This week, Children’s Home & Aid reopened its five early education sites in Chicagoland and Bloomington. It’s been a busy week for the site managers, teachers and the families. While it was clear that everyone was excited to reconnect, there was also a sense of anxious anticipation as the new pandemic-related rules were implemented.

“Our children and families have been missed terribly and have achieved so many milestones during our time away,” said Emily Janssen, site manager at Scott Early Learning Center in Bloomington, Ill. “Now there is even more understanding of what we do beyond childcare. Parents now have a new perspective on the services we provide and have even more appreciation for the work the teachers do to prepare children for school.”

Safety Protocols in Place

Ahead of the reopening, Children’s Home & Aid leadership met for weeks to hammer out the details, ensuring that Centers for Disease Control and state regulations were followed to protect children, families and staff from the coronavirus.

Anita Raspberry-Strong, site manager at Englewood’s Mitzi Freidheim Child & Family Center, said there are mixed emotions as the families return. “This pandemic has effected many of us personally. And while we are excited to see the children, there is a sense of nervousness and anxiety that we’ve experienced,” she said. “But we are taking the necessary precautions to remain safe, ensure the safety of the children, and remain in a positive space.”

Among many of the new rules: car lane drop-offs; enhanced cleaning and sanitization schedules; and along with wearing masks, each child and staff member are given daily temperature checks ahead of entering the building.

The Impact of COVID on our Families

During the shelter-in place order, teachers adapted quickly to the technology of Zoom and YouTube to continue the educational interaction with the children and provide engaged support to families. Along with this, teachers also participated in porch drop offs, delivering lesson plans and activity kits to enrolled children.

“COVID has created a scenario that has been difficult, even traumatizing, for some families,
said Robin Byster, Marletta Darnall Schaumburg Child & Family Center manager. “Our services are even more important now as parents’ jobs have disappeared and they’ve had the added pressure of being home for extended times without support. It’s not easy. And there is certainly a need for resources for items not found in food pantries including baby supplies and in-demand cleaning products.”

Marcelle Sevaggio, master teacher at the Darnall Center, was proud that parents had taken their own steps to get ready: “Our children are so young so it’s understandable that many hit a rough patch during the time we were closed. But one mom sat with her baby before coming back and watched all of our YouTube videos so the baby would remember us. And it worked!”

This is a difficult time for many of our families – COVID has hit Illinois hard, especially in communities of color. Now, more than ever, our families need support to maintain access to critical emotional, social and educational tools and resources.