Policies that Keep us All Safe & Let Kids be Kids
In March 2020 Ahava Early Learning Center, like many other preschools and businesses, closed its doors to protect its children, staff, and families from COVID-19 spread. For three months school staff explored the world of connecting with very young children virtually (complete with a virtual Passover Seder!), completed professional development, and prepared for the day when we could all be together again. We also convened a dedicated and multi-disciplinary COVID-19 Task Force to help us understand the pandemic and determine the safest routes for supporting our children and families. Our Task Force comprises physicians, public health specialists, parents, and early childhood educators and continues to meet regularly to review our procedures and the unexpected, but inevitable, changes and challenges that are the hallmark of this time.
We reopened in July 2020 with the support of our Task Force and several modifications to our program to ensure that we reopened in the safest way possible to protect the health of our community while continuing to provide a loving, connected, and joyful environment that respects each child and the immense value of childhood itself. Since then, we have grown and adapted, seen relationships reconnect and thrive, and learned new ways to be together. Some of our key policies include:
• Mixed Age, Sibling-Grouped Learning Communities: Ahava obtained a waiver from the state-licensing agency, DECAL, that allows us to group children of all ages together during the pandemic. This allows us to group siblings and other family members together in the same classroom community, decreasing the risk of exposures to the whole community if one family becomes exposed to the virus. It also provides a measure of emotional security for young children who may be experiencing the increased stress of the adults around them and long periods of time away from a group-care setting.
• Separated Classes and Creative Community Events: Some beloved parts of our program are necessarily on hold during the height of the pandemic, including classrooms mixing together on the playground, in the evenings and early mornings, for group projects, and regular community events such as weekly Shabbat service. Although we miss this aspect of our program dearly, the children and teachers have found creative ways to be together, from outdoor musical Shabbat services (with each group in their own area on the playground) to a wonderful “Giving Day” in which each class created special gifts to deliver to each other on the day that would usually host our annual Thanksgiving Community Gathering.
• Hours of Operation: Each classroom is open for 7 hours. In general, classrooms are open from approximately 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. This shortened day is essential in minimizing the number of adults who interact with each group of children each day (limiting it almost entirely to the two lead classroom teachers) and allowing staff some time each day after children leave to conduct a thorough cleaning and sanitizing of the space.
• Staggered Drop-Off and Pick-Up Times: We have staggered the times that each classroom is open to minimize the number of families and staff congregating in the check-in area.
• Daily Health Screening: During morning check-in, a brief symptom checklist and temperature-check is completed for each child and staff member. Anyone with a fever or other symptoms of COVID (or other highly contagious illnesses) is not allowed admittance into the school building.
• Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): All staff and visitors are required to wear masks at all times when interacting with any children or each other. Children 2 and over are also expected to wear face coverings while indoors. Teachers and families work together to help normalize this experience for children. Extra masks and face shields are available for both staff and children, allowing teachers to offer alternative options to a child who may be struggling with the comfort of a mask.
• Increased Cleaning and Hygiene: Cleaning and handwashing, always an essential procedure in early childhood settings, have taken on a new sense of urgency with this pandemic. Teaching staff in each classroom have put increased focus on developing age-appropriate strategies for teaching good hand washing and provide close monitoring during hand-washing which occurs as soon as children arrive at school as well as many times throughout the day. Additionally, any difficult-to-clean items have been removed from classrooms and staff complete a thorough daily cleaning of their room and materials.
• Limited Visitors: No unnecessary visitors are allowed in the building at this time and whenever possible necessary vendors and professionals (e.g., maintenance staff, plumbers) are scheduled after-hours when children are not in the building. Unfortunately, this also includes in-person tours for prospective families and limiting parent/guardian admittance into the building unless absolutely necessary. Each classroom has developed consistent morning drop-of routines on the playground or at their classroom’s outside door that help the children feel secure saying goodbye to their grown-ups and starting their day with their friends.
Click here to read our full COVID-19 Family Handbook Addendum and don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions about how your child can experience a safe and loving experience at Ahava!