Staples Area Community Event Coordinator Loralee Hurley spoke to the staff at Oakland Park Children’s Center in Medford, MA on their reopening experience post the COVID-19 shutdown.

 

Inside Oakland Park Children’s Center in Medford it has been quiet – the doors have been closed since March. Being a private, non-profit school in an industry that is already struggling, endeavoring to stay afloat has been tough. While no children have been inside the center, the administrative staff has been working tirelessly trying to find ways to be able to open when the time comes. A question the staff kept asking was, “will we be here when it is okay to open?” 

 

After being opened for nearly 48 years, the staff at Oakland Park Children's Center is wondering if they may need to close their doors forever due to the losses they have taken. Support for childcare has been minimal with help in Massachusetts targeted to centers that have contracts with the state. Smaller privately funded centers are mostly on their own.  Efforts to contact elected representatives have gone unanswered. 

 

It seems to the staff like they need to figure this out for themselves. Fewer children are allowed with more staff and supplies needed, making staying afloat a challenge financially. They know some centers are passing on some costs to families with COVID fees; however, they feel families are struggling too and don’t feel they can absorb that burden.

 

As the center reopens on June 29th, there is an entirely new set of rules. There are many changes that need to happen under the new safety requirements, some more burdensome than others. While they all want to keep children safe, they can’t help but wonder what happens to the children if Oakland Park and other centers don’t survive. Parents must work and alternatives may cause unintended consequences. The center has always endeavored to be a partner to families with their open-door policy welcoming them into the classrooms to see what is going on in their child’s day at Oakland Park.  Now, they must restrict them to just drop-off and pick-up at the point of entry. 

 

Staff at the center have reached out to all of their families about the new guidelines through meetings, phone calls, letters and videos to prepare the children. They know the anxiety that parents must be feeling about leaving their children with us and not being able to spend some time in their child’s class as a bridge to home. They too feel the anxiety and hope to assure families that they will keep their children safe and yet provide a rewarding experience.

 

The staff at Oakland Park Children’s Center recognizes, too, the stress children feel with not being able to do all that they could before. Children have not seen their friends in 14 weeks and now must learn new routines to keep them safe with social distancing.  Part of keeping them safe is wearing masks - children are encouraged to wear face masks except for eating and sleeping; they are able to remove their masks when at their own table space if needed, and on the playground with parent permission and social distancing. 

 

To provide them some social distancing space, tables have been divided to accommodate two children with sneeze barriers; these same tables prior to COVID-19 could accommodate 4-6 children which allowed them to socialize with each other more. Many of the activities they took for granted before just will not be available, while others will require some changes.  In an effort to minimize the changes for children, alternative ways to make activities available to them have been implemented.  Steps have been taken to alleviate their stress – while toys cannot be shared, most are available with several sets of the same item and are sanitized after individual use.  Also, dress-up clothes no longer can be shared but may be signed out for daily individual use and hung separately on a child’s hook and washed at end of day. In the kitchen no play utensils or food that may be put in mouths. 

 

Preparing to reopen during the past couple of weeks, staff at the center have been assessing changes and implementing new guidelines. The staff have been educated on health and safety - the #1 priority.  Staff must be vigilant keeping toys isolated to the individual child and making sure they are sanitized after use.  Under the guidelines, there are:

  • New group sizes (only ten children in a class vs. twenty before). Children must remain in the same group each day and cannot be combined. Each child needs their own supplies at their designated space that are not shared with other children.  
  • Staff assigned to classroom cannot float between classes.
  • Staff and children are screened daily before entering the daycare center at the wellness station.  Parents cannot go beyond this point.
  • Hygiene stations have been setup, handwashing instructions at every sink. Specific handwashing guidelines throughout the day for staff and children along with additional cleaning and sanitation of all areas throughout the day.

 

Everything is different for all of us – teachers, parents and children – as we return to an environment focused on health, safety and social distancing.  We will be learning day to day and adjusting how we do things. As we look at learning in a new way, we just need to take it one day at a time. Change takes time. Communication, adaptability and patience is key – with your staff, parents and children.  We will take on this “new normal” together.  We will still be partners with the parents – just at a distance. Children will still be learning through play – just a new style of playing.  Staff will still feel the rewards of meeting this important need for families – it is the goal of all of us at the Oakland Park Children’s Center to make parents feel assured that they are keeping their children safe and happy allowing them to do what they need to do during the day.  However, they must continually assess the financial impact of the changes on a small childcare center. What the future holds they just don’t know.