by Dave Davis
Like many of my fellow educators here on the East End, and probably everywhere else for that matter, a return to traditional or “in-person” classroom teaching this past month was something to behold, after nearly 18 consecutive months of virtual instruction. At least for the time being, we’ve tabled “the screens” and have settled back in to a rhythm much more aligned with our natural instincts.
Mind you, we are doing this not without some measure of trepidation, as the latest variant of the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc, with increased cases now showing up amongst the country’s younger populations.
As a federally-funded national preschool program, our particular agency has implemented numerous protocols that, years ago, would have been considered alarmist and overblown. President Biden’s recent mandate will require all of our employees to be vaccinated. Mask-wearing is now required throughout the day for every student and staff member, daily temperature and overall health checks are documented prior to entry, in addition to family members being limited to curbside drop-off and pick-up.
Daily sanitizing of all toys, the installation of an air filtration system and frequent hand-washing are also techniques being implemented for added protection. Of course we can put all sorts of safety measures into place as a means of reducing the likelihood of transmission, but alas, nothing is foolproof when it relates to an airborne disease such as this. Much to our satisfaction, the children have been rather receptive to the new procedures, and for the most part, are adhering to them with only occasional reminders necessary.
What it all comes down to is that a kid just wants to be a kid. It’s as simple as that. If it means that they need to protect themselves and others by having some precautionary systems in place, then so be it. When you think about how young a preschooler is — this pandemic has occupied nearly half of their life up to this point. That’s thousands of hours that have been spent in isolation, without the typical social-emotional developmental markers being met for most three and four-year-olds, especially those who fall into at-risk categories, as is the case with our students.
Most parents confirmed that their daily routines have been severely altered over the course of the pandemic, with many needing alternative sources of caregiving to supplement those hours normally spent in a preschool program. Depending on the family’s financial needs and a parent’s employment status, some folks opted to stay home with their children altogether, as many public schools adopted a virtual learning paradigm similar to ours. Needless to say, in a tourist-based resort economy such as ours, with a limited window for earnings, the financial stressors placed upon many families only added to the challenges experienced at home.
In a piece recently posted on the CDC’s website, their data validates what we, in our program, have been witnessing: “The Covid-19 pandemic has increased stress, fear, and worry for many families. Worries about sickness, finances, and isolation, coping with grief from loss, and having less outside help has made parenting more stressful.”
Clearly it’s impossible to make up for “lost time” overnight, but presenting these young individuals with an ample amount of opportunities for growth is a reachable objective that we can all support. One of the integral components needed for successful outcomes is establishing an easy-flowing day of activities (both structured and not), which will lend itself to the dynamics that foster engagement among peers and teaching staff alike.
Equally important is to recognize the differences in each child and how they adapt to change. So many factors go into this equation that, quite plainly, some will require additional assistance and some will not, and that is to be expected. At the core of this transition needs to be a solid line of communication between parents, teaching staff and administrators. Careful planning amongst all parties involved is imperative.
One thing for certain is that due to the lengthy nature of this situation, our traditional in-person model is now new to all incoming students of this age group and their respective families. Everyone is in the same boat, so to speak. Preschool has once again become a shared life-experience among community members that, for this particular educator, is a much-welcomed sight.