Early Care and Education During a Pandemic: Teacher Profiles

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 fifth 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 VirtuallyPart 3: Early Care And Education During A Pandemic: High Quality Care Matters, Especially During COVID-19 | Part 4: Resiliency: This Is What Our Emergency Child Care System Represents


 

As San Francisco begins to re-open after the COVID-19 shelter-in-place mandate, and the city’s emergency child care program comes to an end, early care and education programs will be navigating a “new normal” to keep children and teachers safe and healthy. A few teachers, directors, and staff have shared their experiences navigating emergency child care with OECE. 

 

Charles “Tom” Sullivan, Preschool Head Teacher 

“As I signed up for the program, I was worried, even afraid. I really didn’t know what I was signing up for. How are we as teachers going to provide care to children and keep it a clean and safe place? What are we going to do all day with them? And mostly, will I get sick? The first day we had our training and it wasn’t so bad. We felt we were ready for the kids. Second day, families started coming and we had a procedure for parents and their children entering our classroom. We had to stop them right away. Get sanitizer! Don’t forget your child needs to use the hand sanitizer! Only the child comes into the classroom! Yes, I got all their stuff! I feel like we do a better job than the T.S.A. before boarding. The children, they are great. They have improved with a routine of taking off shoes before entering the classroom and putting them on before exiting the classroom. They have become good at routine and understand when it is time to eat, rest, free play, and go outside. It is becoming a little easier each day. I have a great team and we make sure our classroom is CLEAN! So, if you come into our classroom, don’t be surprised if we become territorial and ask, ‘What are you doing here? Where are your gloves and mask?’ Because we are protecting the children, ourselves and the world!”

 

“I have a great team and we make sure our classroom is CLEAN! So, if you come into our classroom, don’t be surprised if we become territorial and ask, “What are you doing here? Where are your gloves and mask?” Because we are protecting the children, ourselves and the world!”

 

Juana Francis Puerto, Infant Head Teacher

“Before COVID-19, I was working as an infant head teacher of children between the ages of 3 and 18 months. My whole life, as well as that of the residents of the bay, was transformed when the pandemic came to the Bay Area. The uncertainty of the crisis caused a collective panic and I initially thought of staying home for my safety and that of my family. I could do my job from home and online professional development training during shelter in place. When the program director said that one classroom would remain open to serve as an emergency childcare – to support the medical personnel who take care of us, I volunteered because I know that our work is paramount too. Immediately, I thought about what we could do to protect ourselves, our children and the community who are still working. We created a super cleaning team which we have maintained every day. We keep a health control as if we were in an ICU because our students and colleagues deserve my respect and care. After this pandemic I will no longer be the same person because I feel more committed to serving and raising awareness so that we leave a better world to our future generation.” 

 

Lucero Gamboa, Facilities Manager

“Germs and viruses are everywhere. We have been identifying all the high-touch surfaces such as tables, chairs, faucets, light switches, door handles, entrance doors, counter-tops, floor, carpets, etc.  Using the correct disinfectant is an important part of preventing and reducing the spread of illness along with other critical things like hand washing. We do everything we can consistently to keep and maintain a place that is clean, safe, and aware about the risks of COVID-19. We focus on our job, providing qualified personnel to maintain a place that is regularly disinfected and safe. With our  cleaning practices in place, we have the confidence of the community.  I am proud of the service that we provide because as a community center we enhance our community’s lives. The early check-in routine to enter the preschool class has been extremely reinforced by the teachers. No one is allowed to even get one step in the classroom before spraying the sole of your shoes and using the blue shoe covers to get in the classroom, using hand sanitizer, washing hands, and wearing gloves and masks. If you don’t do it, you can’t get in. They do a very good job of keeping us and the children safe. Personally, I see a lot of teamwork and we are just doing our best to stay healthy and serve the community.”

 

We do everything we can consistently to keep and maintain a place that is clean, safe, and aware about the risks of COVID-19. We focus on our job, providing qualified personnel to maintain a place that is regularly disinfected and safe. With our  cleaning practices in place, we have the confidence of the community.”


 

Luisa Maria Balatbat, Enrollment Specialist 

“March 16, 2020 was our first day of closure due to the pandemic. Everybody was, of course, worried and uncertain of what the future may hold. Our staff strive to connect and support the families that we serve in whatever form we can. During this time of distress, the ECE program leadership decided to prepare and give activity bags to each child we are serving in our program to keep them busy and learning, and to maintain contact with them. We continuously search for activities that children and parents can participate in together and send different online activities and resources once or twice a week. Some parents really liked the ideas, felt connected and most of all, they are grateful that we still hold their hands during these trying times. The pandemic has helped me realize that our ECE program not only makes our community stronger but that we give our hearts to the members of the families we serve.”

 

Zonia Torres, FCC Owner/Educator

“Reopening my Family Child Care has been incredibly wonderful! We were closed from March 17, 2020, for almost two months. During that time, I was supporting families by making calls to see how they were emotionally and financially. I talked with the children by video to do circle time, read books, and talk to them about the importance of washing our hands and the 6-foot distance to maintain our health. The children missed the program and were very excited to see and play with their friends again. I advised the mothers what kinds of activities they could do with the children to reduce stress and they came to pick up bags with books and activities that I prepared for fine and gross motor skills. Many families were asked to return to work to perform essential duties during this pandemic. If I continued to be closed, families would be homeless without the income they needed for rent and I thought, what’s going to happen to the children? I was encouraged to open because moms kept calling me and it has been incredibly wonderful. We just have a lot of caution, following the health and licensing guidelines, because I am very committed to the children I care for. I am extremely grateful for OECE’s support in opening my program during COVID-19. I feel very fortunate as an educator because the families I support are vulnerable families who trust me, leaving their treasures, their children, in my hands in these difficult times. Families need someone to support them emotionally right now and I am here to support them, not only to care for the children, but also to give them the information they need.”

 

“If I continued to be closed, families would be homeless without the income they needed for rent and I thought, what’s going to happen to the children? I was encouraged to open because moms kept calling me and it has been incredibly wonderful. We just have a lot of caution, following the health and licensing guidelines, because I am very committed to the children I care for.”

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