Among the institutions stepping up in the Covid-19 crisis, like hospitals, police and rescue squads, schools, and grocery stores, you might not think of a music conservatory.
But the Cape Conservatory has indeed stepped up. With its usual program of classes and workshops in music, dance, and art on two campuses in Barnstable and Falmouth suspended (or taught virtually) during the epidemic, the conservatory was approached by Christopher Lawson, chief development officer at Cape Cod Healthcare, who asked if it would serve as a child care provider for local health care workers. The answer, straightaway, was yes.
“We already had a relationship with Cape Cod Healthcare because of our close proximity,” says Anne Kullas, director of the conservatory’s Emergency Childcare Program. “We thought, absolutely, we are willing to open our doors to serve any children or families in the community in a time of crisis.”
Since then, the conservatory’s program has expanded from health care to all essential workers on Cape Cod. It offers drop-in child care at no charge from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., for children aged 2.9 and up, at its Barnstable facility at 2235 Iyannough Road. Though the program currently serves six children, there are 39 spots available. (Contact Kullas to pre-register at 774-810-5571 or [email protected], though pre-registration is not required.)
“It’s almost like we’re our own little family here,” Kullas says. “We have a boy who is nine and has become a mentor to our youngest, who is four. He has almost become the big brother of the group.”
The Cape Conservatory (merged with the Cape Symphony in 2010) is usually home to the Conservatory Preschool, which teaches an arts-enriched curriculum and is meeting virtually during the crisis. The children in the Emergency Childcare Program likewise spend their days doing craft projects, having dance parties, and playing musical instruments. They also must do remote learning for the schools they were attending.
It can be challenging to juggle diverse ages and curricula in the same room. But, Kullas says, “When the parents are done working their eight-plus-hour shift, we want them to go home and relax and be with their kids, not feel the pressure of completing assignments.”
Lynn St. John, who works at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital Cape Cod in Sandwich and whose two grandchildren are in the program, says, “During these trying times, it is comforting to know that my grandchildren are in a safe, supportive environment that provides structure as well as fun.”
Fun aside, staff members follow strict health protocols, Kullas says. The classrooms are thoroughly sanitized morning and night, children wash their hands frequently, and plans are in place if anyone comes in contact with an infected person.
Despite the risks, teachers Alyson Anderson and Larry Smith have always been on board. “It’s the least we can do for our local community heroes,” Anderson says. They work 11-hour days, providing emergency child care as well as remote learning for the Conservatory Preschool.
Unlike some of their elders, the children in the program seem to have taken in stride the disruption to their lives. “They don’t seem worried or concerned, although we’d be ready to handle that if they did, as we’re trained in that area,” Kullas says.
In fact, some of the children like it so much, they don’t want to leave at the end of the day.