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By Fiona Truant, staff writer, Peterson-Schriever Garrison public affairs
/ Published March 29, 2022
PETERSON SPACE FORCE BASE, Colo. — Jessica Brokar, 21st Force Support Squadron lead educational technician, stands outside of the main Childhood Development Center on Peterson Space Force Base, Colorado, March 3, 2022. Brokar was promoted from teaching preschool in Nov. 2021, having worked in childcare for 27 years, but did not take up her new duties until Feb. 2022 due to staffing shortages. (U.S. Space Force photo by Fiona Truant)
Jessica Brokar, 21st Force Support Squadron lead educational technician, was promoted from a preschool teaching position at the main Childhood Development Center on Peterson Space Force Base, Colorado, in Nov. 2021. However, that does not mean she has ceased to be the hands-on caregiver and teacher that the Peterson SFB community has come to know over the past decade.
“I’ve been in every classroom this week,” said Brokar on March 24, 2022. “I go wherever they need me.”
Brokar does a little bit of everything, like mentoring new members of the CDC team, working with training curriculum specialists and substituting for teachers who are out of office. Recently, she collaborated on assembling portfolios to maintain the CDC’s National Association for the Education of Young Children and DoD accreditations. By meeting these accreditation standards, Brokar and the rest of the main CDC’s staff give service members confidence that their children will be safe, letting them maintain focus on the mission.
Though promoted in 2021, Brokar did not take up her new duties until Feb. 2022, as staffing shortages kept her in the classroom. Staffing challenges remain Brokar’s biggest obstacle; a third of the childcare positions across the main and east CDCs and the RP Lee Youth Center are vacant, according to Jacenta Maynor, 21st FSS training and curriculum specialist. By Brokar’s count, lack of staff has kept five classrooms closed in the main CDC alone.
“We would need 41 full-time people to come hire on between all three CDC locations for us to be fully staffed,” said Maynor. “We could go even higher to accommodate part-time staff, staff that are in school and things like that.”
Maynor clarified that it’s not just a Peterson problem; she saw the same issue at her previous work location at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado.
“The childcare field struggled before COVID-19 hit, and it’s struggling even more now,” said Brokar. “It’s like this all over the country.”
By Brokar’s measure, the reasons are at least partially economic. A base CDC depends in part on staffing from civilians who transfer in with their active duty spouses, she explained. The hiring process for civilian government employees happens over a few months, much longer than in the private sector, and few can afford to wait for that additional source of household income.
“Back in the day, when you transferred to a new base, the spouse sometimes didn’t have to work right away. You lived on base housing, so you had time to wait or could just work part time,” she said. “Nowadays, they need two working people. It’s really hard for one parent to be able to stay home, and they’re going to have to sacrifice.”
Maynor said that, while the longer hiring process does allow vital oversight like background checks and verification of immunization records, the CDC is planning a rapid hiring fair in April.
“At a rapid hiring fair, we can do the fingerprints, the background checks, physicals and everything like that the same day,” she said. “We would be able to bring people on within that next week.”
For now, the things that have helped Brokar succeed in the first 27 years of her career continue to help. She takes time to build relationships with parents, checking in daily and showing compassion and understanding. As a grandmother, she has been the parent who wants to sign her kid out and get home to dinner, homework for older kids and maybe a little rest.
“You don’t have to talk to parents every day, but you make sure to make a point to say ‘how was your day?’ or ‘your child did this today,’” she said. “If you make that connection with them, they can go to work feeling good, knowing that their kids are cared for. That makes them feel like family.”
Beyond her many CDC tasks, Brokar will also be taking time to go back to school and earn her Bachelor’s in early childhood education. Long-term, she hopes to transition into being a training curriculum specialist, where she would train new hires, plan training for extant staff and act as a mentor — all things she has started doing in her current position, and all things where her experience and compassion stand out.
“The first thing I tell new hires is to not get overwhelmed, because they get all this information thrown at them” she said. “I always tell them not to give up. We have certain standards we have to meet, but we don’t expect you to memorize them all when they’re thrown at you that first week. It’s going to take time, patience and learning. You just have to take a deep breath and hang in there.”