The Rose Garden Early Childhood Center opened on Lafayette Avenue in the old Annunciation School building in September 2009. It was during an economic downturn, but childcare is a necessary business regardless of the state of the economy. According to a Cornell Study published in 2008, quality childcare located in dense areas near homes and places of employment was linked to economic renewal in Buffalo.
Although it was an autumn start-up, it was like springtime, a time of rebirth of a once vacant building and economic growth in Buffalo. The Rose Garden Early Childhood Center spent seasons refining the model and hosting teacher trainings and parent education programs while serving young families. The rooms filled and the model was implemented, elevating the work of early childhood education.
Children grew in the play-based program with a lot of outdoor time, healthy food, and respect for their development. In the loose parts playground, there were stumps and logs, sand and dirt, a playhouse with a green roof – enough to nurture the bodies and imaginations of the children. They learned to cooperate while playing together. It was a period of summertime for the Rose Garden.
In 2018, the business structure changed when the founder (which happened to be me) retired and sold the business to the employees. The worker-cooperative model aligned with the Early Childhood model called LifeWays based on children learning through imitation. Adult cooperative in the business realm added another layer of modeling ideals. There were trainings in worker-cooperatives and the business became a hybrid cooperative with both worker-owners and workers.
While in that period of transition, the pandemic hit and brought with it more regulations and procedures to an already labor-intensive industry. There were staff and children out sick or quarantining due to exposure. When there was not enough staff or a covid case within a group, there were times when rooms had to close creating a loss of income for the center, and challenges for parents and children.
In an industry where there was already a gap between income and what it costs to run a center, the gap widened. Traditionally, the work of caregiving is feminine work which has been undervalued. The Rose Garden was struggling to elevate it by encouraging employees to become owners.
During the pandemic, one of every three childcare centers in the United States closed and parents who were working from home had to also care for their children. Childcare centers including the Rose Garden Early Childhood Center struggled to keep trained employees. It was a time of Autumn at the Rose Garden Early Childhood Center beginning in March 2020.
They had to let go of the vision they held to address covid-induced realities. With teachers and children in quarantine and rooms closing, staffing challenges made operations unsustainable. Rather than abandon the model, trainings, and ideals, the Rose Garden chose to close in March 2022.
Through our passionate teachers and families, utilizing the LifeWays Model, and running as a co-op, The Rose Garden is a place for a child to grow in community.
Teacher Shea Akers
They entered a time of dormancy or winter at the Rose Garden. By suspending operations, they were able to deep clean and to excavate the operational systems to find out what worked and what they could change. By renewing their commitment to the early childhood model as well as the worker-cooperative model, they reimagined the business and created a plan.
In August 2022, they raised salaries, rehired, and trained staff who spent one week in Milwaukee and two weeks on site learning the philosophy and practices of the model. In September 2022, they reopened with one toddler and one preschool room. Employees are embracing the worker-cooperative model and are in the process of onboarding.
In December 2022, when they add another room, they will hire and train more teachers. When they are ready, they will add a fourth room in the spring to serve more families.
Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing the Director, Shea Akers, in the community room. I heard sounds of children playing and smelled lunch cooking while enjoying a cup of tea and conversation. I saw a chart on the wall of tasks chosen by staff to tend common areas.
All signs of a strong recovery. It felt like a period of growth and renewal at the Rose Garden Early Childhood Center, like springtime in autumn.