In one of the first counties in the nation to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Snohomish County Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) teams saw firsthand the disproportionate impacts the virus had on ECEAP families. These families were not only impacted by the stress of the pandemic, they also faced greater job instability or worked in industries that placed them at greater risk of exposure to the virus. Staff wasted no time in setting up individualized services, and showed their commitment to children and families by:
- Meeting basic needs such as nutrition, health services and rental assistance.
- Providing fun and engaging learning-at-home activities that empower parents as their child’s first and most important teachers.
- Reinforcing connections among ECEAP community members so that families can share resources, find support and strengthen ties to the larger community.
Snohomish County ECEAP’s first priority at the onset of Gov. Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order was to ensure families could retain access to food, health care and stable housing during the pandemic.
Without school breakfast and lunch programs, many families lost a primary source of nutrition for their children. ECEAP staff put their considerable talents to work to access food for families who need it. They partnered with community food banks and delivered food boxes to families who did not have transportation. Sites provided meals and ingredients for meals for entire families either once or twice a week, using existing food from their pantries supplemented with additional items. Families were so very appreciative of the extra food support being provided. In the words of one parent:
Thank you so much. I cried when I opened the bags (of food). I still am. Thank you, thank you, thank you! From every cell of my body, thank you!
Teachers and assistant teachers embraced technological solutions to reach out to families with a variety of tools, including online meeting and video tools and emails and text messages. They also engaged with students through YouTube channels.
Low-tech strategies also had a powerful effect. Teachers had weekly connection calls with families and distributed education packets with hands-on activities that engaged children and adults together. Families shared that this was a huge help in providing home learning activities to their children. They said they were excited to watch the recorded lessons and stories, and felt connected to each other through the site’s social media pages.
You guys are so great! I’m so grateful for you. He misses school so much and is very happy to see the teachers on the Facebook group!
When it became apparent that programs would not meet face-to-face, several sites organized and distributed boxes with consumable classroom items and additional low-cost materials such as crayons, scissors and puzzles for families to use at home. Staff arranged for families to come pick up the materials on a designated day and then delivered materials to families who were unable to participate on the pick-up day. They ensured that every family received materials.
Creativity of staff led to opportunities for families to engage deeply in their child’s learning. One teacher used technology to scaffold the learning of her whole class by hosting two group Google Classroom meetings a week and offering recorded lessons and activities in between. During the recorded sessions, the teacher encouraged children to write, create or try something new. During the Google Classroom meetings, children were able to share their learning with their teacher and classmates. This connection has clearly fostered enthusiasm in her students:
K wanted to send a video saying she misses you, and she’s been practicing her sorting and writing! She especially loves the videos you've sent out, she likes to pretend to be you making a video of sorting and talk to her "class" as she does it.
ECEAP staff recognize that belonging to a community – the knowledge that we are not going through this alone – is critical to our well-being. To that end, Snohomish County teams have set up a variety of opportunities to support families to engage with each other and foster a sense of belonging and community. Families are also connecting through Zoom sessions, closed Facebook groups and virtual family events. Family Support are hosting weekly Parent Café virtual meetings at several sites to offer opportunity for connections, to support one another and share resources and ideas.
One site arranged a program-wide unique and engaging family event for 75 families. Yoga cards were distributed to all families along with the ingredients for taco salad. In a Zoom meeting led by a yoga instructor, families participated together in fun, healthy and physical activity, then enjoyed taco salad for dinner.
Snohomish County ECEAP’s connection to families extended well beyond contracted services and education. Staff creativity and commitment is reflected in the response of parents who are so grateful for this amazing program:
ECEAP is so great. Thank you for loving my son and not pushing him off as a problem child like so many others [have done]. I can tell you truly love him, and I have seen a change in him and his behavior. Thank you also for caring about me and my needs and encouraging me.