Creating Community during COVID

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At UICS, we believe in the nurturing strength and support of community. For our three centers, that community includes the parents, caregivers, and families of our little learners.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the biggest challenges has been continuing our commitment to family engagement and support, particularly with social distancing and engaging in distance learning. 

Prior to the pandemic, parents and caregivers were able to walk directly to their child’s classrooms for morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up. This touchpoint provided an opportunity for parents/caregivers to talk with teachers to discuss any concerns they had, share important milestones or accomplishments, and, at the basic level, get to know the people entrusted with their child’s care every day.

“That’s one of the beauties of preschool.” says UICS-St. Mark Center Training and Curriculum Manager Merrill Hunt. “You get to go into the classroom and see what’s going on, take your child to their teacher each day, and help them adjust to school in the morning.” 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, parents aren’t able to come to the classroom and drop-off/pick-up happens in the UICS center lobby, with teachers and staff escorting children to and from the classroom. This shift in policy, while necessary for the health and wellbeing of our community, makes it more difficult for parents to see what is going on in their child’s classroom each day.

In order to adjust to these new changes, UICS teachers and staff have become more innovative in their approaches with communicating and finding ways for parents/caregivers to engage via virtual platforms.

As the pandemic became more widespread, regular activities shifted to become more accessible for all students and families. Since summer 2020, UICS Art Coordinator Bri Pegg has hosted a virtual form of the staple “Stay, Play, and Learn” programming offered weekly for families. Pre-pandemic, this weekly opportunity invited parents, caregivers, and families to stay a little longer during Thursday afternoon pick ups, allowing them to connect with other families and engage in arts-based learning with their children, all within their UICS school community. Throughout the pandemic, this has shifted to “Zoom, Play, and Learn”. Families are encouraged to log on to a private Zoom link to participate in guided arts and crafts with UICS staff and fellow students. Many of the arts experiences intentionally utilize materials/supplies found at home to make it more accessible for students and more convenient for families as well.  

According to UICS Director of Family and Community Engagement Rhonda Nolen, adjusting to these ways of communication have required a shift in outreach methods.

“We’ve really been relying on communicating updates and information with families through email, phone calls, and text messages during this time. Lately, Family Advocates at each center have been sending emails to families with community resources and tools they may need.”

UICS teachers from all classrooms send out weekly update emails to families that provide  updates, stories, and pictures of the happenings in their child’s classroom. This provides parents with an opportunity to not only communicate with their child’s teacher, but also to learn more about what their child is working on each week in school.

While change can be difficult, the students have adapted to these new protocols and routines with great strength and resilience.

“The kids have learned the new routine of entering the building and being shifted to their teachers as soon as they enter. Now that we’re months in, they’re not clinging to their parents.” shares UICS-St. Mark Center Early Learning and Inclusion Director Raina Davis.

At UICS, we take pride in meeting our students and families where they are. We are grateful for the support and strength of our community to come together to stay connected, especially in a time filled with change. Together, we are better.