The Child Care Business Podcast

Season 2, Episode 11: Back-to-School Tips for Your Child Care Center, with Aliya Johnson Roberts

September 02, 2022 Procare Solutions Season 2 Episode 11
The Child Care Business Podcast
Season 2, Episode 11: Back-to-School Tips for Your Child Care Center, with Aliya Johnson Roberts
Show Notes Transcript

Aliya Johnson-Roberts, an education and business consultant who leads Consulting with AJR, is the executive director of the Bustleton Learning Center and Pratt Street Learning Center in Philadelphia, serving more than 250 children.

Her mother was an in-home child care provider, and Aliya went into the fashion industry before realizing her passion is early childhood education.

Aliya has a master’s degree in early childhood education and educational leadership from Arcadia University and is a PhD candidate in educational leadership. And she’s preparing to expand Bustleton’s Learning Center’s services to include kindergarten through the third grade.

In this podcast, Aliya shares some useful tips to help prepare your child care center for back-to-school season, which is something we traditionally think of as happening in a school setting like elementary school and in older grades. But it's vital for child care providers too!

Learn more about Aliya's consulting business at consultingwithajr.com and search her name on the social media channels you follow!

Speaker 1:

Welcome to the childcare business podcast brought to you by ProCare solutions. This podcast is all about giving childcare , preschool, daycare , afterschool, and other early education professionals, a fun and upbeat way to learn about strategies and inspiration you can use to thrive. You'll hear from a variety of childcare thought leaders, including educators, owners, and industry experts on ways to innovate, to meet the needs of the children you serve from practical tips for managing operations, to uplifting stories of transformation and triumph. This podcast will be chalk full of insights. You can use to fully realize the potential of your childcare business. Let's jump in.

Speaker 2:

Welcome

Speaker 3:

Everyone again to the childcare business podcast. Really excited to have you with me. I'm Ryan Wal vice president of sales , uh, with ProCare software. And , uh, today I'm excited again about our guest , uh, Aaliyah Johnson Roberts , uh, is an education and business consultant , uh, who leads consulting with AJR. And she's the executive director of the Bustleton learning center and Pratt street learning center in Philadelphia. And she serves those centers serve more than 250 children. Um, today Alia's gonna talk about preparing your childcare center for back to school, which is something we traditionally think of as happening in a school setting like elementary school and an older grades. Uh , but she has some great ideas to share and help you prep for the upcoming year. Um, little bit about Alia . She has a master's degree in early childhood education and educational leadership from Arcadia university, and she's a PhD candidate in educational leadership. She's preparing to expand Bustle's learning center services to include kindergarten through third grade. Uh , so I'm excited to chat with her Leahy . Welcome to the show.

Speaker 4:

Thank you so much. Uh , thank you so much for having me, Ryan. I I'm so excited to be here.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, absolutely. We were just talking before we started recording, you know what, let's just jump into the week together and, and , and have some fun with it. So you, so tell me about this. Like, we're gonna talk a little bit about back to school and, and kind of what you do with , um, AJR but you were talking about podcasts. So you've been on podcast before, or you and some friends have done podcasts, is that right? What's the format of the podcast that you've done before.

Speaker 4:

So we are a little daring and ours. Ours is live, ours is live. And , um, we just , so it's called the impact podcast. I give you a little history a little bit, but I , I believe that I've kind of been behind my brand, my , my centers for the past 13 years , um, and stepping into this space of , uh, consulting. I wanted to just be able to have different conversations on a different level. So creating the podcast and having these conversation with some, some fellow , um, early childhood education professionals, it was just a way to have those conversations and kind of step from behind the business. So that was the purpose of it. And we call it impact podcast, real conversations, real people, real resources. And we kind of talk about current topics. We talk about things that are specific to early childhood education, but really things that just impact all of us. You know, we're mothers, we're business owners, we, some of us work in education. Uh , the other day we just aired. Um, well we recorded it live. We were in the poking those , and we were like, we're still gonna record. And we had , uh, our ch a couple of us had our daughters there who are gen Zers, and we wanted to bring them on the podcast and kind of have the conversation of , um, the differences between the generations and, you know, how we sometimes miss one another and how we could better effectively communicate. So it was really fun. So, you know, we , we try to keep it lively and just have real conversations that sometimes, you know, we don't get to have in early childhood education space.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. I love that. So technically, so gen Z is, is what ages Aaliyah is. So your daughter, how old is your daughter? Just outta curiosity? 2021 . Okay. So that's gen Z that's. So that means I have, my kids are 22 and 20, so I have kids in that same demographic then I , I might have to listen to that show cuz I'm sure there's some good content in there.

Speaker 4:

It honestly, it was , um, it was really mind blowing . We learned a lot, even I learned from my daughter, just , um, some things that they brought to light that I think sometimes our generation couldn't kind of shoot them sometimes and like, oh, here they come. But it was, it was a great conversation, please tune there .

Speaker 3:

Yeah . What , um, can you share just, I know that's not the topic of our podcast today, but I'm curious anything stand out for you because the reason why this, I think is relevant, like same thing with my team. Like, you know, at ProCare, if I look across our team, you know , we hire a lot of young professionals in that demographic and there are generational differences and different approaches to work and life. And it's been , um, interesting to navigate both how we can learn from that generation, but also how we can mentor and, and coach and, and influence. But, so I'm curious, like from your perspective, what were there any like main takeaways that you're like, oh, a anything you can share?

Speaker 4:

Absolutely. So of course communication was huge, right. I , I know I've been guilty of it. It's like, oh my goodness, this generation, they are, they can be disrespectful. They do not listen. They are difficult to work with. So, you know, so we , I kind of put it out there to say, you know, let's talk about that stigma. What do you guys see as the differences between the generations and how can we do better? And one thing that I, I really had never thought about , um, it actually was, my daughter said that sometimes they try to approach us. They try to have, they try to communicate. And because there are times where we may feel like because they disagree, it is disrespectful. Um, and we sometimes shut them down, which causes mental health issues. Hmm . I , I never connected. I'm never connected to two. Um, so, you know, even in the workplace and I asked specifically about the workplace , um, we too have, we're very diverse and they're at times could feel like friction between the generations. And they basically were saying that, you know , they're not here to take anyone's jobs. They're not here to be combative or be the enemy, but they sometimes can do things faster. They do it differently. And it doesn't mean that it's wrong. We do things differently. And if we just figure out a way to work together, then we could all be better and it could compliment , um, the business basically is what they were saying.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. Isn't that so true. Like, I mean , like in , in any stage of life, when you look at that , the next group coming, you , you kind of have this mindset, like, Hey, we've been there. We understand how things work. We're gonna kind of show you the right way to do it, but to actually have an open mind that , um, we can learn so much from, you know, that group. I think that's interesting. I'll have to check it out for sure. What, what about for you Aaliyah , just, you know, to give our audience a little context of who Aaliyah is and your background. So, so here's a question for you 10 year old Aaliyah , if you go all the way back to when you were a child, how would you describe yourself? Like what, what were the things that you enjoyed to do? Did you always know you wanted to be in education? Um, talk a little bit about like, just looking back in time, description of Aaliyah 10 years old, or 12 years old or that young girl , uh, kind of stage of life.

Speaker 4:

Sure. So I was raised in a childcare home, so this is all I've, I've known, I've grown up in it and growing up in a home. That was, I , I , I swear my mom, it was not just like a 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM. It , it felt it was all day weekends. Um, there were always children at our home and I definitely did not see myself in the industry. I actually have a staff member who she worked in the home program she's been, so she's been around 25 years and we literally were just laughing about it that, you know, I would always, you know, come downstairs and I would communicate with the staff and like interact with children, but I swore, and I vowed that I would never be a part of the business because this was just not my passion. Um, but I definitely remember the experiences that I had, even though it was my home. And that was my mother. Um, she was still miss Linda and there was something about her that she just imparted to the children and the families that just came from so much love. And , um, that part I never forgot. And, you know, I still remember, you know, she would always make hot meals and she always had to make soup from scratch. And , um, she taught things that were like , um, crocheting. I remember learning how to do like cook Le um, we jacks and it , you know, it was just really special to create relationships. And , um, so I , I definitely remember those moments. I definitely did not have a disdain for , um, childcare, but I was, I was big in fashion. I loved fashion and I vowed for that to be my career. So, you know, that's kind of where I was, I was always creative, but I was a quiet child. Um, I had one older brother, so, you know, he wasn't we're six years apart. So I was kind of like in the home by myself, but , um, yeah, I went to Catholic school neighborhood Catholic school. So, you know, our community, the school and the home childcare program, it was really one small community. Everyone knew one another, the school that I went to K through eight, we all went together. So we basically grew up together. So I know the feeling of community. Um, and , and that's , that's definitely what I remember. And I , I was that kid who was raised in childcare .

Speaker 3:

Yeah. That's um, so when you talk about you swore you weren't gonna get into childcare , was that just kind of the natural, like every young person's like, I'm not gonna follow the path of my parents or did you see your mom struggle with that? Like was, was for her, was running that home business, was it a struggle? And you saw that it's like, oh, wow, this is hard on my mom. Or was it just you kind of wanting to form your own path?

Speaker 4:

Yeah, it was just not a passion that I had. Um, my mom loved, she loved what she did to my mom is at our other site right now. She opens up every single day. She loves that's . She does , you know, and I'm like, well, mom, so, you know, did you wanna start preparing for retirement? And she's like, no, I really believe that this work brings her joy. Right. She's like a lot of people retire and they get sick and she's 70 years old, she's 70 and loves this work. So, no, I , I always saw the joy that she had for it. Um, she definitely had experiences later on, she had about four, she had the home program and she ended up having three additional centers outside of that. Um, they did end up all closing and I know it was like financial, like taxes and things and honesty , a number of those issues came from the lack of , uh, business systems. I , I know . So that was really interesting because when we ended up partnering together, I was bringing the business side while she had the early childhood education background before I formally went to school

Speaker 3:

For ECE. Got it. So how did she finally, maybe she didn't talk you into this, but talk about the events cuz I did see, I know you mentioned that your background and your passion was fashion and fashion merchandising, which, you know, isn't the, the most logical career pathing into or ECE, but you know, it's amazing how things over time doors open and , and, you know, passions shift. So talk a little bit about how that transition happened when you started kind of moving this direction.

Speaker 4:

Sure, sure. So again, you know, I , I knew what I wanted to do when I went to high school . I still was very much into, you know , creative fashion. That's what I love to do. Um, my mom never tried to pressure me at all. Um, summer summers, I worked, I worked in at the summer camp, you know, it was kind of like the thing to do. My cousins were there as well. That was fine. You know, it wasn't anything that I hated. It just was like, no, that's not, for me. It probably was some of that. Um, you know, teenage rebellious that I was like, Nope , not gonna do it. Um, but so I ended up going to, I really had one college choice at that time. It's called Philadelphia college of textile and science, great Philadelphia fashion school. Um, I went there for fashion merchandising and um, towards my latter years I had a daughter, I had a daughter. Um, so I took a year. I took time off and then I went back to finish my degree and , um, I was recruited to , uh, urban Outfitters. I , their home offices in Philadelphia and I was recruited there as an intern and ended up working there. So that was my first fashion job. My, my plans, they , they went, everything went according to plan. So I was doing exactly what I wanted to do. I was there for about four years and uh , my mother was opening up a totally different site. It was a brand new site and she started asking me about no, you know what? I was looking to go to LA. I was looking to go to LA. I fell in love with it. And I was looking at some buying positions there. And I always say that I felt like her offering me to partner in the business was her way of keeping me in Philadelphia. And , um, so she said , you know, I could really use your help. You do the business side. You know, I kind of teach you everything on this side and we collaborate. And , um, I started feeling the pressure of the fashion industry. You work long hours. I had a daughter, most, most of my colleagues did not. Um, so I started considering it and at some point I said, okay , um, I agreed to do it. And um, because I also, I also realized now I'm older at this point. So I realized the importance of legacy. Um, so I definitely was thinking different and, and I also had pretty much gotten what I wanted out of my system. I did exactly what I , I wanted to do. There was no pressure. Um, so I looked at it differently and I was excited to do it. It took some time. So the building that we had needed, some renovations and licensing, it's a whole process in trying to open up a childcare center. So in the meantime, of course I still have to work. Like I literally have salary health , health insurance, things like that, that I come to find out that it is, is not so in childcare . So I was like, wait a minute. So I didn't leave right away. I remember the same day that we got the license to open. I got another offer at another buying company. So I had to make the decision of what I would do because the salary wasn't there. I said, well, I'll continue to help on the business side. Um, I'll create the handbook. So I started doing those things and I wasn't necessarily needed in the business. So I would help. I went to that , uh, new position in 90 days after 90 days, they had a new president and they shut down the whole department. I was laid off and that same day I packed up and I went to Pratt street learning center. And that was my first day as director, literally working in the program. And we are 14 years later. Here we are today.

Speaker 3:

So , wow. That's what I was gonna ask you when , so that was, you know, roughly if I'm doing the math right. 2008 ish. Yep . Um, when you made that transition, so, so Pratt street , what do you remember about like, so making the transition from what call it corporate America into, you know, actually working at the center. So when you stepped into that fairly new to the childcare business, do you remember what your initial perceptions were of ? Like, okay, where am I gonna come in and make an impact from an administrative standpoint? Or was it early on where you just like, I'm just gonna absorb my , myself in the business and learn as much as I can. What , what do you remember about the early parts of the business side of things?

Speaker 4:

I , I , I , I still remember walking into the center and it kind of being like, well, who is she? Right. I walk in and all of a sudden, here's like, you know, here's your boss. I remember that moment. Um, so I didn't really have leadership experience. I , I had business experience, but I didn't have leadership experience. So , um, I'm a lifelong learner. So I signed up to go to our community college because I was just going to jump in and learn all that I could. And that's exactly what I did. Um, I ended up going to school for my associates, so I already had my bachelor's degree. So I really just needed an associate's in early childhood education just to get those core courses. So I , um, yeah, so I , I went full time just so I could complete it in a year. And I did that. And , you know, while I was in school, I was basically applying what I learned. It was like on the job training basically. Um, the program had already really been running anyway. Um, I didn't, at that time have a full understanding of like high quality yet. So I really just was like, I'm coming in and I'm just creating the business systems and the foundation. But the more that I went to school, the more that I interacted with other , uh, childcare professionals, I learned about high quality. So in Pennsylvania, we have what they call a stars system , um, which is a rating system. It goes from one, which is , um, you know, if you have a license at this point, you get a star one, and then you go up to star four based on some particular standards. Um, so we went through, I , I , I collaborated and I did a number of quality initiative programs that taught myself, it taught the staff, we received resources and , um, financial supports and they helped us raise the quality of our program. Um, so we went from one to two and then I literally remember the day that we got star two . I said , guys, prepare yourselves. We're going to start three. Um, what that includes though, that includes staff having to go back to school and get their degree because a percentage of teachers would be required to have a degree. Um, and then you would have to have other , um, standards that, that you met such as , um, family engagement and , um, community engagement and, and different services that you offered. So, you know, we kind of went through that process and that took us about that took us about three to four years.

Speaker 3:

And we just , just cur just curious a question about that , um, that rating system for you looking at the business at the time, cuz I think this is a question that is relevant for other providers as well, was the motivation of going to get higher quality rating? Was that a , a business decision in terms of like, Hey, this affects our, what we can charge for tuition and our reimbursement rates from the state , or was it more for you? A motivation of like, I wanna deliver the highest quality product that I can for my community or maybe it was both, but I'm curious the motivation initially. Um, what , what was the motivation be be behind starting that process?

Speaker 4:

It , it definitely was both. So the more that I learned about it, the , the higher, the quality, the higher the pay rate. Um, so if I'm asking staff to , uh, go back to school or if I'm trying to recruit staff who already have a degree, I have to be able to pay them more. Um, if you are not a part of the, the high quality system at that time, you, you know, at that time actually they gave like lump sum payments and they also gave bonuses to staff based on their education. Now , um, our subsidy re reimbursement rates, you get one and then the higher your equality level, if there's an add on . So there's a large difference financially. So that was one. But the more that I learned about what ch like the more that I learned about the impact on children, that , um, a childcare program had, you know, you have children who are there typically eight to 10 hours per day. Um, the experiences that they had really created , uh, a more effective trajectory of their lives. And so why would we not, if we are here providing this service, we're gonna be the best that we could be. So , um, it was a little bit of both, and I definitely wanted to raise the bar. You know, I'm not one who we just settled. I , I wanted to do the best that we could. And the more we learned, I , I said, okay, oh, they have that initiative program. They have that one. What I loved about it too, is these programs at that time United way had a program called success five , six. They didn't just require us to do particular. Um, they didn't require us to just follow these standards. They provided technical assistance where people came into the program and they supported us along the way. So we had coaches in the classrooms showing teachers and sitting with them and interacting with children and, and kind of modeling what it looked like. And in childcare , when you have a leader, a director, or you have , um, we have a education specialist now, but that's one person that's one person to, in this building, we have 25 teachers. So, you know, to have additional supports, we still have additional supports where we could , um, allow the teachers to ask questions and to learn and to model and to reflect. So I wanted them to have the opportunity to do that. And I also learned the backend as well. So, because I knew business generally, I didn't necessarily know , um, how to navigate a childcare program as effectively as I do now. So they were monumental to, to , to where I am.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. When you look back like at, at Aaliyah 2008, when you first stepped in versus 2022 Alia , we'll talk a little bit about back to school, you know, here's, we , um, as we continue to talk, but anything that stands out, like if you were to go back and, and give advice to 2008 elite , I know you mentioned, Hey, I'd never been a leader before. And I think people take for granted that even though I think there are those attributes that people carry that are innate to them in terms of leadership. There's a lot of like development and learning. And , and so to think like, Hey, I was gonna be like the perfect leader day one. Um , not the case for most people, anything that you look back on and say, man, if I could have given myself 2022 Alia given my 2008 Alia , some advice, anything stand out like from learnings over time that , um, have taken time that you wish you would've known, then I know it's a hard question, but curious if anything stands out,

Speaker 4:

You know, I , I'm one of those people who believe that, you know , everything that you experience really provides the , the background and the , um, it allows you to learn. And I learned from all of it. I mean, you know, I , again, I, I had not been a leader. So I had staff under me who have been in the field for years, that I'm coming in. And I , you know, I'm not one of those leaders though that I'm just going to , I'm going to tell you what to do. Um , and I sit in the office and, you know, I'm hands off . So I'm, I'm not one of those people, I've, I've always come with a level of respect. And , um, you know, I believe in partnerships and, you know, staff or like family, I know a lot of people say that, but of course I did not. I definitely kept people around longer than I should have. Um , from our perspective, you know, I learned, you know, I , I had a lot of , well, they have a lot of potential, they have a lot of potential and, you know, I can , I can help , um, that, that honesty was one of the, the biggest learning experiences that I had was staffing. Right? Like the children were easy.

Speaker 3:

Yeah.

Speaker 4:

It was

Speaker 3:

It's the adults. Yeah. Like, we've talked about that so much. Like, kids are amazing. They make things like, they're so simple and they speak the truth and it's like, they're honest. And they, like, they don't let life's worries. Get in the way of like, let's just have fun or let's learn something. Yeah, you're right. Adults. Oftentimes we have too much perspective. Maybe. I don't know, but we ruin things. Huh? I I've heard that from other people too. Aaliyah . Just the idea of like, when you're building a team that you wanna believe in everybody that you wanna like , believe that everybody's gonna get there and wants the same things that you want in terms of what you're building. And , um, you hold on too long sometimes. And I I've heard that from others as well. That's probably a good one to point out. What about , um, so have you guys always had the two locations or did the second location? Cause I think if I read the bio correctly, you've got Bustleton, but you have Pratt street as well. So were they, did they go hand in hand or did you guys expand to a second site at some point over the last decade?

Speaker 4:

Yep . We expanded. So , um, you know, I spoke about going through the high quality rating , uh, system. So what happened ? They ended up , um, they ended up having a grant, a pretty hefty grant of $300,000 to basically , um, expand or duplicate if you will, high quality programs because there weren't enough in the city. So , um, if you received this grant, when I say, and I told you about the success by six program, which provided supports, this was next level. I mean, they provided, they provided professional services that I had never used, like a lease attorney. We were looking , we had a realtor, we were looking for buildings. I had my own personal technical assistant who was like a coach. And, you know, they, they , they were not from the early childhood education side. A lot of the people that we ended up working with, they were professionals outside of the industry. So we learned so much , um, we had an architect, I , I literally had to learn how to create a building. Like I had to figure how many classrooms would you like and how many bathrooms, what , what's the height of the toilets ? And I was like, wait a minute. Okay. Um, so the , the amount, I , I think that was a turning point for me as a leader, like where I am now in regards to what I teach other providers, that was a turning point because sometimes in the childcare industry, it could feel like a silo, if you will , it's there's businesses. And then there's childcare

Speaker 3:

Mm-hmm

Speaker 4:

<affirmative>. And , and my work now is really to merge it too, because we are businesses first, but we really operate so much from a level of passion. Sometimes that, you know, we forget the business side and, you know, we , we love what we do, but , um, it was monumental. So we received the grant, we were awarded the grant and there we're looking for a second site . The beauty of it was the building that we were in, which we still have . Um, we had filled it to the capacity. We , the reason I had done it also was that my staff, even though we had longevity, they, they really couldn't grow. I was a director, they were teachers, there was nowhere for them to go. So I wanted to be able to offer this opportunity and , um, move into a site that really was our wishlist. We, we, we had two levels, there weren't a lot of windows we had to actually like create windows so that we could have sunlight. We didn't have a space for like a staff lounge. Right . It was a number of things that we wanted. So when we look for this second site, we, we , we wanted so many things, such as an outdoor place space with grass, with dirt, like we have a mud kitchen and everything. Like we created everything that we wanted. Um, so this , this opportunity was huge. Not only to extend the services that we provided to another community, but also to allow staff to have the opportunity to grow and , and have a desire even outside of teachers. So,

Speaker 3:

Yeah, cause now you're building hierarchy and additional roles and, you know, making a big, even though there was a grant involved that it's also risky, right? Like, I mean, I , I like what, what you're saying around like easy to maybe settle into like, this is where we are and we're comfortable. But I think one of the things I'm hearing you share is probably something that, you know, other providers and owners need to hear too, is it is always about constantly learning, constantly taking some risks, stepping out in faith or whatever. However you wanna describe that, cuz I'm sure that was part of it too. Right? Like scary to go, you know, put yourself in that position cuz there's some unknowns.

Speaker 4:

Absolutely. And I mean, so our , our first building was 5,000 square feet and the building, we ended up the , the second side 5,000 square feet. So wow . I mean, and I say for a long time I walked up to this building and I, I just still was in awe. Like, did we really do this? And it , it is , it is absolutely amazing. All of the things that we've been able to offer. Um, I, I , I , I think another turning point was at my first site , we partnered with our , um, local school district. So we had a contract for preschool children. And again, like we were maxed out, we couldn't serve any more children. We really couldn't, you know , sorry, this , this is my bell ring. Sorry. Um, no problem. <laugh> we, you know, we, we just were maxed out that , that was it. So , um, this , this site, it really again is , I wish it's very, this is the other interesting part. Um, we planned to duplicate exactly what we had and we are five minutes away from our other site. The demographics are totally different. Like we, we were not interesting . Yeah . We were, we thought we were just, we're just gonna do everything the same. No, not at all. So we we've been having to even still we're very diverse. Um, so we've had to learn how to serve other cultures, religions , um, speak other languages, recruit staff who speak other languages. Um , yeah . Provide our policies, procedures, our parent meetings and other languages, other than English we've had to learn to not just send out emails and text messages because not every family communicates that way. So, you know, you had , you have a plan. We had a great plan. Um <laugh> but we learned so much in the transition. Um , you know, and , and I think our goal though, our goals were met and we've been able to further impact the community. We serve an additional , um, 200 children here. And actually it's more because we serve preschool children who are like half of the day and we really could serve another 198 after they leave at, at three o'clock between three to six. So , um, we have a full size gym here. So another part, one of our vision, our , our vision and mission is also to be a hub in the community. So this center outside of childcare in the evenings and weekends, we rent the space out where we host community events, we partner with our state reps . So, you know, we've had , um, English language, learner classes , um, you know , all kinds of other community events. So we've really been able to tap into our mission and carry on all of the things that I remember us doing at , uh, the home childcare program with miss Linda. So it it's been amazing.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. That's yeah, that is amazing. Starting in a home environment and, and moving to center and now a 25,000 square foot center with community, you know, education classes. And I know a lot of centers that would love, I mean, in addition to being , uh, uh, a resource for the community, it does also, I mean, from a business standpoint, I don't know how it works for you, but it does also offer other opportunities to, to monetize the building that's sitting there when, when nobody else is there. So there's a, there's a business aspect of that too. So good on , good on you guys. What are you guys? I , I wanna talk a little bit about your consulting business too, cuz I I'm always so intrigued. Um, we talk with a lot of owners who, you know, have been in the trenches and have run centers and obviously have a calling and a passion for sharing that. And it sounds like you've got, you know, some similar work that you're doing, but I, but I talk to me a little bit about just like in the trenches a little bit tactics about back to school stuff, cuz I, you know, it's relevant right now just cuz we are it's August and I don't know exactly when this will air, but you know, the theme right now is all right , it's the end of summer, you know, schools are starting to get ready to make plans for back to school. Like for you in particular, what does that mean at Pratt street and at your other center? What, what changes this time of year? What kind of preparations are you guys putting in place to get ready for? Cuz if I'm not mistaken, it also means there's a lot of new families that are gonna be starting. So what, what does that look like? Any practical things that you guys do to prep for the new, for the new school year?

Speaker 4:

Yes. Oh yes. So the summertime is, you know, we have summer camp , um, but we also use it as our prep for the new year period. Um, our admin team they're , they're busy. It , it's interesting. We go from end of the year school activities and then we jump right into summer camp planning. And then right after that, we're planning for the school year and we, we always start with our , um, our goals. So no I'll take a step back before the school year ended, we had surveys and we had , um, reflection meetings with our staff just to kind of find out right. We could think everything was great, but we needed to hear from our staff and our families. So we conducted surveys to kind of get a sense of how did it go this year? What were we really strong at? What could we have done better? Um, and get some feedback. And we had, we really had a great meeting. Um, Uhhuh

Speaker 3:

Question. I, I just, just, cuz I'm curious about this cuz this year, I think this past year has been unique in some ways around staffing, is that survey something that you've done every single year and that's a common practice or was this the first time you've done it in light of how the year went?

Speaker 4:

No, we do it, of course each year we , we learn other ways to do it. We , uh, we did it last year as well. Okay . It's just that we were more intentional, right? I think each year we learn and , and we, we carve, we carve out time to actually sit and have conversations. Um, so we are really big on core values. So we, we actually, this whole year we, we are , we're always compliant, but we really focused on core values this year. Um, which a lot of it was teamwork and positive work environment and things like that because it was such a unique year. It was high stress levels. It was really difficult. COVID came, it went, you know, it was really tough. Um, so I did not wanna be that leader. That was all just about deadlines and you have to do this and you have to do that. And , and putting a lot of pressure on staff who already were overwhelmed by their personal lives and work lives as well. So , um, we wanted to talk about that. We really did because the more that we are learning and you know, I , I do consulting, but I have consultants that I work with. So , um, we had a lot of goals that we had and we learned more about how to have conversations about core values and things like that. So I wanted to see how well that went when we did our staff evaluations. I totally did it different this year. I didn't have my three page with all of the questions related to the job description. They were based on core values. How , how did you fare in regards to our core values? And um, then we have the system, you know, do , do you get the job? Do you want it? And do you have the capacity to do it? And then they were able to write out their strengths as well as areas they would like to work on. It was a one pager and we were able to have conversations. And that's what I really wanted to work on were relationships because that is the most important. So , um, it was different this year in regard to what our focus was and our questions that was really the difference. But each year we, we kind of hear back from staff and and families. Um, so we got that fee . I just really think this year they were a lot more honest and open and interestingly like one , you know, one , I was, I was pleasantly surprised to hear, you know, one of our teachers said, you know, they thought this was the best year yet. So at this site at our Buston site, we're five years old, we're five years old. And um, okay . We've been growing, we've been growing. So , um, you know, to kind of hear that during a year that we just took a step back and focused on something like core values to hear that it was a , you know, one of the best years I said we're on something. So of course a part of how we planned out this upcoming year was to, to stay there and to strengthen our core values and figure out how we could build even stronger relationships. We invested in mental health supports this past year where I had someone coming in and, and they were able to call in it , had , it didn't have to have anything to do with work. They were able to really unpack their, if they could choose to , um, they didn't have to. Um, we also did things like , um, peer learning circles and, and like having conversations about things. We really tried to step outside of the box this year to make sure that we could retain staff because the turnover has been like really difficult. A lot of people didn't return to work, but , um, you know, so that really is how we, we started planning for the upcoming school year. It's based on the reflection that we have . Um, yes. And so after that, you know, we looked at what our goals were. We always have our annual meeting during the summer, which says, did you meet your financial goals? Did you meet your program goals? And we met all of them. We actually exceeded, you know, our goals, which was, that was amazing. Um, so, so then we create our upcoming year goals. So we always so their annual goals and then we break them down to quarterly that way . And do

Speaker 3:

You do that, do you do that as a team with your staff, when you say you have your annual meeting, is that kind of a candid, transparent conversation about the business and the business' goals and then that kind of trickles down to each individual like teacher and classroom as well? Yeah , yeah .

Speaker 4:

Yep . So again, it starts with the reflection. So, you know, we kind of hear from them. So when we go, my leadership team is the ones that go to the , um, to the annual meeting and we kind of do the high level goals, but then each person in our organization has their own goals. They have their own that, that, you know, the way that it's supposed to work is that it's all related though. You know, what is it that you could do to help us reach the organization's goals? Um, but , um, so when we come back that that meeting was just , uh, three weeks ago. So when we come back for our orientation in two more weeks, we'll, we'll share with them that we met our goals. This is where we were, and here are our goals for the upcoming school year. And then by the end of our orientation week , they would've created their own goals for the first quarter.

Speaker 3:

Got it. And so each individual teacher, assistant teacher, everybody in your organization, you know, has the opportunity to list out and lay out , like , what are their personal goals? How do those align with your core values and the overall goals of the organization? And then how do you guys Aleah ? How do you then track that throughout your school years ? So, cuz I love how you guys are really intentional about laying those out. Is that an ongoing conversation then? Like, do you have like a monthly or a quarterly meeting with each staff to like track attainment to those goals? Or what does that look like for you guys?

Speaker 4:

So we have a scorecard and each week our , um, so we have a leadership team, which is a higher level and then we have a admin team, we meet weekly. Um, and then our te you know, we tried it last year. It was overwhelming for our teachers. So we're not meeting weekly with our teachers. It was a lot. Um, so , uh, we have them every other week where, you know, we just kind of get some feedback. We also want them to still be able to be creative. And then we do check-ins my education specialist works a lot more hands on with our teachers. So some of their goals really aren't necessarily that they have to take all of this time out. It's really a reflection as well as my education specialist being in the classroom and kind of seeing where they are. And maybe, you know, maybe this is what we work on for the next quarter. Uh , what would you like to learn? What professional development would you like to take? Is there , um, a leadership role that you'd like to work on? So, you know, the goals, they're not something that, you know, we are telling them that they have to do. It's something that they want for themselves. And then , um, we don't have a score card for their goals. We have a score card based on like, for example, because we have financial goals, we have what we would like to have for income for the year. And we have, we break that down to a weekly amount. So each week, and that score card is that number. Uh , we also track it's extremely important for us to have a healthy and safe environment. We track incident reports, right? How many incidences happened this week? Um, what was the health and safety check like when they go around and outlet covers and things like that, like, you know, how safe are we? Uh , we do meal counts and things like that. So we have a , a very specific score card by department and we review them each week in their higher level.

Speaker 3:

Nice. I like that. And then what about like, so that's the staff and the administrative side and getting the business all tightened up. And I , I love how you guys use what you learned from the last year to apply towards kind of building out plans for this year. What about in terms of prepping families for the upcoming school year? Is there any specific work that goes into like the orientation night and how you get new families, any, any practical tips on making sure that the new school year starts off successfully for families who

Speaker 4:

Absolutely. So we have our family orientations that are sick . Um, and we do that in , uh, some , a couple of time periods. So over two days , um, we have our family orientation and so we'll have a , a virtual option. We are actually really wanting our families to be able to come back in this year. Um , yeah , so we'll have face to face opportunities. Again, our, our site is pretty large, so we'll, we're , we'll stagger them around so that they can come in. Um, so initially we don't wanna bombard them, but when we do our enrollment intake appointments, that's when we have our initial family engagement opportunities to kind of learn, you know, who they are. We have kind of like a, getting to know you, if you will, to find out a little information about them, the back, their background, their , um, children's background, you know, kind of it's important to ask was the child premature, just to have an understanding, you know, do they have any fears? What do they really like? Of course we need to know about dietary. So that initial intake appointment is where our , um, family engagement specialist creates that initial relationship. Um, and then they meet the teacher. But at the beginning of the years, when we have family orientation and we're laying out who we are, they're , they're re they receive a handbook. Um, they get to tour the building. They get to understand basic things about the class. When you come in, we use , um, an electronic sign in system and communication system. So we make sure that they get connected to that. Um, and we share overall policies and procedures and make sure that we ask question, we also get what's called our ages and stages questionnaire done. And that is where the family is able to tell us about the child, where they are academically, as well as social emotional . And that's like our initial , um, orientation. And then we wait , uh, about two months to have our back to school night . And that's when we have them come back in and they can have more of a comp , they can see their children's work, they can tour the classrooms. Um, and now we're building even more of a , a family , uh, family and school relationship, because now they have something to go off of. You know, you bring someone in the first time and ask if they have question, you know , too soon . Yeah , yeah . Too soon , too soon . So , um, but we also do have monthly family engagement meetings. So every month we have a meeting anyway. So , um, that is a big part of our mission. So , um, we prepare them with meetings. Again, we had to learn though, we had families who they don't speak English, so we're having these meetings and we think we're doing a great job, but we left some of our families behind, behind. Yep . Yep . So we , um, we do have, we have a , a , a high , um, Spanish speaking , uh, population. So we have a separate meeting , um, for them. And then honestly, each year our demographics change. So we kind of have to see if we need to provide , um, some other , uh, translations as well. And then we'll do that also .

Speaker 3:

And are those parent engagement and family engagement meetings, are those like inclusive of the teachers in the classroom with administrative staff, or are the engagement meetings more the administration and leadership with families? What does just practically, what does that look like if I'm a parent at your school?

Speaker 4:

That's actually, so we are required . So we have a large head start population. It's a federal program, you know, if anyone isn't familiar with it, like I love the model. Um, whether you officially have head start or not, it is a comprehensive service. So , um, we actually are required to have a , a policy council and a parent committee. So we have leaders that we kind of ask, are there any families who would like to take on these roles and you know, really their job is to lead it. So it's not really a meeting where we're talking at the families, we're really finding out what kind of workshops could we offer you? Who could we invite so they can share some information? What questions do you have? What would you like to see over the next one to three months? So, you know, it's not really, we want you to come to this meeting just for us to tell you what we wanna tell you, or just to give you updates. We can send that out in the newsletter. Um, this is really about finding out what they need and want and, you know, providing some fun, you know, we had a Einstein nutrition program. They came on, it was virtual at that time. But you know, I was home too with my children at night and we made hummus and, you know, so we try to provide them , um, opportunities to learn how to do things at home with their children. Um, so, you know, it's , it's not let teachers aren't required to come. We are asking this year, we are , um, asking for, we're actually asking for a room parent that way, all , any other families who aren't able to, to be at the meeting, they , they get the information that they need. Um, but we do at least ask for one staff person to be at the meetings just to make sure that, you know, no one's left out, but we don't require them to be at the meetings. It is really about the families and we want them to have leadership roles.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. That's um , I mean it , when I listen to you talk, it's like, amazing. Like just like in our business, you know, we're technology camp , but it's like, you're constantly learning and you're constantly trying to solve new problems. And you're , and when I listen to you describe like, even since 2008, there's never a point where you're like, we've arrived and got this thing figured out, because like you said, our demographics changed. And then that thing called COVID and now we had to learn how to do things virtually, and you're constantly, constantly trying to get better at, you know, what you do and how you serve your community wi and I wanna be respectful of time too, cuz I know we have a couple more minutes here, but I do wanna talk about then how, how that transitioned for you personally into this consulting business. Cause you know, I , I think that's, that's a , that's another one of those things is like , man, that, that requires a real step into a new direction and putting yourself out there, like you mentioned earlier, talk to me about , um, the , your consulting business and what your vision for it is. And you know, maybe how people who are listening to this podcast could find you if they wanted to tap into a little bit about what you're even sharing on the show.

Speaker 4:

Sure, sure. So, you know, I started being a , a part of a number of different organizations. I was , um, an alum of the , uh, Goldman Sachs 10,000 small businesses. And again, it was, it was a game changer for me. Um, it was not childcare related at all. It was business related and we learned about a lot about, I mean, negotiations, marketing , um, so many business systems and, and also what I loved about it was networking with other business owners. Um, and it was so empowering and I don't know if any other childcare owners could relate, but there was a time when, if I was in a room with a bunch of different business owners there, I , I used to shrink. And you know, when someone asked , well , what do you do? It's like, I mean, oh , I just, you know , own a childcare program. And sometimes people don't get it or they just think that you're a babysitter and you know, it , it felt like at times it wasn't necessarily a respected industry, you know, when you're not working at like a school district or something like that. So, you know, I remember those moments, but it was so empowering to be around other business owners. And I had to come to the realization, I'm a business owner as well, and I'm scaling my business. We're a large program. We , we have a higher income level more than I ever would've thought. Um, so I wanted to be able to bring the industry in that same direction. So, you know, I wanted to encourage other early childhood education leaders to do the same. Um, sometimes when we go to our trainings, most times when we go to our trainings, we're talking about, you know, curriculum or we're , we're talking about child observations and things like that, but not always kind of the conversations that we've had such as , um, you know, creating like a scorecard or annual goals, quarterly goals , um, how to be productive , um, you know, profit margin and you know, not , not to, to make it sound stuffy, but these are the real things that if we wanna serve our communities, our businesses have to be sustainable. And , um, you know, I , I , I remember when I first came into the industry and we have something called the market rate survey and they ask, how much are you charging? And I remember my mom saying, just put the highest amount they have on there. But the truth of the matter is, is that's not the actual cost of care. So we're be , we're undercutting ourselves. So if we're starting there by undercutting , um, the amount of money that we're receiving to service these children and families, then, you know, it's, it's a lot harder to reach our financial goals or to even be sustainable as a business. I don't wanna be that business. I'm serving 200 children here today, and now we're not around to do this work because we, you know, didn't have savvy business practices. So that was really , um, you know, kind of the motivation behind this and because, you know, my experience is coming from, you know , I grew up, I , I didn't run the home home childcare program, but because I transitioned into this space kind of organically, I had a lot of people asking me, you know, how did I do it? Or they wanted to tour the center. So, you know, I , I just became, because I've always loved business. I became intrigued at, you know, kind of helping other childcare leaders do the same and not just locally. I mean, you know , the virtual world has opened up. So, you know, I had a webinar last at the last month , um, talking about this very thing, helping providers kind of start planning for the year and I utilize things that are just not childcare related , but they're really fun. Um, they're they help me to be sustainable. And I'm also able to teach my staff things that are kind of cutting edge if you will. Um, so, you know, that's, that's really what I wanted to do. That's how I got here . Yeah.

Speaker 3:

Love , love . And we need, we need in the industry. I mean, you kind of hit the nail on the head, at least in terms of like my perspective on the industry, what we see in here, like in order to serve our communities as early education providers, we have to run sustainable businesses. And there are a lot of people that I think just have a passion for this and want to educate and partner with their communities, but maybe don't have the business background. And some of the things that, like you said, you've learned over the past decade plus. Um, so it's exciting for me and for us to see people jumping in to, to help other providers. So L last question, if people did wanna find you Aaliyah , I know I'm , I , I mentioned AJR consulting. Do you guys, do you have a website? Can people find you on, on social if somebody did, how would they find you ?

Speaker 4:

Sure. Um, I am on social , uh, Aaliyah Johnson, Roberts. You could find me that way. Um, also the business name consulting with AJR. Um, I'm also on YouTube, so I post a lot of those videos there. Um, the podcast streams there as well. Um, I'm on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook , uh, and I'm also gonna be starting , uh, a Facebook community , uh, really recent . I actually started it, but I'm gonna be posting a lot of tips and resources and short videos where I'm teaching small nuggets of these things and I'll be having webinars monthly so that I can actually have providers in the room. And we, you know, we do this work together. I know that our time is pressured , so it's not one of those. I wanna talk at you. I want us to literally be creating, you know, I , I asked everyone to bring a calendar. I sent them a calendar, let's start writing things in. So , um, you know, I kind of wanna change how , um, I don't call them trainings at all. You know, I kind of wanna change what that looks like, so that it's not scary to be a business owner. I want it to be , um, a sense of pride. I think another turning point. Um, I just wanna add that, that we are always advocating for additional funding and we're always advocating for a level of respect for our professionalism business owners first. And we were able to communicate the impact that we had economically , um, in regards to allowing , um, parents to go to work so that other businesses could survive, or the fact that we are, have this large center in the middle of a community and my families and my staff support the other community . So if all of us were business owners first and we brought on other business owners and we could really advocate for what we need and deserve . So , um, you know, that , that was another part behind it, but yes, I'm all the social media sites, Aaliyah Johnson, Roberts. You can find me there , um, or consulting with AJ. That's my website, as well as consulting with ajr.com .

Speaker 3:

Nice. And we'll put all of that in the show notes to Aaliyah . So, you know, as we get the Facebook group and everything, I know Leah and our , our marketing team will put it in the show notes. And I listen, I, I , I know we're at the top of the hour, so I wanna be respectful of your time, but it's been an amazing conversation. I think exactly what we wanted to talk about. Dig into a little bit about the new school year and , um, really appreciate you taking time to , uh, to share your expertise with our audience.

Speaker 4:

Thank you. I appreciate it. And I am so very honored to have been asked to kind of share my story and who I am. So thank you so much for inviting me.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, absolutely. Have a great week and we'll talk to you again soon. Okay.

Speaker 4:

All right . Thank you your great day . Bye.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for listening to this episode of the childcare business podcast, to get more insights on ways to succeed in your childcare business, make sure to hit subscribe in your podcast app. So you never miss an episode. And if you want even more childcare business tips, tricks and strategies, head over to our resource center@procaresoftware.com until next time.