Editor’s note: This commentary is by Chloe Learey, who is the executive director of Winston Prouty Center for Child and Family Development in Brattleboro and who serves on the Building Bright Futures State Advisory Council.
The end of July marked two months that our Early Learning Center at Winston Prouty has been re-opened since closing on March 18. One of my favorite moments was on the first day watching two little friends run to each for a hug with big excitement in their voices. It is a symbol of why it is so important to be open if we can do so safely.
There are seven aspects to our success:
— Teachers who are willing to think creatively and try different things, like being outside most of the time.
— Families who are willing to be flexible with different hours and are very open in their communication.
— Children who are learning through play and practicing the social-emotional skills that are essential for them be available for learning and successful in life.
— We created an Organization Health Response Team and have daily meetings to share updated information about Covid and best practices and to monitor the physical and emotional health of our staff and children.
— We have developed strong protocols and are staying attentive, relying on the Vermont Department of Health for assistance when we are not sure how to understand the guidance or if it is confusing.
— We stay vigilant and respond quickly if changes are needed.
— We have not had to close or contain any classrooms yet due to Covid.
One of the hallmarks of the Covid pandemic is that everyone is impacted and experiencing the situation across multiple dimensions of our lives. Being in a relationship with others, whether personal or professional, is fundamentally challenging, and being in a pandemic makes it even more so. This is an area where early childhood development is playing a key role in us as adults.
Being able to take the perspective of others and understand that we have unique differences is a fundamental aspect of the social-emotional development of early childhood. And fundamentally, we are learning about the importance of trusting each other and communicating when issues and questions arise, and to stay flexible in the face of the continued unknown. A recent article in The New Yorker by a fellow Vermonter, Bill McKibben, highlights that Vermont enjoys a high level of social trust which has helped us weather the pandemic much better than some other regions.
As we enter August, anxiety is on the rise. We hear about increased cases and deaths in other parts of the country and we worry about whether we will be able to maintain our good numbers in Vermont. There are concerns about how schools will operate, how families with young children who cannot be home alone will be able to work, and whether families will be financially secure as benefits shift.
There are many complications school systems face as they consider opening that we do not have to grapple with in a privately run early learning program. We do not provide transportation, children are not required to attend, we are not compelled to offer meals, we have more flexibility about where and how our curriculum is offered, and we typically have fewer numbers given required ratios.
How can we build on the successes we have experienced thus far to help alleviate some of the anxiety and think creatively about how to support each other going forward? Here are four things to consider.
First, we can build on the strength of the trust we have in our communities, approaching our challenges together with curiosity, creativity, and flexibility, and without being judgmental or censuring. Second, we can continue prioritizing the social-emotional development of children by opening child care and schools when it is safe so that they can continue this legacy. Third, we can use our trusted sources to get information about what is safe and continue to mitigate the risks of Covid in the face of what is unknown and knowing there is always some level of risk. Finally, we can understand that everyone has a different risk tolerance.
The Secretary-General of the UN António Guterres said, “The Covid-19 pandemic is a public health emergency — but it is far more. It is an economic crisis. A social crisis. And a human crisis that is fast becoming a human rights crisis.” Covid-19 threatens everyone. We will build more effective and inclusive solutions for the emergency of today and the recovery for tomorrow when we recognize that we are all in this together.