Raise your hand if you’ve ever: had to go to the bathroom, been desperately thirsty after drinking not enough coffee, and also been sweating through a three-layer disposable mask while trying to simultaneously comfort a crying two-year-old and sanitize 1700 LEGO’s...Yeah, I know how you feel!
As child care providers and early childhood educators, we’ve always had to work extra hard at meeting all of the children’s needs. This is in addition to keeping the classroom as clean as possible and then somehow planning an epic curriculum that doesn’t just meet the standards but ALSO looks like a picture from Pinterest.
We’ve always been superheroes, but now we have the masks to prove it.
My non-profit one-room schoolhouse opened last Tuesday. Let me tell you – I have worked in this field for over 20 years and run giant programs of 100 plus students. Last week with eight kids knocked me for a loop. It was like learning a new language trying to manage the classroom.
The children hadn’t been in school since March, and within minutes every single item was out on the rug. The teachers and I looked at each other over and over again trying to figure out what to disinfect first, and how to keep the kids six feet apart. We can barely hear each other with those masks on!
Teaching preschool is never easy, but it’s harder now. And we are all doing a mitzvah (Hebrew for good deed) by opening back up to serve families. After Tuesday we realized we needed to decrease the number of materials by 75% and create smaller bins so we can rotate items more easily. We are still getting the hang of it. We are learning from our mistakes just like the children.
Here are a few things we’ve done that I think are helping:
Each child has a bin to keep their mask in at meals and snacks. They each have a bottle of hand sanitizer inside and their water bottle. This way after they eat, they put their mask back on and then sanitize their hands.
I purchased some germicide, Madacide-FD, that makes us all FEEL like we’re killing the germs. We only use it when children aren’t in the room, and especially on the toilets.
Another useful item is a UV sanitizer I ordered from Play With a Purpose. It was pricey at over $300, but it can sanitize anything in about 5 minutes. We use it on blocks and baby dolls mostly.
I also invested in two air purifiers that will cover the entire square footage of the classroom. Since we’re in California those air purifiers have really helped with the smoke from wildfires this last month. We have a few fans and an air conditioner that we run in order to keep the ventilation good even though we haven’t been able to go outside.
So, if you’re keeping track we’ve probably invested over $2,000 in supplies including things like gloves, masks, bleach wipes, and hundreds of plastic bins. We also need to have professional janitorial staff to ensure that the classroom is cleaned properly every night.
Not to mention, our electricity bill which will certainly be higher. We were lucky to get a grant from our local community foundation to help pay for the air purifiers, but our expenses are piling up.
We lost $50,000 due to the closures for COVID19. Our enrollment is about half what it could be, we owe months of back rent, and have things like tax bills to figure out. I just found out that our local First 5 branch is only able to give us less than half of the annual grant we expected.
Which leads me to what we ALL need to do today: demand emergency funding for child care and early childhood education immediately. Call your congresspeople, your state legislators, your governors, and your city councils. Email them. Put them on blast on social media. We need to get their attention.
Yes, there are fires to the right and Coronavirus to the left. However, we are here doing the most important job a person can do: taking care of young children whose parents are healthcare workers, firefighters, public servants, grocery clerks, and ANYONE else with children that needs to work. We are essential!
And this bill the House passed is not going to come fast enough, if at all.
Childcare workers have always been oppressed; workers are mostly women and many, many people of color (see the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment). We always have been underpaid; our wages are lower than K -12 educators.
It has always been wrong, and I have always been ready to fight over it. But now? I am filled with RAGE. Cutting funding for our field while we risk our health and safety and the health and safety of our families to take care of children?
It’s enough now. I’ve had enough. I have a master’s degree. I am not a babysitter. I am wearing a mask and sanitizing the living daylights out of every doorknob. I am trying to make a beautiful school to rescue children from the fear, uncertainty, and sheer boredom of the last seven months.
We do not know what’s coming. But we have the privilege of raising the next generation of citizens who will make the world a better place because we love them. And I am telling you, the only way through is together.
We must demand the support we need, that we’ve always needed as early childhood professionals. Because it’s now or never. We are not going to be able to keep our doors open without some immediate financial infusions and we need it now.
Hold my hand, use your voice, get out your phone and tap, type, text, and call. The only way through is together. We teach children every day how to cooperate and we need to use those skills today. Channel your inner two-year-old and let’s throw this tantrum right now.
Heather Posner is the executive director of Little Roses Preschool in Crockett, CA. She holds an MA in Early Childhood Education and specializes in developing innovative programs for young children including the first museum preschool in California.