California daycare center using Viasat grant to fill vital coronavirus need

Bizzy Beez Academy providing distance-learning classroom to help working parents


Viasat Business Internet started the Ready. Set. Grow. small business grant program in response to the challenging times brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Through the program, five small businesses each received a $5,000 grant, and five others each received a $1,000 grant. Recipients were selected based on their responses to a short series of essay questions.

We’re happy to feature these businesses that stood out in their applications, each one a testament to the fortitude and determination of small businesses and organizations all across America.

When the pandemic struck last spring, the director of California’s Bizzy Beez Academy childcare and education center faced a tough choice: stay open to care for the children of essential workers or join most other schools in closing.

School director Shantel Marrero chose to keep the doors open to just 13 children whose parents work in critical functions — including nursing and delivering supplies to hospitals. All were not only needed at work, but needed to keep working to keep their families financially afloat.

“It wasn’t beneficial financially to stay open for 13 kids,” Marrero said. “But we just decided not to worry about that. I erred on what is the right thing to do. I knew our parents needed us. So we took every precaution possible and stayed open throughout the pandemic.”

In her 12 years as the academy’s director, Marrero said it was the toughest decision she’s made.

Bizzy Beez Academy is in Tracy, CA, a town of about 100,000 located about an hour east of San Francisco. Many of its residents commute daily to the Bay Area. Those long commutes have always made childcare a critical service in Tracy, but never more so than this year.

“The most important thing for me has always been to be as supportive as possible to the parents,” Marrero said, adding her staff follows that model. “I always felt I’d picked all the right people, but then the pandemic happened and based on their actions, I knew.

“In the beginning of the pandemic, nobody knew anything, and it was way more frightening than it is now. But everyone on the staff was willing to come back. For me, that was just overwhelming.”

In turn, Bizzy Beez parents also came through for the center. Some offered to continue paying tuition while not using the center and others donated money.

“At a time where I felt like everyone should just be focused on their family and protecting it, you still had these parents that were making sure we were OK,” Marrero said. “After that point, I never worried.”

Big changes and new needs

The center typically hosts 80 children a day. With just 13 attending, it modified its hours and staff, and changed its protocols. Parents were no longer allowed to enter the school. Each child had a daily morning temperature check. Hand washing was strictly enforced. Most toys were removed, and children instead went outside to play and eat lunch.

“The recommendation was to keep kids outside,” Marrero said. “Fortunately, we have a super huge outdoor play area. The kids were happy.”

As restrictions have lifted, more children have returned to Bizzy Beez Academy. But several weeks ago, Marrero saw another need.

The Tracy Unified School District resumed the year in August with distance learning only, and no date has yet been set for a full reopening. As a result, many parents needed a place for their elementary-aged children to do distance learning while they worked.

Marrero converted an unused classroom into just such a space.

Between 8 and 12 students report there daily. Wearing masks and taking seats at desks spaced carefully apart, they don headphones and log onto the internet to attend classes via Zoom and complete their daily assignments.

The students use the center’s Viasat Business Internet to join their virtual classes, a service the academy has enjoyed for the last two years.

Two college students hired specifically for the classroom oversee and assist the students.

Marrero says she’s committed to continuing the distance learning program as long as it’s needed. But paying student teachers to be in the classroom requires money not designated in the academy’s typical budget.

“Accommodating students who are doing distance-learning is not something we’re required to do,” Marrero said. “But our hearts jumped in and we wanted to do it because these kids need us right now.”

So when she saw the email about Viasat Business Internet’s Ready. Set. Grow grant program, Marrero eagerly applied. She felt surprised and grateful when she learned Bizzy Beez Academy had been selected to receive $5,000.

“All the work that we’ve put in, all the things we’re doing just from the kindness of our hearts – it really does matter when someone from the outside can see it,” she said.

The money will fund the distanced learning classroom for another eight weeks. By then, Marrero hopes the public schools will be reopened.

The funds are also helping Marrero continue and expand on the work that’s become her life’s passion. She initially worked in the corporate world, leaving it after having a child to avoid a long work commute.

Her career in childcare has both surprised and delighted her.

“I never thought in a million years I would work with kids for 12 years,” she said. “Sometimes there are things you want to do in life, and God has another plan. I’m just lucky he chose me.

“These kids run up and say ‘I love you,’ and I know it’s genuine. When you’re surrounded by so many kids, so much laughter, love and fun, it’s just where you want to be. Nothing could be more satisfying.”