Calvary City Academy & Preschool closed on March 13, along with most programs in Florida. While closed, we had much to prepare for reopening. While children were home, we prepared packets to send home, met with children virtually, and even hosted things like field day, spirit week, and graduation virtually! Even with those successes, we were so happy to be able to return to being in-person when we reopened in June. Since June, we’ve learned a lot. Here’s what’s working for us:
When we started school, we spent the first 2 weeks just building routines. We focused only on learning the new hand-washing routine, how to line up, how to maintain space, how centers will work, and more. If you have planned a moment to teach, and can’t because you need to take more time to build relationships and routines, don’t worry about it. Just do what you can do.
The children have been great with masks and new routines. They’ve learned how to keep space while lining up and walking in the hallways. Our teachers are in a good pattern with one teaching while the other supports hand-washing, cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitizing. We’ve eliminated cloth material and things we can’t easily wipe down. Even with that, we have extras of everything- extra masks, extra gloves, extra supplies. And we also have an extra room, so if someone feels sick or has a fever, we can quarantine them until their family can come.
Because each classroom has two teachers, we tell our teachers they can always take a breather. We make sure teachers can take a walk at lunch. We have an empty classroom, so if a teacher needs to talk, we can sit, distanced, and talk it out. If a teacher is struggling, we brainstorm and help each other. Building a good environment that supports teamwork has really helped.
Now that parents don’t come into the facility and we do quick, masked drop-offs, it can be hard to find time to connect with the parents in traditional ways. My assistant director and I make sure we’re available to communicate. If parents need to meet with a teacher, we use Zoom for that. We have also found it helpful to use CLASS Dojo, signs with updates outside the building, and a daily planner that goes home. And of course, we also use email. The parents are excited and are doing well!
This is all still new so we’re always looking for more information. I’ve been reading what is working for others. I get a lot of ideas from the CLASS Learning Community. And coaching is always good! We’re still coaching during this time. Any training, webinar, or resource I can offer to our teachers, I do.
Shared physical presence is a large part of how we’re used to connecting with each other. Strong connections and relationships are important for children who may have recently experienced loss, high stress, or trauma. As teachers connect with children in a virtual setting, it can be more challenging to think about how to create a safe space for learning, sharing experiences, and taking risks.
As a CDA with CLASS facilitator, I now recognize that CLASS also helps us think about how we can be present and responsive in supporting the curiosity, engagement, and persistence of adult learners.
I am blessed to be able to support CDA learners, many of whom are returning to formal education for the first time in many years. Some of these learners come from previous educational experiences that were not supportive, that left them feeling that they weren’t good at school or weren’t competent students. But with the right support, these learners can grow their persistence as well as their sense of competence and confidence.
Data from the National Survey of Students’ Health (NSCH) indicates that almost half of the students in the United States have experienced one or more forms of serious trauma, such as poverty, homelessness, or abuse and neglect. This means that an estimated 35,000,00 students, from infancy through age 17 are at risk for not only school failure, but for a number of social-emotional and physical complications (e.g., PTSD, heart disease, etc.) that may have life-long consequences to their health and well-being. The effect of COVID-19 has surely increased the percentage of young people who are experiencing trauma. And while people of all races and socioeconomic statuses have been affected by COVID-19, poor communities of color have been disproportionately impacted, adding an additional level of trauma to a population already traumatized by systemic racism.
Jess Pablo is an early childhood coach and grade level chair at The Primary School, a non-profit school in East Palo Alto, California, that serves children aged pre-K through grade 3, bringing together education, health, and family support services to support children’s holistic growth. Below are some of the ideas, concerns, and suggestions she shared as her program resumes this year in a mostly virtual learning environment.