(photo: teachers at Rockfish Country Kids get some love.)
By Catharin Shepard •
Staff writer •
Running a small business in an uncertain time isn’t easy, and when that business is teaching young children, it’s tough for people on both sides of the six-foot distance.
Rockfish Country Kids is a private preschool that opened about three years ago on Lindsay Road. Nearly eight weeks ago, the preschool decided to shut its doors to protect children and staff from COVID-19.
The last two months have been a learning experience for director Cheryl Allin, as well as the staff, children and their parents.
“Like other small businesses in Hoke County, we’re definitely suffering because of the COVID-19 crisis,” Allin said.
The preschool typically runs from August to May, and usually has about 92 enrolled students. They chose to shut down early out of caution, the director said.
“Because we’re a school, we really follow the school system and want to do what’s best and safe for the kids,” she said.
Rockfish Country Kids is a play-based preschool, with a heavy focus on hands-on learning. In the time of social distancing, Rockfish Country Kids took a different route: teaching parents, remotely, how to teach their own young children. They started making online videos for parents, teaching them how to do things like circle time in their own homes.
The teachers also created take-home packets for the children, and included items that children would normally use in the hands-on learning experiences at the school. Play-dough mats, building blocks with numbers and other educational toys that can help preschoolers learn their shapes, colors and counting were a few of the things in the packets.
“We’ve been trying to turn it into a positive,” Allin said.
Meanwhile, she has struggled with accessing any of the lines of help available for small businesses and people out of work. So far, the director said, she hasn’t heard anything from any of the loans or grants the business applied to receive.
Self-employed people typically can’t get unemployment benefits. Even though another round of COVID-19 unemployment help came through to change that, it still didn’t work out.
“Right now I can’t get ahold of anybody at the unemployment office,” Allin said.
The business employs about 12 people regularly, plus a few substitute teachers on occasion. Most of the teachers work part time. Many of them have been able to get unemployment insurance, but a few haven’t been able to qualify because of rules about how many hours they work, Allin said.
Even so, they’re tried to stay positive about the situation. They’re prepared to move forward with reopening when it’s safe to do so.
“Our heart is definitely for opening up the business as soon as we can do it safely,” she said.
It’s been difficult for the children, too, especially the ones who won’t get to go back to see their favorite teachers before they move on to kindergarten. They’re “a little heartbroken” over the unexpected end to the year, Allin said. To try and put together something special for them, the preschool organized a drive-through car parade and a Zoom graduation ceremony.
“We’re super excited to still do a little parade graduation,” Allin said.
That way the families can still pick up their child’s certificate, and the kids get to have a special moment. The school held its drive-through parade Friday.
The business is enrolling students for the fall now, and hoping to encourage people to support small businesses in the community. Rockfish Country Kids is also holding a fundraiser. For more about the business and for details on the fundraiser, visit http://www.rockfishcountrykids.com and https://www.facebook.com/RCKRaefordNCPreschool.
“Keep having hope. It is a tough season for us all,” Allin said.