Last summer, LAist gave cameras to 12 child care providers, educators, and caregivers to document their lives during the pandemic.
Meet this cohort of preschool teachers, family child care providers, nannies, and grandparents from across Southern California.
We gave cameras to 12 Southern California child care providers, educators and caregivers and asked them to document their lives starting in the summer of 2020.
Join a live virtual event on June 17 and see the photos in real life at a series of photography installations throughout the region.
We're not just watching over them for a couple of hours or throughout the day. We're doing so much more than that...As you see children grow and learn, you're also learning, and it reminds you that you also need to keep learning.
Preschool teacher, Providence Saint John’s Early Childhood Directions Program, Santa Monica
7 years of experience
Brenda enrolled in Santa Monica College with every intention of majoring in nursing. Instead she fell in love with early childhood education.
She is a full-time teacher at the Saint John’s child care and preschool center, working with children ages 3 to 5.
In 2020, she started full-time coursework online as a student at California State University, East Bay, majoring in human development. After a day at work, she spends her evenings and weekends studying, squeezing in extra study time during her lunches and breaks.
Brenda manages the care of her 92-year-old grandfather, who needs dialysis three times a week. Her family shared the responsibility of caring for him after he came to the United States from Mexico, moving into their West Los Angeles apartment. But during the pandemic, other relatives avoided close contact to decrease the chance he’d be exposed to COVID-19.
I feel like every child that comes up on my doorstep, there's something that our divine wants me to reach in and pull out of that baby. So my job is to go and fetch and find what it is.
Family child care provider, South Central Los Angeles
20 years of experience
Jackie has picked up and driven kids to and from her South Central Los Angeles home child care center for more than two decades. Neighbors young and old wave when her 2003 Ford van rolls by. Some driving alongside them even tap their horn to mimic Jackie's familiar six-blow honk. A vinyl sticker reading “MAMA, there goes that van!” is plastered on one of the windows.
She’s licensed to care for up to 14 kids at a time, and says the intimate setting allows her to give each child the one-on-one attention and care that they need to be ready to enter a formal school setting. Her program includes children from low-income families who participate in the federal program Early Head Start, kids in the foster system, and kids with disabilities.
Jackie works closely with families, coaching parents on everything from the basics of laundry and food prep to getting additional resources for children with special educational needs.
Jackie mentors other providers and encourages her neighbors to set up their own in-home child care centers. She says that at one point, her facility was one of five homes on the street all caring for young children.
Fellow members of the union Child Care Providers United elected Jackie to a team charged with negotiating with California leadership over working conditions.
To me, this is how kids should grow up. Just out in nature with animals. And in conversation with somebody.
Grandmother, City of Orange
Jane and her husband Jorge Canseco are part of their family’s network of care for her grandson; that network also includes another set of grandparents. Three days a week, they pick up 2-and-a-half-year-old Adrian from the family child care center across the street from their home, and watch him until his parents are off of work. Jane and her husband are both psychotherapists by profession.
Ever since Jane was a little girl, she had a love for horses. At 40, she finally was able to own her first one and now lives in East Orange within walking distance of the stables. She spends most of her free time there, often going two or three times a day, and often brings Adrian with her.
Her children grew up with lots of exposure to nature and animals. Through 4-H, her daughter raised horses, pigs, rabbits, veal calves and dogs. They also had a bilingual household. Jane met her husband, a Cuban refugee, while they were working together at a Holiday Inn. This prompted Jane, a sophomore in college at the time, to learn Spanish.
When Jane spends time with her grandson, she instills in him her love of the outdoors. They roll down grassy green hills together, feed and ride the horses. And her grandson can name all the birds that visit the feeders in her backyard.
My job is hard. Emotionally, physically, mentally. Like, it's challenging in all ways. It requires everything. And the day is always different. I could come out today and be like, ‘Oh today wasn’t that bad.’ Or I could come out and be like, ‘Is it Friday yet?'
Family child care provider, Gardena
16 years of experience
Jeanne co-founded her family child care center with her mother. They work together to cook and care for the children. The home has a multigenerational family atmosphere, providing care for preschool children 1 to 5 years old, and after-school care for children in kindergarten to fifth grade. She says parents are drawn to the Korean spoken in the home, and often look to Jeanne’s mom for guidance with their children.
During the pandemic, the parents at Jeanne’s family child care center were extra careful about their safety, she says. When going out to the supermarket or to run errands, one person would pop into their minds: Jeanne’s mom, Hyang Yu, who is 74.
Many of the families reduced their social bubble to revolve around the child care center. Parents would often gather after school hours at Jeanne's place in the backyard, bringing dinner and wine, and enjoying the company of other grown-ups while the kids played together.
Cuando los niños se dan cuenta que uno les da la atención, son felices...si yo estoy con [mi nieta] platicando, yo me siento en el piso.
When children realize that you are giving them attention, they are happy…if I’m chatting with [my granddaughter], I sit on the floor.
Before coming to the United States, Luz was an elementary school teacher in Veracruz, Mexico. She draws from this experience when she cares for her two granddaughters, along with her daughter’s friends’ children, five days a week. She thinks often about their development when she plans activities, and she keeps flashcards ready for them to practice vocabulary.
Luz enjoys building trust and closeness with her granddaughters. She says that when her own daughters were growing up, she was so busy working that she wasn’t able to dedicate the time and attention to them that she wanted. She now makes this up with her granddaughters.
Luz has also been involved for over eight years in Para Los Niños, an organization focused on improving education, and Best Start LA, a network focused on early education. When she first started, she would often attend community meetings with her 8-year-old daughter, Kimberly, in tow.
In late January of 2021, Luz’s husband, Gil, passed away from COVID-19.
What we can do on our part is to listen to the child as much as possible. And to assure them that we love them, we are here for them.
Preschool director, La Habra Montessori Preschool, La Habra
22 years of experience
Manoja began her career as the customer services manager at a bank in her native Sri Lanka, then taught sociology at a university there. After her children were born, she changed course and earned a Montessori diploma.
Her work brought her to the United States as a preschool teacher, then she eventually co-founded La Habra Montessori Preschool. She says that compared to her previous work at the bank and at the university, teaching children is definitely the harder job.
The preschool serves both low-income families who receive state subsidies and those who can afford to pay out of pocket, though Manoja often reduces the tuition for parents who fall somewhere in the middle. The staff cares for children from 3 months to 5 years of age and provides after-school care for children up to 13 years old.
“Every kid deserves a fair chance for good education and care,” she says.
When the pandemic began, other schools around her closed, but Manoja says she couldn’t bring herself to leave essential worker families without child care.
When the children feel loved, respected, they can learn, they can feel happy, and they can succeed in life.
Preschool teacher, Los Angeles Unified School District, West Los Angeles
17 years of experience
Maria typically works at both the Shenandoah and 36th Street Early Education Centers. She also simultaneously cares for her grandson, Charlie, who is now 6 years old.
When the pandemic hit, Maria moved her teaching online. A job that was usually close-contact, full of hugs and tactile learning, transformed into teaching through a computer screen.
She transformed Charlie’s bedroom into an elaborate virtual classroom, dressing one wall ceiling to floor in colorful cutouts, letters and numbers. She would sing songs and use props in the room to illustrate the concepts in her classes. Charlie would also sometimes make an appearance when he was not in his own distance learning, talking with her coworkers or the children in her classes.
When she’s not working, you can often find Maria out in her yard, talking to her pet cockatiel Kiko or befriending squirrels who run up and down a large tree. She says she likes to endear herself to all small creatures and children who are nearby.
I always tell the parents, I say, even before I started teaching…’Don't consider me an extension of you, consider me an extension of their teacher.’
13 years of experience
Melissa started nannying in Colorado around 2008, inspired in part by her mom’s work as an in-home child care provider when she was younger. She says that to be good at her job as a nanny, she has to expand her heart and let the families that she works with into her life. It’s a job that is intimate and intensive.
Her role includes the full range of tasks, from helping the kids with remote learning to cooking and cleaning to household management, which can include organizing events for the family.
Over the years she has studied different child care philosophies, including Montessori, conscious discipline, positive parenting, and more.
During the pandemic she lost one job and started a new one with an Oxnard family that has children ages 2, 4 and 5. Melissa says many families were looking for a nanny who could fill in as an educator while schools were closed. She is now studying for her bachelor’s degree and sees herself transitioning to private in-home education one day.
Whenever I'm around kids, I feel like I'm free. They don't really judge you, and you can be silly. You could be anyone you want.
Early Head Start child care provider, Mid-City
4 years of experience
Ruth says that she is a very shy person, often feeling anxiety in social situations. But with children, she’s at ease.
She also sees herself in them, and as a survivor of child abuse, finds herself learning more about her own experiences through supporting the children in her class.
She started out babysitting her brother’s two small children, caring for them from when they were babies until they entered kindergarten. She now teaches children ages 2 to 3 at University Gardens Early Head Start at the University of Southern California campus in South Los Angeles. During the pandemic, the school moved to distance learning.
Ruth is a Jehovah’s Witness, and her faith community is very important to her. It has steadied her through difficult times, and if she’s up late at night, she’ll often flip open the Bible for inspiration. During the pandemic, video chatting has helped her come out of her shell for church activities, and she has hosted things like online scavenger hunts and children’s music sessions for those in her church community.
I hope [people who see this] see how much we love these little people. They might not be our blood, but we care for them and love them like they are.
Nanny, North Hills (San Fernando Valley)
12 years of experience as a nanny
Sofi started as a camp counselor through the City of Los Angeles when she was 16 years old, and this work organically extended into nannying for families. She worked with her first family for about eight years. She also founded and runs a summer program called Camp Snowflake, where she engages the children in hands-on activities and takes them on field trips to amusement parks, playgrounds, and arcades.
The pandemic hit her pocketbook hard, as she was initially laid off from her job and had to cancel her summer camp. One family eventually brought her back to care for their 6-year-old son; she has been supporting him in his distance learning.
Over the last year, Sofi began distributing meals and clothing to a homeless encampment near her home. She now collects donations and visits the encampment every month with supplies, bringing in friends and family members to help.
Entonces sí, fue difícil...me sentía emocionalmente mal de pensar qué iban a hacer [las familias sin cuidado infantil], pero también me sentía mal porque yo no me sentía capaz de poder darles la seguridad, la protección y el cuidado...que se requería en ese momento.
So, yes, it was difficult…I felt bad thinking about what [the families] would do [without child care], but I also felt bad because I didn’t feel capable of giving them the security, the protection and the care that was required at that moment.
Family child care provider, Montebello
14 years of experience
When her daughter became pregnant at age 16, Susana decided that she had been working too hard and needed to spend more time with her children. She left her job as a nurse’s assistant to open a home child care facility where she could care for her new grandson, as well as other children.
She currently cares for children ages 0 to 13, including those on subsidies and with special needs. Her days are long, starting at 4:30 in the morning when she wakes up to prepare for the first children to arrive, and ending late in the evening, when the last children leave after dinner.
Over this past year, pandemic safety was top of mind. Arriving children would change their clothes and shoes, wash their hands, and get a temperature check before coming in. She built a distance learning area in her garage for older children, and paid special attention to where each child would sit, dividing learning areas with clear plastic.
Susana had to temporarily close her center when she contracted COVID-19 late last year. Luckily she had mild symptoms, and none of the children were affected.
She is also a member of the Child Care Providers United union.
There's a lot of stuff that happens in child care that people don't talk about. We're human, too. We go through burnout, we go through stress, we go through all of that. But every morning, we still wake up, we grab our coffee, and we go in and we smile, and we're ready for the kids.
Family child care provider, Lancaster
13 years of experience
Yvonne tells the story of how one day, while working at a jewelry company, her boss demanded she choose her family or her job. She decided to choose her family and the families in her community. She set up a home child care and organized her facility in a way that she would want it as a parent, with flexible hours and overnight care to accommodate working parents.
Yvonne has a state-of-the-art playground in her backyard and punching bags for kids to get out their emotions. She takes the kids on camping trips that she pays for out of pocket. She provides full-time care for children ages 0 to 5, and after-school care to older children. Most often she works seven days a week, taking a day off every other Saturday.
Yvonne is also a member of the Child Care Providers United union.
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