As New York State slowly begins to re-open, many early care and education providers are wondering what work will look and feel like when they return to their centers. In the coming weeks, Teaching, Leading and Caring (TLC) will be sharing the perspectives of leaders of programs across the state that have stayed open throughout this crisis. We hope that this helps to light the way forward.
Theresa Joslin is the Director of Mercy Cares For Kids, a National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) accredited program and QUALITYstarsNY participating program in Albany, NY. Mercy Cares for Kids is owned and operated by St. Peter’s Health Partners to serve employees and the community, and, as part of the hospital, the program remained open to serve essential workers. The center serves infant through preschool-aged children and they currently have a waiver to serve school-aged children. Ms. Joslin has been with the center 24 years, first as a teacher, then 11 years as assistant director and 10 years as director. To prepare to serve essential workers, Ms. Joslin worked with their OCFS office and the hospital infection control department to improve procedures to keep teachers and children safe and healthy.
TLC: Many educators are curious about what it’s like to run an early childhood program at this time. What would you like to share with them?
It has been challenging since how we look at situations needs to change daily as we find more efficient and better ways to handle the center. It has also been rewarding due to the efforts of our teachers to keep a positive atmosphere as well as the support and appreciation we are receiving from our families.
TLC: Do you have any advice for directors who are considering re-opening right now?
Be open and honest with both teachers and families as you change your procedures. The more information you provide for the reasons you are changing how you operate, the more support you will receive. Listen to your teachers and parents because they can provide a way to handle situations that you may not have considered and it helps everyone work through the fears they may have related to coming back into the center. As hard as it seemed to stay open, I think re-opening will take courage to take on the task and patience as you work with those returning.
TLC: Given all this change, what has remained the same about leading an early childhood program?
The need to keep the day as consistent as possible for the children. Knowing who will be greeting them at the door, who will be in the classroom and what the schedule will be has helped us work with children who are in care and those returning. Identifying the causes for crying or acting out as a reaction to the changes that we cannot avoid but helping reassure the children they are safe.
TLC: What has been a source of strength and support to you during this time?
My teachers and the parents. Each has helped us keep safety first and meet the needs of the children. My family has been very supportive and understanding of the stress being open has caused and the need to relax at home.
TLC: What message would you like to send to state leaders about the needs of the early care and education field in New York State right now?
Child care has proven to be essential to our community to allow not only essential workers but others in our community who need care while working. Our teachers have continued to provide excellent care without additional compensation and a pay rate that does not represent the value of the service they provide. It is time to look at changing the placement of child care in the market place to allow for higher wages to those in the field. This is not simply a job it is a career and a vocation for those providing education and care to one of our most vulnerable populations.
What questions about re-opening do you have for early care and education providers whose programs are open right now? Please share below.
Helen Frazier is the Institute’s Director of Early Childhood. She has worked in early childhood education as a preschool and kindergarten teacher, a special educator, a consultant and a coach.