Staffer Sylvia Ryan reads a book to toddlers Thursday at Teachers Tots Nurturing Center located in Winthrop Grade School. The day care, which serves families of Winthrop Public Schools teachers, inspired Regional School Unit 12 to start a day care for the children of its staff members.  Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

SOMERVILLE  — In an effort to attract teachers — and retain them — the Sheepscot Valley school district has opened a day care for the children of staff members.

Regional School Unit 12, based in Somerville, runs three other day cares open to the public but felt the need to accommodate its own teachers as openings for daytime child care have become increasingly difficult to find across the state.

District officials also hope that offering day care as a job benefit could help combat the ongoing teacher shortage.

Superintendent Howie Tuttle said the district got the idea from the Winthrop Public Schools.

The proposal made its way to the school board last year. 

“We were brainstorming new ways to attract new staff to the district to avoid (staff) shortages and things to attract teachers,” said Tuttle. “This is an idea that folks talked about and ended up making it happen and we are pleasantly surprised.”  


Owner Karen West, center, talks to a toddler Thursday at Teachers Tots Nurturing Center located in Winthrop Grade School. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Families across the state are experiencing hardships in obtaining child care services and other employers, similar to the school districts, are stepping up to meet the needs of their employees. 

RSU 12’s day care is intended to serve around 15 children under the age of four in a classroom at Windsor Elementary School.

Tuttle said recently he is unsure of how many teachers have enrolled their students in the day care. Other families were invited to enroll their children after the teachers’ families were taken care of. Within weeks of its launch, the program has reached its capacity for the time being. 

First grade teacher Nicole Morneault congratulates her 1-year-old daughter Autumn after she proudly showed the star sticker on her hand, earned for good behavior, Thursday at Teachers’ Tots Nurturing Center in Winthrop Grade School. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The idea came from Winthrop, which does not run its own day care but has let a program serving teachers’ children use space in one of its buildings for 10 years.

Jessica Folsom started that day care to provide a space for teachers to know their children were “cared for and loved” while the teachers cared for the town’s children.  

Folsom sold her business, Teacher’s Tots Daycare, to the current owner, Karen West in 2019.


West can accommodate up to 20 students, but said the most children she has had at a time is 16. Currently, she has 10 children who attend the day care, nine of whom have parents who teach at Winthrop Public Schools. 

“The district allows me to use the space in the school and in return, I remain licensed with the state and supply a first choice of day care for the teachers and staff in the district, keeping tuition as low as I can to provide that service to them,” West said.   

Thia Bridges teaches 4th grade at Winthrop Grade School and has two children in the Winthrop day care service. When she started teaching in the district in 2020, she could not find a day care for her four-year-old daughter within 30 minutes of where she lived. And she had another baby on the way — her youngest child, who is now 3. 

Winthrop Grade School’s principal at the time directed Bridges to apply for Teacher’s Tots Daycare. 

West had a spot for Bridges’ daughter and saved a spot for her newborn, who arrived shortly after Bridges started working in the district. Having the day care in the basement of the school was a benefit for Bridges, who breastfed at the time. 

“I could just go down there during breaks and see her and hold her and feed her, and it was right downstairs,” Bridges said.  


Owner Karen West bounces a baby recently at Teachers Tots Nurturing Center located in Winthrop Grade School. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

RSU 12’s day care and the day care in Winthrop’s grade school are only open when teachers are required to be in school.

Most day cares in the area require families to pay through the summer to save a spot for the child through the school year. West alters her schedule for the teachers, too — if they have an early release or professional development day, West sometimes stays later. 

“Providing this service has always been a joy,” West said. “I’m a mother myself, and I know what a blessing it is to have their children so close and to be able to come and nurse them during the day. And, to not have to worry about holding their child’s spot in a center by paying over the summer and breaks when they are able to be home with their children.” 

The weekly cost of the service funds the day cares in Winthrop and RSU 12. A week at Winthrop’s day care costs between $160 to $170 depending on age and a week at RSU 12’s is $200. 

It’s difficult to find the average cost of a day care program because it depends on whether the facility is federally funded. The federal HeadStart program, for example, charges varying costs depending on the family’s income, while a privately funded service, like the Augusta-area day care The Curious Caterpillar Learning Center, charges $300 a week. 

Bridges, the Winthrop teacher, said having the day care open when school is in session is immensely helpful because she does not have to pay for the school vacation weeks and can be home with her two daughters.

Bridges said she has friends who opted to quit their jobs to watch their children because of the cost of day care programs and the difficulty finding open slots.

“In the district I was in before, the day care was a 25-minute drive and we had to leave super early in the morning to get there and by the time I got home, it was dinner and then bedtime and I hardly saw my daughter,” Bridges said. 

RSU 12 serves the communities of Westport Island, Chelsea, Windsor, Whitefield, Somerville, Alna and Palermo. Teachers who live outside of the district can still enroll their kids in the program.

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