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“Ugg. I HATE coronavirus! I just want to go to school and places!" proclaimed fellow TER writer Katie Sluiter’s young daughter. For a preschooler who loves seeing her friends, being with her teachers, gymnastics, and swimming, our current situation is quite the challenge. This is a reality that countless parents of preschool kids are facing around the country. They are having conversations with their young people about viruses, social distancing, and how they might be able to visit with their friends (maybe over video conference) but not really see them in person.
About a year and a half ago, a friend approached me to join the board of his preschool in West Philadelphia. The school is called Children’s Community School (CCS). It is an amazing place that is committed to providing a wide range of learning opportunities to its young students. It is driven by a terrific Mission and set of Core Values (Spoiler: I collaborated to rework these over the past year) that pushes the school to be an inclusive, social justice-oriented institution. It is committed to partnering with its families and teachers, resulting in happy students and a happy community.
The school is a tuition-driven institution, so it is already faced with the challenges of providing care within strict state and city guidelines on its very tight budget. But as the COVID-19 pandemic has spread across the world, the ramifications for CCS, Katie’s daughter, and countless preschools around the country have been nearly overwhelming.
Childcare For Working Families
A critical ramification of school closures has been the lack of childcare that many provide families. This is particularly true for preschools that are often caring for children as young as 18 months. But with preschools closed, parents have limited options for childcare. While a high schooler (or maybe even a late middle schooler) may be able to care for themselves while a parent is away at work, what options does a parent have for an 18-month-old? Preschools occupy this important niche.
Budgets & Salaries
Most preschools also often operate on a very tight budget with dedicated staff making meager salaries. At CCS, we have worked tirelessly to offer our staff a legitimate living wage, but our budget has still been tight. As a board, we have had to come together to figure out how to continue to pay our dedicated employees throughout this time. If it were not for a recent federal payroll protection loan/grant, our situation would have been considerably worse. This is, without a doubt, a situation that countless preschools are facing around the country, and a situation that may only get worse as shelter-in-place orders remain.
A final critical consideration for all preschools as they look to the fall is what instruction might actually look like. Meeting on a video conference with students seems like a potential option for many schools coming this fall, but this is simply not an option for a 2-year-old. What does consistent instruction look like for these young people? What happens if we can’t come back together in person? How do we support families as they want their students to continue to learn? How does Katie’s daughter get to see her friends again?How do we support families as they want their students to continue to learn? How does Katie’s daughter get to see her friends again? Click To Tweet
These questions are all ones that we are grappling with as a community. Luckily we have a wealth of intellectual capital on our board to try to figure out solutions. We have teachers who are pushing to plan ahead right now, and leadership that is keeping our future in mind. We are lucky. What happens to those preschools who may not be as lucky?
We would love to hear how you, your preschooler, and your preschool are dealing with the pandemic.