Child Care During COVID | Beaufort County Now | Providing essential child care is serious business for this alumni family | east carolina university, ECU, child care, coronavirus, covid-19, alumni family, walton academy, september 24, 2020

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

Child Care During COVID

Publisher's Note: This post appears here courtesy of ECU News Services. The author of this post is Erin Ward.

Alumnus Billy Walton owns Walton Academy and Children’s World on Arlington Boulevard in Greenville, as well as three other child care centers. | Photos: Billy Walton

    When Governor Roy Cooper issued an executive order to shut down K-12 schools in North Carolina in March, Children's World, a day care center with multiple locations in Greenville, stayed open. As an essential service during the COVID-19 crisis, Children's World continues to serve kids aged 6 weeks to 12 years, many whose parents are health care workers.

    Alumnus Billy Walton and sons Chad and Blake, who also graduated from ECU, own and run the centers. By combining business acumen and education principles, they've managed to build a successful family operation when many child care programs nationwide are in danger of shuttering permanently.

    "When the pandemic hit, we had nearly 800 kids and 143 staff companywide. When the state shut down, people withdrew in droves. But we felt if we shut down, we would negatively impact the community. With strict social distancing and mask wearing requirements, the kids have stayed healthy," Billy Walton said.

Billy Walton, wife Toni and sons Blake and Chad all graduated from ECU.
    Twenty years ago, Walton bought his first day care center on Greenville Boulevard. He bought it because he was unable to sell it for a client in his brokerage firm The Sabre Group. He considered the building a real estate investment. Little did he know that he would become passionate about child care and the owner of three more centers and a private K-5 school. Or that running child care centers would become a family business. The Waltons even started a scholarship at ECU in the College of Health and Human Performance for students majoring in birth-kindergarten teacher education or child life.

    "We appreciate ECU and what they're doing, which is why we wanted to give back. The university can be and continues to be such a resource. The level of expertise at ECU and particularly the business school and the College of Health and Human Performance is stunningly good," Billy Walton said.

    Walton graduated from ECU in 1977 with a degree in industrial technology, although he comes from a family of educators. His wife, Toni, is a former kindergarten teacher and ECU alumna. Twins Blake and Chad Walton graduated from the College of Business in 2005.

    "ECU classes gave us the skills we needed to operate this business and gave us good contacts in the community," Blake Walton added.

    "ECU was a wonderful experience," echoed Chad Walton. "And we love working as a family."

    In the future, the Waltons would like to see their scholarship incorporate business classes or a certificate in entrepreneurship alongside an early childhood education curriculum.

    "Teachers are, of course, focused on kids. But you also have to know how to run an organization and make everything work together," Billy Walton said.

    Senior birth-kindergarten education major Caroline Galindo is considering being a director or owner of a day care one day. She was very appreciative of being named one of the first recipients of the Walton Academy & Children's World Learning Centers Scholarship, she said.

    "Educators need to be recognized more. They work so hard and do so much work. They are waking up every day and changing lives of people and helping shape them. Sometimes they do this on their own dime and time. I think it's important that more education majors receive scholarships and we thank people like the Waltons for that," she said.

    Understanding the value of their employees and providing the tools for them to successfully do their jobs is a core part of the Children's World business plan, Billy Walton said.

    "We want to continue to raise the bar in terms of quality and providing excellent care for our kids and also raise the bar for our employees," he said.

    The Waltons plan to expand several of their existing centers in addition to building a new child care location in Greenville and one outside of town within the next year or two. By that time, there may even be a number of Walton Academy & Children's World Learning Centers Scholarship graduates ready to hire.

    "We are attuned to professionalizing what we do even more," Walton said.

    Kelly Rusk contributed to this story


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