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Commentary: Pre-K 4 SA on a mission to serve military families

Sarah Baray

We’re determined to help make San Antonio the first city in the nation with no child care waiting lists for military families.

Military personnel make sacrifices to serve our country, but often forgotten are the military spouses and children who also make sacrifices to support the service members in their lives. That there is a shortage of high-quality care for military families is well-known. 

That’s why Pre-K 4 SA, an early childhood education provider that’s setting a national standard for publicly funded, high-quality early learning, is working to better support families who serve our country.

We’re taking a multifaceted approach to this complex problem.

Military members relocate every two to three years on average, according to the Department of Defense. Adjusting to new schools, teachers, friends, neighborhoods, activities and routines is stressful; it can have lasting negative effects on children’s academic success, and their mental, emotional and behavioral health.

When a parent or both parents are deployed, that adds even more stress on young children and their caretakers. Young children don’t necessarily have a firm grasp on time. When they’re told one or both of their parents will be back in six months or a year, they don’t always understand.

One way Pre-K 4 SA aims to help is by developing relationships with our military families so we can support both the children and the families with those transitions. We offer extra social and emotional support while a parent is deployed, and we help children look forward to their relocation.

We also offer schedule flexibility. Service members often must be at work early in the morning, during the evening or on weekends. They require child care outside regular operating hours and sometimes on short notice.

The military provides excellent child care options, but there are waiting lists — especially for infants and toddlers. When families can’t access on-installation care, the Military Child Care in Your Neighborhood program, or MCCYN,  bridges the gap by reimbursing them for the costs of childcare from accredited providers. The MCCYN-Plus program has expanded the pool of providers, but some families still struggle to find solutions.

Military families are a priority group at Pre-K 4 SA, so their children attend for free and have priority enrollment. More than 30% of enlisted families live paycheck to paycheck, and maintaining employment as a military spouse is challenging, so affordability is crucial.

We’re working with Joint Base San Antonio to learn more about MCCN-Plus and help expand the number of certified providers. The Early Learning Shared Services Alliance of San Antonio, a powerful network of child care and family care providers powered by Pre-K 4 SA, has nearly 100 child care centers across the city dedicated to improving access to high-quality care.

One of our goals is to make sure that every one of those providers is certified to serve military families.

We’re determined to help make San Antonio the first city in the nation with no child care waiting lists for military families.

Remember, San Antonio is Military City, USA. Pre-K 4 SA and other local leaders should set an example for the rest of the nation on how to serve the families of those who serve our country. It’s the right thing to do.

Sarah Baray, Ph.D., is CEO of Pre-K 4 SA.

Article originally published April 25, 2024 by Sarah Baray for the San Antonio Express-News.

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