The little students at the Napa County Office of Education Napa Preschool Program on East Imola Avenue have always practiced good hand-washing and hygiene.
Singing a song to keep them occupied for 20 seconds of scrubbing, the 3- and 4-year-olds washed their hands before and after activities and when they left and entered their classrooms.
But now that COVID-19 is among us, other routines and practices have been incorporated into their daily schedule. Things like temperature checks, hand sanitizing and a health questionnaire upon check-in each morning.
It’s all part of the “new normal” when this preschool reopened on June 21 after being closed since mid-March.
“It’s going well,” said Kelsey Petithomme, Napa County Office of Education early childhood director.
“The kids are happy to be with their peers and have a sense of normalcy,” she said. “That’s so key for these kids. Their lives have been so not normal.”
It was hard to be closed for that many months, said Petithomme. Early childhood educators know how important those preschool years are. “We really want to be back in the classroom in a safe way,” she said.
The Napa Preschool Program is a preschool and childcare center for children ages 3 to 5. It’s also a designated California State Preschool Program — a state-funded program that offers full-day or part-day developmentally appropriate preschool instruction for eligible children.
Preschools are not covered by state reopening requirements for schools serving older children. In Napa County, these public and private schools will be starting their school years with remote learning.
Normally, about 145 students are enrolled at the NCOE full-day, full-year preschools across the county. However, as of this week, only about 43 students have returned, most at the Napa Valley College full-day, full-year preschool.
About 12 preschoolers are regularly attending the full-day, full-year on East Imola Avenue. The third is in St. Helena.
“Some families are choosing not to come,” said Petithomme. “Some aren’t ready, but hopefully soon.”
The NCOE normally operates 26 full-inclusion preschool classrooms across the county.
Of those classrooms, eight are full-day classrooms and the remainder are half-day preschool classrooms. Now, only the eight full-day classrooms — which includes one for infants and one for toddlers — are open and serving children in person, officials said.
The other NCOE preschool classrooms, located primarily on school district campuses, will start with distance learning in late August, following the traditional school year calendar.
In the in-person classrooms, instead of up to 22 preschoolers in one classroom, today they are enrolling 10 per classroom, said Petithomme.
“We’re doing that to keep things safe,” she said. Staff and students don’t mix outside of the classrooms.“They stay within their pods. After each group leaves the playground area, teachers clean the equipment.
During a visit on Wednesday morning, small groups of preschoolers played outside with teachers in separate areas. Two preschoolers, age 3 and 4, ran around with teachers during a game of Red Rover.
At a separate table, teachers wiped down balls and other toys that the kids had just played with. Then they led the small group into the classroom where each student sang a handwashing song – twice – for a total of at least 20 seconds.
The number of toys and other items inside each classroom has been reduced, “so not as much needs to get cleaned,” Petithomme said. Instead of sharing art and other such supplies, each student has their individual bin. Instead of family-style meals, food is presented in individual portions.
Adults, but not the children, wear masks. Each staff member must complete her or his own wellness check, including temperature and hand sanitizing, when they come to work.
“Kids are still playing together (but) we’re increasing social distancing,” said Petithomme. The teachers are also trying to minimize sharing, which is difficult because, of course, sharing is something that preschoolers are trying to learn.
When the preschool announced plans to reopen, “The staff was understandably nervous,” Petithomme said. At first, it was overwhelming trying to figure out the new safety processes, “but now that they’re in it, it’s manageable,” she said. “We’re doing our best.”
You can reach reporter Jennifer Huffman at 256-2218 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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