As part of my fellowship I've come across a lot of secretaries, directors, specialists, and consultants. Their occupational titles often give me a clue as to what type of work they do and the type of information I might be able to glean from them. Yet when introduced as a Grinnell Corps Fellow, I'm often met with an awkward, curious look that seems to say, "Oh, that's nice â¦. But what the heck is that?" So for anyone who happens to be interested, let me tell you what the heck I do.
This year I will be the last Grinnell Corps Fellow to work with the Grinnell Newburg School District. At the moment I'm researching the feasibility of placing a childcare facility in one of their schools. The district is facing decreasing enrollment and wants to explore potential uses for some of its free space. In essence, there really isn't one thing I do. Some days I read through studies on childcare in Iowa and elsewhere. Other days I visit childcare facilities throughout the state that have a proven track record for excellence and see if there is anything the school district could potentially model. Eventually I will report my findings to the school board, and based on my recommendations, they will decide if the school district should get into the childcare business. Regardless of what happens, the research that I've done in the past two months has made a lasting impression on me about the value of childcare and its impact on society.
The Child Care Business
Around the second week of my fellowship I came across an article about childcare in the Harvard Business review. The article began with a facetious advertisement that stated:
Entrepreneurs Wanted: Help grow an enterprise from scratch in an industry that offers no barriers to entry, chronically low margins, massive labor intensity, no proprietary technology, few economies of scale, weak brand distinctions, and heavy regulations. Serious inquiries only.
Ignoring the economic jargon, the basic point is that childcare is a notoriously difficult field. Often childcare providers are underpaid and underappreciated. Even those who consider it a personal calling are left with little incentive to expand and improve their services to those who desperately need it. The absence of value placed on child care is shocking given the overwhelming positive evidence from studies on programs like Head Start and their long term impact. These studies often demonstrate that quality of childcare and early childhood development correlates highly with the child's outcome later in life.
With all of that being said, exploring childcare in Grinnell and throughout Iowa these past two months has been a great experience. Iowa consistently ranks as one of the states with the highest percent of families with both parents in the workforce. As consequence there are a number of innovative approaches to childcare that schools, nonprofits, and businesses across the state are taking to meet the demand. Just last week I got to visit the Children's Village in Davenport. The program is run through the Davenport Community School District, has multiple sites, and draws on many sources of funding to guarantee accessible care for all types of families. The program's management also ensures excellent salaries and benefits to employees that are unheard of in childcare and create a professional environment that makes for great childcare. These types of experiences have given me hope that despite the dismal appearance of childcare on paper, affordable, quality childcare is possible in practice.
This was my first summer in Grinnell, and in many respects it was truly an Iowa summer. When people use to ask me what it was like to go to school in Iowa I would always joke that I didn't really know. The Grinnell bubble and the sights from the Des Moines airport to Grinnell in my mind didn't constitute the most genuine representation of Iowa culture and life. I don't believe I could place myself in the shoes of a rural Iowan yet, but this summer I've done some things to acclimate myself. I started a subscription to the Grinnell Herald Register and have found that there is at least one article about my employer, the Grinnell Newburg School District, every week. This has certainly given me a greater appreciation for the level of public attention that will be placed on my endeavors for the next year. Beyond Grinnell I've made a few trips around the state to see child care facilities and meet knowledgeable folks on the subject. I've gotten to tour the countryside on scenic state highways and visit neat places like the Amanas Colonies and Oskaloosa.
It seems like most Grinnell Corps Grinnell people in the past have reflected on the odd feeling that comes graduating and then moving only a couple of blocks to stay in Grinnell for another year. Hoping not to disappoint those who take interest in the precarious situation I find myself in, I'll share a little bit. Because I transferred to Grinnell I often find that people are confused about my class year. As a consequence when I describe the research I do for my fellowship some people seem to get the impression that I have a pretty intense MAP. Otherwise I feel like I have to echo the sentiments of my predecessor Kristen Snavely in her first report when she stated, "There's no escaping Burling." Its truly strange to go through a liberating experience like graduation just to find myself a month later neck deep in books and academic articles on the third floor of Burling, attempting to educate myself about childcare. At the same time there has been something comforting about having my friends and the resources of the college nearby as I've trekked into the unfamiliar world of childcare.
Within the next week I intend to provide the Superintendent Edie Eckles with my preliminary findings for the last two months. I've spent most of my time looking at ideal models on how to supply childcare. Now I intend to further probe the type of demand that exists for childcare in Grinnell in the hopes of completing a feasibility report for the school board by October. Otherwise I'm hoping to be productive in my time outside of work by coaching the Debating Union. I might also try to take advantage of some of the lesser-known perks of being an alum in Grinnell (i.e. dirt cheap classes).
Thank you for taking a minute to read about my experiences as a Grinnell Corps Fellow in Grinnell. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to e-mail me at email@example.com