuerstein, the college will “provide financial assistance for staff childcare for all eligible faculties and staff” in the coming year that was previously “only available to staff who chose to have childcare on campus”.

An ad hoc group will also seek feedback from the campus community on childcare needs and make recommendations for a fairer solution, with the potential to serve the needs of a larger number of employees, she added.

The college declined to make Gorse staff available for interviews.

Other communities in the region also saw a decline in daycare over the past year: Sunnyside Early Education and Care in Northampton closed for good last July after 45 years of operation, citing financial difficulties exacerbated by the pandemic, while kindergarten nearly 150 Years old. The annual Hill Institute in Florence announced its formwork as enrollment had declined a month earlier.

While parents are saddened by the news, they are not giving up the fight over Gorse’s openness, Maier and Lepper said, and some families planned to protest the campus closure Thursday night.

Gorse “doesn’t have to close,” said Maier. “There are other potential partnerships that could be explored if the one with this big company, Bright Horizons, doesn’t work, and there are people who are really wonderful already on the ground.”

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at [email protected].

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