Watching Childcare Bloom with Vanessa Nasset
December 14, 2021 | By Kelly Curtis
Vanessa Nasset has been passionate about education since she was a child. Her maternal grandmother had a strong influence on her young life, and the gift of that early learning continued to grow until Vanessa was able to be a teacher herself. Vanessa spent the early days of her career in the “Alaskan Bush”, which references villages and communities which are not connected by roads or the Alaskan Coastal Waterway ferry system and are only accessible by airplane. Although the communities she served in were very remote, Vanessa noticed a level of detail and care that allowed students to thrive.
“I was teaching in the public school system that operated under the principle of individualized education so there were no letter grades and no grade levels.”
The money and professional development available for teachers in Alaska allowed them to help students learn at their pace, rather than fitting the entire classroom into a specific curriculum that did not work for every student and their learning style. It was a progressive way of teaching that really spoke to Vanessa, and, when she returned to Helena, Montana, after seven years in the Alaskan public school system, she wrestled with the differences between the two states’ educational philosophies.
“I had earned my administrative endorsement and I took a job as the assistant principal at Helena Middle Schools-All I was doing there was disciplining in a way that I didn’t believe in. Then I discovered Montessori. My experience with this style of learning was as a parent first. Both of my children got into Montessori classrooms through the lottery at Helena Public Schools. As an administrator, I would walk into the Montessori classrooms and just be in awe. It was beautiful, every child was engaged and they were independent. They were thinking for themselves and developing big ideas. I just thought ‘this is how it should look for every child’.”
Vanessa started Bloom as a form of childcare and an alternative to early elementary school to reflect the student successes she saw in her experience as a teacher and as a parent. She emphasized that she does use any federal funding to support the school’s operations. She explains that she herself is a product of the Montana public school system and does not accept federal funding for Bloom because she does not want to take any funding away from the public school system. Since 2015, when the school opened, Bloom has grown from “about a dozen kids and three staff to 132 children and 24 staff.”
Vanessa sees herself as a teacher first and foremost and shared that the business aspect of Bloom was the hardest part of opening the school because, going in, she didn’t realize how detailed setting up the physical space of a preschool would be.
“It was a steep learning curve for sure. Once you use a building for childcare, there are a lot more building requirements and standards to follow. For instance, if you have children under two you need two exits, an adjacent play area, and a sprinkler system or a three-hour firewall. There were things I had to learn.”
For people interested in starting their own childcare or education business, she recommends connecting with as many people as possible in that field to ask questions and to be better prepared.
Vanessa is most proud of the quality of education students receive at Bloom and the staff making the work happen. She is also proud of the bilingual programming offered at Bloom, which is especially unique for Helena.
“We have nine staff members from Central and South America, including Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, and Cuba.” These staff speak with students in Spanish and dedicate time to helping them learn the language.
This bilingual programming, the Montessori method, and Vanessa’s personal mission to provide quality childcare to families regardless of socioeconomic status has provided a strong community for Bloom.
Vanessa recalls how parents rallied when the pandemic hit in March of 2020 as she was forced to close Bloom’s doors on March 16 and keep them closed until June 1.
“It was a challenging time. I wanted to continue paying my staff- help everyone keep a roof over their head and food on the table, I feel these are basic needs- but also did not feel like I could require families to pay when they weren’t sending their kids to school. Thankfully we have phenomenal families and they wanted that for our staff too so largely we were able to make that happen.”
Bloom, now open, has strict daily Covid protocols including a fully vaccinated staff, children age three and older are wearing masks, and they conduct daily temperature screenings. Vanessa shared they had a few cases prior to the vaccination rollout but have only had one case this year and were able to keep it from spreading, something she attributes to their strict practices.
She feels the pandemic has shown that more value needs to be placed on childcare and teaching.
“Over 50% of Montana’s childcare facilities closed their doors at the beginning of the pandemic. Our economy cannot survive without reliable childcare. There is a crisis, not just in Montana but nationwide. As a childcare provider, we [Bloom] want to pay our employees well while still being able to pay rent, insurance, and all the other costs of keeping our doors open. We honestly can’t charge families the amount we would need to make everything equal out. It’s impossible. Until we get policymakers in a place where they understand and value childcare, we are going to continue to turn our wheels.”
Throughout the interview, it was clear that Vanessa cares about her staff and the students they serve, and this is a major part of what makes the Bloom experience what it is.
We at PowerHouse Montana thank Vanessa for taking the time to share her story as a Montanan, mother, teacher, and small business owner!