DENVER — As Colorado businesses begin to slowly reopen under the state’s safer-at-home order, some childcare centers and preschools are getting ready to welcome back families.
When children return, however, they will notice several big changes in the classrooms. The state set out a list of guidelines for these schools to follow in order to reopen safely.
Some of the new rules include limiting the number of students in each classroom, conducting daily temperature and symptom checks for staff and students, staggering meal times, limiting the toys in use to those that are easy to clean and more.
NinaBees Preschool inside the Highlands United Methodist Church is getting ready to welcome back students next week.
“The biggest changes just not being able to welcome our families in, having them come and help their children get comfortable before they leave for the day. They’re really having to drop them off at the door just for safety,” said the school’s director, Geri Baca.
Classrooms are limited to 10 students per state standards and students and staff are still recommended to practice social distancing.
“When we get into the classrooms, we have children spaced at the tables,” Baca said.
The staff also asked the state licensing authority to grant it permission to use other rooms as classrooms in order to spread the students out.
Staff and students will also wear masks at all times other than when they are eating or during nap time. The state recommendations state that no child under 2 should wear a mask. It also recommended for children under 3 to not wear them in childcare centers. Children ages 3 to 5 should be monitored while wearing a mask.
Ninabees Preschool is licensed to teach children from ages 2 ½ to 5. Convincing such a young age group to wear masks all day can certainly be a challenge.
Baca believes teaching the children about why we are wearing masks and normalizing the practice will help.
“I think just having it be the norm and just building it into our schedules like, ‘OK when you come in your school you put your mask on,’” she said.
A staff member also made miniature masks for the students to put on their dolls and stuffed animals in order to get them comfortable with the idea of everyone wearing masks.
“There’s a reason we’ve made videos and put the other worksheets and have extra signs on the doors and everything we can to let folks know how seriously we take the health of their children,” said Brad Laurvick, the pastor of Highlands United Methodist Church, which houses the preschool. “We found families to be very receptive to all of the efforts we are making.”
Mile High Early Learning, meanwhile, is getting ready to reopen its doors to students in June. It’s the largest and oldest provider of subsidized childcare in the state.
Ninety percent of the families it serves live at or below the poverty line.
Pamela Harris, the president and CEO of the schools, said navigating all of the different state and local guidance for reopening safely has been complicated.
“In the beginning, it was challenging for us, the guidance was confusing,” Harris said.
Harris is working with the state to try to work through all of the safer-at-home requirements to be able to reopen.
Like NinaBees, Mile High Early Learning is finding masks for their children, spreading out desks and more. It’s also keeping the same staff with the same group of students each day to limit their exposure.
The reduced class sizes will hurt the funding for the schools.
“It’s about a 35% decrease in our capacity, and then that will be impacted by what will the funding look like if we were seeing 35% fewer children,” Harris said.
It also didn’t charge tuition for the students during the shutdown and offered partial refunds to families for the days in March that the schools had to close.
Along with closing its classes to students, Mile High Early Learning also had to cancel its annual fundraiser event this year due to COVID-19, placing even more of a financial burden on the school.
For now, the school is working with the state to accommodate all of its requests, knowing that the changes to the classroom will have a long-lasting impact.
“Early childhood education will be changed forever. It was an unsustainable financial model that was subsidized by low salaries for staff and high costs for parents,” Harris said. “What is happening.... the landscape's going to look completely different and I do think that some won’t survive. I’m hopeful there’s a way we can come together and collaborate and still serve the children and families we need to.”
Mile High Early Learning is planning on bringing staff back for orientation on May 18 and then allowing its students to return the first week of June.
Harris knows all of this is subject to change depending on how the novel coronavirus pandemic unfolds over the coming week.
“My analogy is walking out on ice, you go slow and if there’s a little crack then you’d back up,” Harris said.
She said her staff is trying to adapt to the changes while serving families who need the help.