By Ingrid Mezquita, Executive Director, San Francisco Office of Early Care and Education
For the past two months, San Francisco, along with the rest of the world, has endured a crisis. The coronavirus pandemic and necessary shelter-in-place measures has created an unprecedented economic and social challenge. Amidst this, it is abundantly clear, early care and education is essential for families, communities, and the economy to thrive.
When San Francisco enacted its Public Health Order (shelter-in-place), Mayor Breed requested city departments to enact an emergency childcare system for essential service workers. The San Francisco Office of Early Care and Education (OECE), First 5 San Francisco, the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) and the Recreation and Parks Department rapidly organized services for children ages ranging from babies to sixth graders. The logistics felt a bit like becoming an air traffic controller: connecting with early learning programs who volunteered to provide emergency services, working with the Department of Public Health to provide health and safety guidance, and connecting ECE sites with necessary sanitation supplies.
Hand sanitizer, gloves, masks—ordinary supplies are now lifesavers to early childhood programming, lessening the burden on teachers who need our support in more ways than ever.
I never thought delivering hand sanitizer would feel so impactful—or bring so much relief. Hand sanitizer, gloves, masks—ordinary supplies are now lifesavers to early childhood programming, lessening the burden on teachers who need our support in more ways than ever.
That is because the city’s early care and education programs have risen to this occasion during the COVID-19 crisis. Teachers continue to provide high quality learning experiences, being empathetic adults for children during a stressful time, and going beyond for families in their programs.
Providing emergency service comes with a significant added charge for teachers. They must be vigilant in cleaning, sanitizing toys, and keeping children socially distant. They create the safe places so parents and children understand new rules and new ways of interacting. Yet, throughout, teachers also worry about their own health, and that of their families. Ordinary moments, like a child feeling unwell, become extraordinary moments because of the heightened stress.
At the same time, empathy, compassion, and our humanity is present. Every teacher stepped up in this process, creating a space in the hearts of children. Teachers have been unstoppable, providing virtual lessons, connecting families to community resources, taking out of their own pockets to give those in need, and socially connecting when our children and families need kindness.
Early educators are critical during this crisis, and critical to our social and economic recovery. Yet, our system is severely underfunded and has been for decades. During the 2010 recession, early care and education programs took substantial hits in funding that continue to the present. Emergency child care costs during COVID-19 brought urgency in funding this system to adequately operate in times of crisis—due to extra supplies, deep cleaning requirements, and restrictions on how many children are allowed in each group. As we look ahead to a long recovery, ensuring the stability of the early care and education field must be a priority, because early educators ensure that our children learn and socialize safely.
As we look ahead to a long recovery, ensuring the stability of the early care and education field must be a priority, because early educators ensure that our children learn and socialize safely.
San Francisco has demonstrated its resiliency during COVID-19 through the countless acts of kindness and bravery. That is what our emergency childcare system represents: resiliency, kindness, and bravery. My heart is full as I witness our community come together during this time of crisis and the commitment from the people around me willing to step up and create a better environment for our children and their families. I can feel the spirit of optimism this will continue long after shelter-in-place ends, and I look forward to being part of it.
COVID-19 has changed the pace of neighborhoods and our daily routines in San Francisco, but access to resources and public services continues to be a significant need for many children and their families. Like food, housing, and transportation, access to high quality early childhood education is a basic need for all families. That has never been more clear than now, as millions of families across the country struggle with how to work and care for their children while schools and early learning programs are closed.
Like many other types of businesses and organizations, early childhood education programs are learning to navigate this new environment so that they can continue to serve children and families. This is the fourth in a series of articles to highlight the work of San Francisco’s early learning programs.
Part 1: Childcare for Essential Workers | Part 2: Staying Connected Virtually | Part 3: High Quality Care Matters, Especially During COVID-19 | Part 4: Resiliency: This Is What Our Emergency Child Care System Represents | Part 5: Teacher Profiles