When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Educational Service District (ESD) 112 worked quickly to assess the risks, determine the need for in-person care and develop and implement a plan to prioritize Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) care for the children of essential workers. This process included assessing risks for staff with underlying medical and health conditions and honoring their requests to work remotely, when possible. Unfortunately, many of ESD 112’s child care staff were laid off as the sudden drop in attendance resulted in a corresponding drop in revenue as well.
Soon after, ESD 112 received local funding and made the decision to provide free child care to the children of essential workers. They leveraged some ECEAP staff in order to provide this critical service during uncertain times. These staff provided school-age child care and supported these children and their families to address distance learning needs in partnership with local elementary schools and districts. Thanks to the role that Washington State plays in funding a sustainable, high-quality and comprehensive preschool experience for children and families, ESD 112 was also able to continue serving ECEAP-enrolled children and families during this crisis and at a time when families needed support the most.
ESD 112 offered services, both in-person and virtually, to support children and families during the pandemic. ESD 112 continued to offer in-person services at locations for working families, those going to school or who had other risk factors. Additionally, ESD 112 continued to offer transportation services for families with who needed it, ensuring regular attendance.
Based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Washington State Department of Health (DOH) guidance, ESD 112 limited group sizes to no more than 10 individuals. Staff completed daily health screenings that included symptom assessment and temperature checks for all staff and children. Additionally, ESD 112 implemented a modified arrival and departure procedure to minimize the number of individuals walking through their facilities. They also increased cleaning and sanitizing procedures. Families expressed gratitude to be able to continue accessing care, so they could continue to maintain employment. Families shared with center directors that they appreciated the extra health and safety precautions ESD 112 took to keep their children safe.
"COVID-19 brought so much rapid change to our lives and I was thankful to find out my child would be able to continue to attend the ECEAP program. Having consistent care for my youngest child helped me be able to continue to work from home and focus on my duties. This also helped my husband continue to focus on our small business. Our small business is not doing its best but this has brought him the opportunity to work on advertising and other things needed. I would like to thank all the teachers and staff that made this a possibility for my child and family.” - ECEAP Parent
ESD 112 provided additional staff professional development opportunities to increase access to relevant content and to help staff incorporate new knowledge into practices. One area of focus included mental health and the importance of closely monitoring potential risks for child abuse and neglect, given the levels of stress and uncertainty that families were experiencing. Typically, mandatory reporters throughout the community would have numerous opportunities to recognize children at potential risk and notify the proper authorities. During the pandemic, this became more complex and nuanced.
ECEAP Lead Teachers and Family Support Specialists worked closely with one another during the pandemic to ensure families had the support they needed. Even though many of the community agencies that families typically access for resources initially closed, ECEAP worked to meet these needs in other ways by leveraging community relationships and resources. Family support staff shared that the families expressed how grateful they are that ECEAP continued in-person services at certain sites. For one particular family, the mom worked nights and dad worked days. The mother shared that if she did not have ECEAP to utilize, she would not have known what to do. She appreciated the teachers in the classrooms and the continued supports she received from family support staff.
“One of the successes I've had with my kiddos is the discovery of shared drawing on the white board in Zoom. I used the white board initially to share spelling of their names and showing shapes, then one child started imitating by swiping their finger around. After understanding the annotation function, I started encouraging the children to write their names and draw pictures with me. Fortunately, the children found this technology very intuitive and most of them were able to figure it out with little to no help. The children love this way of engagement. We are able to have more meaningful conversations while working on some academic skills, but mostly it's just the joy of being able to interact with them in creative and collaborative ways.” - ECEAP Teacher
Although many of ESD 112’s physical classrooms at center-based programs temporarily closed, Lead Teachers continued to provide children and families with educational services and supports using a variety of strategies. Staff created and distributed educational materials and packets for families to use at home. Teachers facilitated virtual story times and individual check-ins to engage children and continue to support their ongoing growth and development. Throughout these challenging times, children, families and staff are demonstrating their resiliency and working tirelessly together to maintain a strong sense of connection and community.
“Even though COVID-19 brought us new scary barriers, I have experienced that there are barriers that have been diminished as well. The vulnerability of COVID-19 has given a common ground for all, with this common ground we have had to be open to letting go of boundaries. Boundaries of sharing personal experience/information, working from our homes, etc., which I believe has brought better connection with families. There is still need for healthy boundaries, but at this point something that I will take from this is that for families to share themselves we have to be able to share more of ourselves.” - ECEAP Teacher