Keeping Up In The Classroom

San Francisco's Oldest Child Care Center Struggling to Survive During Pandemic

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At Holy Family Day Home preschool, working through pandemics is nothing new. The school, which has occupied the San Francisco corner of 16th and Dolores since 1900, was around during the time of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. 

"We were open 24 hours and serving families that were at risk," said the school's executive director, Heather Morado, "I think we're in a rare situation where we can say this is our second pandemic."

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Holy Family Day Home has occupied the corner of 16th and Dolores in San Francisco since 1900. The pre-school is facing a massive deficit due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Though its disaster survival resume also includes two massive earthquakes -- 1906 and the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake which destroyed its original building --  the school is now struggling to survive COVID-19.

With the school out of three months worth of revenue while it was closed, coupled with not being able to hold fundraisers, Morado said the city's oldest child care center is in the hole about $2 million. 

"We're at a serious crisis right now for what we need to raise," Morado said. 

The school is a refuge for its prime charges; children of homeless families and those narrowly living on the margins. Those children make up 80% of the enrollment. 

After closing its doors on March 16 due to the pandemic, the building reopened in late June with cohorts of 10 students for every three teachers in order to reduce risk of spreading the virus. 

On Tuesday, the energetic voices of children filled the school's playground as kids clamored on climbing bars near a pen that held several live chickens. In another area, a staff member carrying a tank of decontaminate sprayed down play areas from a previous class. Morado worried that with COVID-19 numbers rising across the state, the school could potentially have to close down again, which she said would not only exact an emotional toll, but a financial one. 

"Every day at the Day Home that we're open is a good day these days," she said. 

Morado said the choice to return to school meant educators there have also had to take on the role of front line workers -- potentially placing themselves and their families at risk. 

"It's a strange combination of absolute joy to be back, and fear," said teacher Susan Thayer.

Morado said despite the risks, it was important for the school to resume its role supporting some of the city's most disadvantaged children. She said there are already signs the long layoff from educating is impacting the children's learning. 

"I can tell you a story of a child who had been in a shelter in place and lost all ability to write his name," Morado said. "And he's a couple weeks out of going to kindergarten." 

Morado said considering the school's long history, she doesn't want to be the one at the helm if the school can no longer survive.

She watched a group of students painting pictures promoting protective masks -- and pondered the school's mission to educate generations of San Francisco's own. She put out a plea for donations to help the school continue. 

"We made a choice to invest back into our community," she said. "And we hope our community will invest back into us."   

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