Future of Guam’s day care centers uncertain

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HAGÅTÑA (The Guam Daily Post) — Day care centers across the island, that just two months ago were filled with the sounds of children playing, now sit silent as the closure of some “nonessential” businesses continue and the centers remain closed under government orders due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tamuning Daycare and Learning Center interim Director Bethany Pangelinan said the closure has been “very difficult.”

“Tamuning Daycare and Learning Center has been open for 45 years and this is the longest that our day care has been closed. We are hurting financially, but I think the most difficult part in all of this is not being able to see the kids. It went from seeing them every day, Monday through Friday, and now it’s been almost two months since we’ve seen any of them. It’s safe to say that we miss them a lot,” she said.

Pangelinan said the center decided to close on March 17, a few days before the mandatory business closures went into effect.

“It was a very hard decision to make, but due to the severity of Covid-19, our main priority was the health and safety of the children that attend our day care, as well as our teachers. As much as we wanted to remain open, we did not want to risk anyone getting sick,” she said.

"There is nothing worse than an empty classroom," said Mynette Dizon, owner of World of Wonder Childcare and Learning Center. "There are so many toys and nobody there to use them. It’s so quiet with no kids."

Bethany Pangelinan, Tamuning Daycare and Learning Center interim director, gives parents their children's property Thursday, May 14. The center has been closed since the shutdown and has just started letting parents pick up personal items while waiting for permission to reopen. Photo by David Castro/The Guam Daily Post

Dizon's center in Yigo closed on March 23 and may have been one of the last centers to remain open, she said.

“We have a lot of first responder parents and that is one of the reasons I wanted to stay open. If they can’t go to work, how can they save lives?” Dizon said.

Joe Devera, a nurse, is one of those parents. He said day care centers are important to him as a working parent.

"(I) work the graveyard shift where I rest during the day and I work at night. I find it challenging to find assistance in taking care of my child. I hope that the day care centers do open, but because of this pandemic, I am afraid for the safety of my child and for the safety of the other children as well," Devera said.

Dizon said she thinks owners who want to reopen their centers should be allowed to do so, “but I don’t think we will be back to normal without a vaccine.”

Lani Tamondong, owner of The Giving Tree Preschool Centers which has three locations on island, said she is “on the fence” about reopening.

“As a business owner, we are struggling now. But as a parent, I don’t even know if I would be ready to send my child back to day care,” she said, adding The Giving Tree is weighing the need for its services. “We have parents that need child care and we are not able to be there for them.”

Tamondong said she would like to see the local government address the issue of child care centers' sustainability during the public health crisis.

“Child care centers, unlike schools that are public funded – child care is fragile because we are market-based. I do believe there has to be some kind of support made available just for child care. We need a plan specifically designed to sustain the early learning and child care sectors,” she said.

Each of the child care centers The Guam Daily Post spoke with said they are working to form plans to implement additional safety measures when they are allowed to reopen.

During a break from cleaning and sanitizing, Em Cruz, a child care director at The Giving Tree, sat on a child-sized red stool, the colorful room around her empty, and pondered what the future looks like for the centers and others like it on island.

“We can’t wait to be back. But I think it is going to be really hard with the coronavirus. We don’t want to get sick and we don’t want the kids to get sick.”

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