Chicago preschool programs move forward during COVID-19 pandemic but raise warning flag


It has now been seven weeks since the Carole Robertson Center for Learning reopened its early childhood education programs in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it hasn’t been easy.

There were new safety procedures for personnel, additional responsibilities for everyone, as well as additional costs for protective equipment, cleaning and personnel requirements.

On three occasions, a person who contracted the virus necessitated the closure of an entire classroom, forcing all students and teachers in the class to stay home for two weeks.

When this happens, other families often choose to keep their children at home for a period of time as well. Government funding related to enrollment and attendance decreases accordingly.

But even though Chicago’s public schools will keep classrooms closed this fall, the Carole Robertson Center and other nonprofits that form the backbone of Chicago’s early childhood education network are moving forward. ‘before.

There is not much to choose from. Their families need them, perhaps more than ever, as a source of quality preschool education, but also for childcare, after-school and summer programs for their school-aged children, even for children. diapers and food.

More fundamentally, they need it as a source of strength because the pandemic and its economic fallout have stressed so many other aspects of their lives.

The Carole Robertson Center operates in North Lawndale and Little Village, serving communities that have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus and the city’s summer of violence. Many parents are essential workers who have no choice but to work from home.

Most of the other major early childhood service providers perform similar roles in their neighborhoods, which I guess is why they recently sent out some sort of joint distress signal. In a written statement, leaders of 14 community-based nonprofits have warned that COVID-19 is “destabilizing our classrooms” by creating more needs for services while damaging their financial foundations.

“Without stable funding, we cannot keep our promise,” they wrote in an appeal to supporters in government and the private sector.

This comes after a decade in which there have been notable strides in recognizing that appropriate funding for early childhood education is essential to help low-income families bridge the yawning gap of opportunity. . Now these gains seem fragile.

“The ripple effects of this virus will be felt for a very, very long time,” said Bela Mote, CEO of the Carole Robertson Center.

Early childhood education providers like the Carole Robertson Center for Learning are striving to keep operating during the pandemic.
Provided

His organization was the first of the city’s early childhood centers to reopen after the governor’s closing order was lifted.

“We were the litmus test,” Mote said.

The preschool program normally operates at a capacity of 400 children. Since the reopening, the number of registrations has dropped to 200, with actual attendance being slightly lower.

With some state funding currently tied to these criteria, Mote wants the state to give organizations like his more flexibility during the pandemic regarding any drop in attendance in recognition of the higher costs to keep their doors open.

Some aspects of the reopening were easier than expected, such as getting young children to wear their face masks.

“They don’t care. They adapt, ”Mote said.

It is the adults who have the most difficulty adjusting, she says.

Understandably, there was a lot of anxiety for the teachers at the start of the return to class, Mote said, but over time the bigger problem is almost the opposite – letting your guard down.

“Since the reopening, one of the things that we are achieving: we have to keep the pandemic at the forefront,” she said.

This may mean remembering not to let children get too close to each other and to wipe down the counter after an activity.

The center continued to offer distance learning programs for children who stay at home. Home visits with parents, normally a key part of the agency’s programming, have also been put online.

Now that CPS has decided to stick with distance learning when fall school resumes, Mote is bracing for the impact it will have on the Carole Robertson Center and other nonprofits. . She expects more families to seek help, a safe place for their school-aged children to get through the day.

“Every day is a new day,” Mote said, “and we just hold our breath and pray for the best.”


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