By Drew Wemple
SUNY Plattsburgh’s Child Care Center in Sibley Hall has had to evolve during the pandemic.
Reopening in early June, the center has once again provided a place for children to learn, make friends and develop their ever-changing behaviors. But things are different now inside Sibley for the center’s staff, parents and children like never before.
On a normal day at the center, parents would bring their children into Sibley then into the classroom to get their child situated for the day. The children would then be allowed to play freely and take part in structured activities throughout the time they’re there.
For starters, the Center for Disease Control has recommended that parents and families not enter the classroom. The center has also made requests for single and same parent pick-up and drop off times. Children and staff are required to do daily health screenings. Upon arrival, both groups must have their temperatures taken and must answer several questions concerning recent COVID-19 symptoms or health changes.
Both children and staff have had to make changes in their footwear. Everyone inside the center must have a pair of home shoes and school shoes. Home shoes are to be worn everywhere except inside the classroom and are left at the door of the classroom. School shoes are slipped on before entry and are to be worn strictly inside the classroom.
“There is a slim chance that they would carry those germs on the bottom of their shoes,” Center Director Sally Girard said. “But we still don’t want to take the chance.”
Girard also added that the majority of the activities now take place outside on the playground. The center is also limiting the amount of children per room and area. The maximum number of children allowed in the classroom set by New York state is 15.
Girard stressed how crucial cooperation from parents and staff have been.
“It’s become second nature for them,” Girard said. “Our teachers and parents have just been so supportive.”
Those teachers and parents understand why these protocols and procedures are in place, whereas the children of the center are still trying to put all the pieces together. Girard said that she has heard children coin the phrase, ‘Remember before the germs?’
When the germs arrived in March, the center was shut down. Children were told not to return to the center, and staff were sent home until further notice. The staff were paid for the first two weeks they were off before being furloughed for the remaining weeks. This took a period of adjustment for parents, teachers and children.
Two-year-old Jerry Squires loves to play and socialize with his friends at the center. When he was sent home, he didn’t understand why. His mother Maureen Squires is a professor and chair of the education department at SUNY Plattsburgh. Squires was very worried the center would not reopen. She relied on the center to take her child while she taught just down the hall in Sibley. She described how difficult of an adjustment it was for Jerry to be yanked out of an environment he and so many other young children had grown accustomed to and be stuck at home.
“He started to associate our home computer with something negative,” Squires said. “It was something that’d take mommy’s attention away, so he’d begin to cry or get upset.”
It was a tough decision for Squires to decide whether she would send Jerry back upon reopening.
“He missed all his friends,” Squires said. “When he came back in June, he was able to socialize safely with his friends again.”
After those seven weeks, the staff returned a week earlier than the children, according to Pebbles Stewart, the lead teacher in the pre-K room. The staff were given a week of prep to “work out the kinks,” she said. Stewart and other teachers have worked tirelessly to keep the center running smoothly and safely.
Stewart, Squires and Girard all believe one change they’d like to see in the center is increased funding. Girard predicted that state funding next fiscal year is likely to be cut by 25%, which is on top of the $90,000 lost in tuition revenue from when the center closed. Squires was adamant that parents don’t want to lose good day care centers. Stewart also believes that early childcare centers are seen sometimes as just babysitting.
“We’re so much more than that,” Stewart said. “People need to be aware.”