How Did Oregon’s Children Fare in this Election?

How Did Oregon’s Children Fare in this Election?

While national politics and the presidential election have consumed the lion’s share of voter attention these last few days, Oregon’s well established vote-by-mail process offers more concrete outcomes for local races and ballot measures. Here’s a round up of results from those we’ve been watching closely: 

 

In Multnomah County, a Win for Preschool

 

Measure 26-214, better known as the Preschool for All ballot measure in Multnomah County has passed, with 64.2 percent of voters approving, and 35.8 percent of voters against. Children’s Institute endorsed the measure and served on the task force created to develop it. Revenue will be raised through an income tax on high earners with a plan to provide tuition-free preschool for all 3- and 4-year old children in the county by 2030. 

The measure is unique in that it prioritizes access for children in BIPOC communities and includes important provisions to support racial equity in early learning. The measure prohibits programs from suspension or expulsion of children, offers anti-bias training and professional development for providers, and increases mental and behavioral health support for providers and families. It also raises the wages of early educators to achieve parity with Kindergarten teachers and guarantees a wage of $18 an hour for classroom assistants. 

preschool for all

Listen to CI’s podcast with Jessica Vega Pederson on Preschool for All

Tobacco Tax Passes Handily

 

Children’s Institute also endorsed Oregon Ballot Measure 108, which significantly increases taxes on tobacco and e-cigarette products. Revenue from the tax goes to medical and healthcare-assistance programs, including mental health services, tribal health programming and other tobacco and nicotine harm reduction efforts. The measure was strongly supported by voters, with 66.7 percent in favor and 33.3 percent against.

 

Clackamas Children’s Safety Levy Defeated

 

An effort to improve services for neglected and abused children in Clackamas County has failed, with 45.6 percent of voters in favor and 54.4 percent voting against Measure 3-564. The measure sought to raise $7.9 million dollars per year, or $40 million over five years, through a property tax of 15 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.  

 

Across the State, Strong Support for Schools 

 

Oregon voters also demonstrated strong support for local school bonds and local option levies. An incredible 14 of 17 such efforts to raise funds this year have passed, from tiny Perrydale School District near Amity, Oregon with a successful bid to raise $3 million for its 330 students, to a whopping $1.2 billion bond measure for Portland Public Schools that passed with 75 percent of voter approval.

 

National Wins May Bode Well for Child Care

 

Oregon’s congressional delegation stays mostly intact with the exception of District 2, where Cliff Bentz replaces longtime Rep. Greg Walden who did not run for re-election. Sen. Jeff Merkley and Representatives Earl Blumenauer, Suzanne Bonamici, Pete Defazio and Kurt Schrader keep their seats. 

A number of Oregon’s elected representatives have introduced or backed pro-child and family legislation in recent years, most notably, Rep. Bonamici who has been particularly active on child care issues. That’s hopeful news for children’s advocates who want to see progress on federal legislation like the $50 billion Child Care is Essential Act and the Heroes act, a multi-trillion COVID-19 relief bill. 

Podcast: Hadiyah Miller, Black Child Development PDX

Podcast: Hadiyah Miller, Black Child Development PDX

In this week’s episode, host Rafael Otto speaks with Hadiyah Miller, president of the Oregon Association for the Education of Young Children (ORAEYC) and chairperson of Black Child Development PDX, about combating the expulsion and suspension of Black children in early learning.

Guest

Hadiyah Miller is the current president of the ORAEYC and works as the African American Family Childcare Network Coordinator at Childcare Resource and Referral of Multnomah County. She also serves as the early childhood chair of Black Child Development PDX.  

Summary Miller shares how Black Child Development PDX connects community members, Black leaders, and allies to change outcomes for young Black children in Portland. She explains that its present focus is on preventing the expulsion and suspension of Black children in early learning. This work is being done by elevating the Black experience and Black voices in the Legislature, and by helping teachers to identify and fight implicit bias so they can begin to shift how they respond to Black children. 

Background

Research has shown that Black children make up 18 percent of preschoolers, but make up nearly half of all out-of-school suspensions. Different standards exist in schools for white children, and implicit bias plays a role in teachers responses to the actions of Black children.

Kids who are suspended or expelled from school are more likely to drop out, and those dropouts are more likely to end up with criminal records. This is known as the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

Get Involved

ORAEYC will be hosting two different communities of practices starting in December 2020. These events will be open to anyone who is interested in this relationship-based learning experience focused on equity and social justice. To learn more, visit their page here.

Parents Wrestle with School and Care Choices in Pandemic

Parents Wrestle with School and Care Choices in Pandemic

Melissa Tyler of Ontario, Ore., worries about sending her 5-year-old son into school this fall during a pandemic. But she’s even more concerned about Mason, who has Down’s syndrome, slipping behind.

“I think socially he could be losing ground; that is my biggest concern,” says Tyler, a bank teller in the town on Oregon’s eastern border. “He thrives in a classroom. He needs that social interaction. He hasn’t gotten it since March.”

Candice and Adolfo Jimenez have enrolled their daughter, Xitlalli (pronounced seet-lolli), 4, and son, Necalli, 10, in a Spanish immersion program at the private International School in Portland. They know their kids will get a pared-down version of their education through distance learning, but they prefer that over exposing their children to COVID-19.

“We feel most comfortable with being virtual because it provides safety in a time of uncertainty,” says Candice Jimenez, research manager for the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board.

Parents of Oregon’s youngest students express varying views on how best to resume education this fall. They all must weigh the risk of infection against the risk of their children losing ground at a critical time in their early education.

“Some folks want to go back into the brick-and-mortar no matter what,” says Don Grotting, superintendent of Beaverton School District. “Others say, ‘Until there is a vaccine, we are not sending our kids to school.’”

And parents who work outside their homes must find a place for their kids at a time when child care has become even scarcer than it was before the pandemic.

“Even if I can afford child care,” says Grotting, “where are those places going to be?”

Learning at a distance

Beaverton, like Portland, North Clackamas, Tigard-Tualatin, Salem-Keizer and other large districts, will open virtually at least through mid-November. Gov. Kate Brown has declared schools cannot open classrooms to students until statewide and county COVID-19 metrics meet certain criteria for three weeks in a row. With the positive virus rate still above 5 percent in mid-August, all public schools will open with only distance learning.

There could be exceptions. “Subsets of schools” in smaller communities, state guidelines say, will be allowed to return to in-person instruction based on the local level of virus spread, prior to county and state metrics being met. This guidance also makes allowances for limited in-person instruction for groups of students K-3 students, English learners, and students experiencing disability. These allowances, however, are not mandates. Schools and districts are expected to offer in-person provisions for priority populations “to the extent possible,” as determined at the local level.

State and district leaders are doing research and working to build educators collective capacity around what works best in providing distance education to young students, says Jennifer Patterson, the state’s assistant superintendent for the Office of Teaching, Learning and Assessment. They want to balance virtual teaching with applied learning, where children engage in off-screen projects and activities with learning objectives, she says.

The state also is encouraging teachers to help households exploit their assets, says Patterson. If they have extended families living nearby, for example, they could tap siblings, grandparents and other relatives to help teach young children with the help of online teachers. They could use games, play, songs and projects to help young children build skills in literacy, numeracy and vocabulary, Patterson says.

The Jimenezes say they are fortunate to both be working at home so they can trade off helping their children with online education. They worry more about their children’s social and emotional development and its relation to their academic growth, Candice says.

“You want to keep having that social system for them so they are getting to know other kids,” she says. “I worry about their social and cognitive development in relation to other kids in the community.”

Other parents worry their young children will lose academic ground at a time when the quality of their education can dramatically affect the trajectory of their lives.

Dove Spector, Clackamas, a colleague of Candice Jimenez and project specialist for the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board, and her husband, Kyle Dexter, a screen printer, have enrolled their 4-year-old son in the Portland Parks Preschool. They worry their child is going to miss critical socialization because the school is opening remotely.

“I worry about giving him the proper tools to be successful academically,” says Spector, a Nez Perce tribal member. “It really stems from my own experience with racism in the education system.”

Learning in the classroom

Whenever schools do physically open their buildings to children, most parents clearly want them to do so with an abundance of caution. The Oregon Department of Education’s Early Learning Division surveyed 3,060 parents in need of child care, including preschool. The parents collectively had 1,139 children two or under, 1,955 children ages 3 to 5 and 890 kids ages 6 or older.

About one in five parents were uncomfortable with their children receiving meals prepared by staff, more than half were uneasy with their children going to public parks or using public play equipment and two thirds were nervous about their children going on field trips.

In the small district of Yoncalla 45 miles south of Eugene, nearly nine in 10 parents want to see their children back in school this fall, says Superintendent Brian Berry. Parents are heavily involved in plans for health and safety measures that meet state guidelines.

“I feel like we can do this and still have our kids in school,” says Mary King of Yoncalla. Her 4-year-old daughter, Rosemary, will be in the district’s preschool, created in partnership with the Children’ Institute’s Early Works program. “I have faith in my school district and in the preschool that the cleaning precautions will be increased.”

The parents felt strongly that schools and child care providers:
  • Require staff and children with COVID-19-like symptoms to stay home.
  • Follow all Oregon Health Authority sanitation and clearing guidelines.
  • Have a plan in place to communicate with families about COVID-19 issues such as infections, policy changes and contact tracing.
  • Have flexible staff sick-leave policies for cases of sickness or virus exposure.
  • Require children and staff to wash their hands for 20 seconds frequently throughout the day.
  • Check all children and adults entering the building for fever and virus symptoms.

Scarce child care

Some parents, including a disproportionate share with low-income jobs, must work outside the home and find care for their young children while they do so. Yet they often cannot afford child care, which averaged about $1,200 a month before the pandemic. What’s more, the state’s licensed child care capacity has been cut by more than half, from 106,000 slots a year ago to 48,000 today. The state’s child care guidelines allow only emergency child care providers who give priority to children of first responders, health care workers and other essential personnel to operate. The state has, since May, awarded $22 million in federal coronavirus relief to about 2,800 child care facilities. That’s far fewer than the 3,787 providers operating in January, and, under state health guidelines, most centers still functioning must do so with fewer children than before the pandemic.

While K-12 public schools, along with government-funded preschool programs like Oregon Pre-K and Preschool Promise, have responded to health and safety guidelines by closing for in-person learning, they continue to receive funding and will remain intact through the crisis, retaining their workforce and continuing to provide virtual learning opportunities to students. The vast majority of child care programs are not in the same boat. Because 70 percent of child care and preschool funding comes from parent tuition, which is only paid when a child is able to attend, providers who have had to close or who are operating at a decreased capacity, without comparably decreased overhead, face enormous financial hardship and may be forced to close permanently, with impacts to the availability of child care lasting long into the future.

Tyler of Ontario, a single mother, has been able to rely on her nearby parents to watch Mason while she works at a bank. She doesn’t know what she would do without their help, she says, as she cannot afford child care. Plus she would have a hard time finding it. With less than one child care slot for every three children, her Malheur County already qualified as a child care desert before the pandemic hit. Now there are even fewer seats. By late summer, the 9,930-square-mile county had only 10 vacant school-age child care slots.

As of mid-August, the statewide capacity for child care for all ages stood at 47,622 children with 12,495 vacancies. Even at capacity, the state has enough child care slots for only 10 percent of its 467,000 children ages 9 and under.

With child care so scarce and expensive, parents like Tyler are turning to relatives or friends to watch their children. Others are quitting their jobs or hiring nannies. And some parents are grouping in bubbles so they can take turns babysitting or share costs for tutors.

Some local governments are looking for ways to provide more child care services, but as with so much in this pandemic, the majority of Oregon parents will be on their own.

Of course, what all parents want is a return to normal school, says Kayla Bell, Beaverton School District’s administrator for elementary curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

“We understand that,” she says.

Spector, of Clackamas, says she’s grateful she can work at home and help her son with his distance learning, but she worries about his future.

“It just feels like [the pandemic] is never going to end because of a lack of federal leadership,” she says. “I’m happy to do my part, but I’m frustrated. It’s hard not to feel that this is going to have a strong impact on my son as he grows into adulthood.”

Schools Push for Equity Against Forces of Pandemic

Schools Push for Equity Against Forces of Pandemic

After the pandemic closed Oregon schools this spring, teacher Nicole Odom and her assistants at McKay Elementary in Beaverton depended on parental help to remotely teach their preschoolers.

They prepared video lessons, learning activities, songs and Zoom sessions, all of which required help from parents. Some parents, however, worked outside the home, and only half of the 36 students in Odom’s two half-day classes showed up for Zoom video sessions.

“There were kids we would see or not see on Zoom,” she says. Her team looked for other ways to reach students who didn’t show. But whatever they did required parental help.

“Many parents were dealing with jobs, both remotely or in person, as well as many other significant challenges,” she says.

One of the powers of preschool is to reduce inequalities and prevent an achievement gap between less advantaged children and those with more support. The pandemic, however, is forcing preschoolers to get some or all of their learning at home, where learning opportunities are unequal, says Steven Barnett, co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) in New Jersey.

“The pandemic has thrown us backwards,” he told reporters in a July webinar organized by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center for Health Journalism.

Among the scores of challenges facing schools as they open in a pandemic this fall is how to ensure all children get an equal shot at quality education, no matter their zip code, race or household wealth. State guidelines require schools to make their back-to-school plans through an “equity lens” with heightened attention to disadvantaged students.

COVID-19 already has put children of color and low-income homes at a disadvantage by disproportionately infecting their parents, who are more likely to work in risky jobs such as driving buses, processing food or caring for the elderly, says Colt Gill, director of the Oregon Department of Education.

“That’s another trauma that some children are going through that others are not,” he says.

 

Social interaction vital

Eighty-five percent of the parents in the small Yoncalla School District 45 miles south of Eugene want to send their children back to school this fall. District leaders want that too, says Superintendent Brian Berry, but if virus cases continue to climb in Douglas County, it may have to open with distance learning. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has declared schools must not allow students into classrooms until the statewide positive COVID-19 testing rate is at or below 5 percent for three weeks in a row.

Megan Barber, Yoncalla Elementary’s preschool teacher, is making plans to teach her students in person, possibly in smaller groups. She may wear a mask, keep students distanced, clean thoroughly and take other precautions.

If she must teach them remotely, she’ll face bigger challenges. Low-income parents, a majority in Yoncalla and many Oregon districts, often are single and working outside their homes. They cannot always help teachers provide young children lessons, activities and vital social interaction. Some lack adequate computers and internet connections.

More affluent parents, on the other hand, are more often able to work at home and help teach their children. Some groups of parents this summer already have teamed up to hire tutors who will teach their children in what they’re calling pandemic pods.

A nationwide survey by NIEER shows these home inequities played out among preschoolers last spring. Efforts to serve preschool children were “a disaster,” says Barnett. “No one was prepared.”

The survey of a representative sample of 1,000 parents showed that while most of their 3-to-5 year old children received some remote educational support when schools closed, less than half continued to do so within two months. Of those who did continue, most participated less than once a week in preschool activities.

What’s more, most young children with disabilities experienced loss of services required by their Individual Education Plans, Barnett says.

Darcy Jeffs and Kevin Wolpoff’s son, Miles. Special education students like Miles, who is autistic, are facing additional barriers to learning due to the pandemic. 

Darcy Jeffs and Kevin Wolpoff live in Florence on Oregon’s coast, where Darcy can be at home for their son, Miles. But Miles, 6, is autistic and needs services harder to get in a pandemic.

Before COVID-19 arrived, the parents sent Miles to The Child Center, a non-profit in Eugene, for highly specialized therapy six hours a day, five days a week. The pandemic reduced that comprehensive schedule to six hours of distance teletherapy per week. Jeffs received training to help fill the gaps with home strategies.  Still, she says, “Without in-person access to his prescribed schedule, we were experiencing setbacks.”

Now the couple, like most parents, is weighing what to do this fall. They hoped to send Miles to kindergarten with a Child Center therapist, but the public school districts in their area will not allow that. Besides, most plan only distance learning. Miles will return to The Child Center late August, and one private school that plans to physically open might have room for him and his therapist. But these options risk exposing him to the virus.

“There are no easy decisions,” says Jeffs. “We face a health risk on either side. Do we risk exposure or losing access to a very necessary therapy for our son?”

After schools shut down in Drain, a small town near Yoncalla, Jessilyn and Nathan Whiteman received no special education services for their son, Christopher, who has autism spectrum disorder. A private speech therapist in Eugene provided Christopher some service on Zoom. The Whitemans hope Christopher can attend kindergarten in person this fall.

“Christopher is already behind,” says Whiteman, “and we are doing what we can at home. But he needs help from a special education teacher. When his academics are behind it also affects him socially and emotionally.”

Losing ground

Ericka Guynes, principal at Earl Boyles Elementary in Southeast Portland, is concerned her youngest students already have lost ground after the spring closure.

“It is possible they may have lost a year of learning,” Guynes says.

Earl Boyles offers half-day public preschool classes that enroll a total 102 children and, along with Yoncalla Elementary, is a partner in the Children’s Institute’s Early Works program.

Another inequity is inherent in Oregon’s patchwork of early education programs, which have never been open to all children. The state’s public preschool programs and the federal Head Start programs serve less than two thirds of the low-income children who qualify. And private programs have become increasingly out of reach for low- and middle-income families. The state provides child care subsidies for only 15 percent of the low-income families that qualify. Parents pay for 72 percent of all funding for early care and education and thousands of them have lost their jobs because of the pandemic.

COVID-19 has “exposed a fundamental and underlying challenge of the financial mechanism for supporting early childhood education,” says David Mandell, policy and research director for the Oregon Early Learning Division.

So even if Oregon’s preschools are able to open this fall, they will open only for a fraction of the state’s 3- and 4-year-olds. And if those students are taught remotely, the quality of their education will be lower, says Barnett, with learning losses “much deeper in things like language, math and social/emotional development.”  This deficit could have negative effects on children through life, he says.

Early education has a “profound impact on children’s development and their acquisition of social-emotional, language and cognitive skills, all of which are critical to their school and life success,” says an Early Learning Division report to the Oregon Legislature last December.

 

Reducing inequities

Oregon state guidelines emphasize schools must keep all students from falling behind whether they are disabled, learning English, homeless, in foster care, living in poverty or with parents who must leave home to work.

“It is not enough to make statements about equity without following those statements with concrete actions,” the guidelines say. The state recommends schools train staff on culturally responsive, anti-bias teaching; hire more diverse teachers; provide more individualized and project-based instruction; and help diverse students connect across cultures. Schools are urged to explicitly address systemic racial injustice exposed by the nation’s massive Black Lives Matter movement.

“Create learning opportunities that address white privilege and the dismantling of white supremacy,” the state says.

Education leaders say they will work to get more resources and support to the children who need it most. The state, for example, needs to steer emergency federal money for child care support to low-income communities where it always has been scarce, says Mandell. Oregon’s 275,000 children under six comprise its most diverse population sector, with one in four speaking a language other than English at home.

The Legislature created the Early Childhood Equity Fund last year to provide about $10 million a year in grants for parenting education, early literacy, native language preservation and other programs aimed at closing opportunity gaps for historically underserved families.

Many districts, including Beaverton, acted last spring to close digital divides by providing computers and WiFi hot spots to families without Internet connections. Salem School District teachers connected with 95 percent of their students through distance learning, says Gill.

ode pandemic equity guidance

ODE’s companion guidance on equity works with districts, in part, to align federal and state requirements for the education of students furthest from opportunity. (Click image to view)

The federal government has given Oregon schools $115 million in pandemic relief money through the Cares Act, and they can use that money for distance learning technology. The state also received another $28 million to improve remote connections with computers, broadband and adult training.

Schools also can use their Cares Act money to sanitize facilities, organize long-term closures, and reduce inequities for children who are disabled, in low-income or minority households, English learners, homeless or in foster care.

Some districts are exploring ways to bring their youngest children in grades two and below into school a few times a week for socializing and “short bursts of instruction around numeracy and literacy,” says Gill. 

Educators also may need to provide at least some services to children with disabilities in person. Schools will need to determine what can be provided online and what must be provided one-on-one, says Guynes, principal of Earl Boyles. 

In its latest version of guidelines, released last week, the state told districts that they should prioritize in-person instruction for special education students, English language learners and other groups, even if county-wide cases are not low enough to allow a return for all students to the classroom.

Beaverton School District wants to address disparities resulting from race, poverty, language and other barriers, says Superintendent Don Grotting.

“We’re trying to look through our equity lens and make sure we come through with plans to address disparities.” Under COVID-19, he adds, those disparities are “growing wider and wider.”

Parents and Teachers Weigh Quality vs. Safety in Pandemic

Parents and Teachers Weigh Quality vs. Safety in Pandemic

As Oregon educators prepare to open schools this fall, they are searching for ways to give their youngest students quality education while keeping them safe in a pandemic.

That goal poses an enormous challenge if they physically open and an even bigger one if they don’t and instead teach at a distance.

District administrators are preparing under state guidelines to keep students in small groups on campuses, stagger school time with distance lessons, or teach entirely online. If they do enter classrooms, teachers and most students will wear masks, distance from one another and avoid touching common surfaces.

All of these safety measures work against best education practices for preschoolers and kindergartners, who learn concepts and socialization through play, touch, and close interaction with one another and teachers. Preschool teachers wearing masks can’t use facial expressions to help students sound out letters and words. They can’t group children on the rug for reading. They can’t let them explore the feel of water and sand on the sensory tables. And they can’t expect preschoolers to observe all of their safety protocols.

“Trying to keep a bunch of 3-year-olds six feet apart  it’s not even a reality,” says David Mandell, policy and research director for the Oregon Education Department’s Early Learning Division.

ODE reopen guide page

A page from ODE’s school reentry guidelines reflect the complexity of reopening decisions.

Choosing distance

Many districts such as Portland, Beaverton, North Clackamas, Tigard-Tualatin and Salem-Keizer already have decided to teach remotely at least until mid-November.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has ordered schools to use distance learning until the state’s coronavirus positive testing rate is at or below 5 percent for three weeks in a row. That poses even bigger challenges for teachers of preschool, kindergarten and primary grades.

“As a general rule, the younger the child, the more challenging distance learning becomes,” says Mandell.

Megan Barber, teacher of 22 preschool students at Yoncalla Elementary in the hills 45 miles south of Eugene, can attest to that. When Oregon closed its schools this spring, Barber did her best to provide lessons to her remote students. She read stories and sang songs to them on Facebook. She prepared individualized “care packages” of educational materials for each student and delivered them to their homes, where she would talk with them and their parents. She talked to her students on FaceTime. She sent them notes and birthday cards. But it was never enough.

“What we do in the classroom is magic,” says Barber, “and you can’t replicate that with technology.”

Barber this fall will be entering her fifth year as teacher of a public preschool created with help from Early Works, an initiative of the Children’s Institute supported by The Ford Family Foundation in Roseburg. The project, launched 10 years ago, is helping Yoncalla School District pool resources with other public and private groups to build a coherent education program for every child in the Yoncalla attendance area from birth to age 8. The goal is to ensure those children are prepared for kindergarten and later success in school and life.

One of them is four-year-old Rosemary King, who completed her first year of preschool listening to Barber read stories on Facebook while her mother, Mary King, helped her with educational activities at home. Mary King says she’s fortunate to be able to be home with Rosemary, whose father William King works nights outside the home. But she says she just can’t give her daughter the quality of education she was getting in Barber’s class.

“I watched her flourish,” she says. “I watched her come out of her shell and be part of a group.”

King hopes Rosemary can go back to Barber’s class for the full 5.5 hours, four days a week.

“The social interaction at her age is so important to learning that I feel like taking the kids out of school is hurting more than helping,” she says. “I hope there will be an option for the kids to go to school at least a couple days a week.”

If not, King plans to join forces with some other Yoncalla parents to teach their children in a group. She does have concerns about COVID-19, particularly because Rosemary has a restricted airway disease that puts her at higher risk for upper respiratory complications.

“It is always a worry, but I have a lot of faith in this school that they will be taking the precautions,” she says.

A classroom in the Beaverton School District before the coronavirus pandemic.

Giant test

Many education leaders say figuring out how to sustain education in a pandemic poses the biggest test of their careers. Beaverton School District Superintendent Don Grotting says this “is the most challenging time I’ve ever had” in 24 years as an administrator. “I’ve never seen people work so hard. I’ve never seen people have to pivot so quickly.”

Kayla Bell, Beaverton’s elementary administrator for curriculum, instruction and assessment, agrees. “There is nobody on the planet that can give you advice,” she says.

Ericka Guynes, principal of Earl Boyles Elementary in Southeast Portland, which offers preschool to 102 students and is also an Early Works partner, says that planning for the fall has been difficult and surreal. Even so, she’s looking for ways to improve.

“We have an opportunity to really innovate, too,” she says.

Uncertainty clouds everyone’s decisions. Some research suggests children under 10 do not easily contract or spread the virus, though it is inconclusive, and conflicting research shows children are highly contagious. Virus infections have surfaced in some Oregon child care centers. Lake Grove KinderCare in Lake Oswego had an outbreak of 29 cases in June, and Oregon Child Development in Nyssa and Hall Boulevard KinderCare in Tigard each had five cases this summer.

No one knows how well Oregon will be able to contain the virus by fall. Some teachers, particularly those older or with medical problems, are wary of returning to classrooms. Parents’ opinions cover the spectrum, says Mandell, whose division surveyed 3,600 parents.

Some insist the virus is no worse than a cold and want school, sports, and activities fully restored, says Mandell, while others say “there is nothing a state agency could do to make me feel safe putting my child in child care” or preschool.

Birdie Wermy, a project director for Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board, is getting help from her retired parents while her son, 4, and daughter, 7, attend preschool and second grade online. While Wermy works out of her home, her mom, who lives nearby, will help her children with their distance learning this fall. Her son will be attending Tualatin Elementary’s preschool, which will be online for at least eight weeks. Even if school opens later, Wermy will be reluctant to send her children to school and risk having them bring COVID-19 home to her parents. But she also worries about the quality of education they’re getting online.

“I know that my son would probably do better in an actual classroom setting and being around other kids,” she says. “In the back of my mind, I ask “what is this going to look like five years from now? Is there going to be this huge cohort of children who were 2020-21 preschoolers basically left behind because they didn’t learn their basics before kindergarten?”

 

State guidelines

BothOregon’s Department of Educationand its Early Learning Divisionhave issued guidelines, 29 pages for young children and 46 pages for older ones, on opening schools this fall. They provide requirements and suggestions for a range of activities, including family engagement, group size, personal protective equipment, student drop-offs, food, hand washing, and response to confirmed virus cases. 

Each school is expected to follow guidelines in developing a plan, or Operational Blueprint for Reentry. That poses an enormous task for small districts with a handful of administrators working summer months. Adding to the complexity, guidelines are being revised as the summer unfolds, according to how the virus spreads. In its latest version, released last week, the state told districts that they should prioritize in-person instruction for special education students, English language learners and other groups, even if county-wide cases are not low enough to allow a return for all students to the classroom.

“I can tell you from a small, rural school perspective, the guidelines are totally overwhelming,” says Brian Berry, superintendent of Yoncalla School District. 

Most parents in Yoncalla want to see the schools open classrooms for students in September, he says. That’s what Barber wants too. She says she’s never missed her students so much as after the state closed her school. 

“I’m so grateful to go back,” she says. “I don’t care what it takes, what regulations we have to put in. Just so I can see them.”

A Preschool Watering Hole, Evaporated

A Preschool Watering Hole, Evaporated

Teresa Ashford

Home-based Preschool Provider, College Educator, Aspen Academy - Bend, OR

Re-printed with permission from Teresa Ashford who blogs about life as a preschool director and much, much more at pinenutsmusings.com.

In yet another Zoom call this week, we (child care providers and early childhood educators around the state) spent time discussing the rules and regulations for child care providers in Oregon amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

As we can no longer allow children to use sensory tables and sandboxes, it was suggested that we provide each child with their own sensory tub. The meeting’s host shared that “children like it better anyway, because they don’t have to share materials.”

They may ‘like’ it better, but is it ideal for young children’s development? Children ‘like’ a lot of things, however, our role as early childhood educators is to engage in best practice.

While we never require children to share, we do witness and support negotiation, collaboration, and the concept that one’s peer may not yet be finished with a toy.

We know that social-emotional development is promoted through sensory play. Sensory play inspires:

 …children to work together to construct a sand village, wash a baby doll in water, or chase a giant bubble as it sails through the air. The fact that play with these materials can calm a child who is agitated or upset has been well documented. When children play with sand and water they often express their thoughts and feelings.  (Dodge, Colker, & Heroman, 2008, p. 403)

Two children's hands playing in a sensory table

Two children’s hands playing in a sensory table. Photo courtesy of Aspen Academy.

Furthermore,

 A central aspect of many quality preschool programs is sensory play, or play opportunities offered primarily for the tactile experience. Play is the natural learning style of the young child (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997). Quality play often takes place at sand and water tables, also known as discovery or sensory tables. We have observed that this “watering hole” of the preschool brings combinations of children together who might not otherwise interact with each other. The discovery tables provide rich opportunities for children to expand and practice their emotional development and are easily tailored to a variety of interests and developmental levels. Emotional development occurs through play as children explore, discover, negotiate, question, analyze, and synthesize the world around them (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997; Trister Dodge, Colker, & Heroman, 2002). Sensory play, traditionally centered around sand⁄water⁄discovery tables, is a dynamic type of play. This informal and unstructured play setting never offers the same experience twice, but provides numerous ‘‘teachable moments’’ to augment emotional development. . . Because of these benefits it appears that sensory play provides numerous opportunities for coaching, teaching, enhancing emotional recognition, and teaching or encouraging control of impulsive and aggressive behavior. (Maynard, Adams, Lazo-Flores, & Warnock, 2009, p. 26)

Children are hands-on, sensory learners. I shout this Piagetian concept from the rafters in parent conferences and in my college classrooms. They learn by exploring, moving, and physically engaging with their environments. And perhaps this concept is on my mind more so this week as my college students are reading a section on ‘sand and water’ play. 

I understand that developmentally appropriate practice must be sacrificed in the midst of staying alive during the coronavirus pandemic. Our lives are more important… But what will be the long-term outcomes on children’s development? 

There are children in my program and around the world who so desperately need these sensory experiences. These are the children who spend all morning at the sensory table running their hands through rice, pouring water, spreading shaving cream, compressing kinetic sand, and mixing mud. These same children spend all of their outside-time in the sandbox; digging, pouring, and covering their entire bodies with sand. As a result of this play, these children become more emotionally regulated. They are engaging in what they need. 

Children dig in a pit of bark chips

Yes, children can have single-use, single-child sensory tubs, but I struggle to imagine what that looks like with ten children in my home. I struggle to see how one’s whole body could be a part of that experience. I also know that children can have sensory experiences at home with their families. I know this… But it is not the same. Many parents have shared over the years how grateful they are for our program’s sensory table, as folks don’t want that kind of ‘mess’ at home. Anyone who’s spent time using a kebab skewer to dig Oobleck (cornstarch and water) and kinetic sand out of the gaps in the hardwood floors would understand! Families are also unable to replicate the learning that comes from collaborating with one’s peers.

There are no easy answers and I wish there were. These are the issues I lay awake in bed thinking about at 5 a.m. How can I still offer a model preschool program to families where limitations affect what I consider to be best practice?

“If it hasn’t been in the hand and body, it can’t be in the brain.” – Bev Bos

 

References

Bredekamp, S., & Copple, C. (1997). Developmentally appropriate practices in early childhood programs. Washington, D.C. NAEYC.

Dodge, D. T., Colker, L. J., & Heroman, C. (2002). The creative curriculum for preschool (4th ed.). Washington, D.C.: Teaching Strategies

Dodge, D. T., Colker, L. J., & Heroman, C. (2008). The creative curriculum for preschool: College edition. Washington, D.C.: Teaching Strategies

Maynard, C. N., Adams, R. A., Lazo-Flores, T., & Warnock, K. (2009). An examination of the effects of teacher intervention during sensory play on the emotional development of preschoolers. Family & Consumer Sciences Research Journal, 38 (1), 26 – 35. DOI: 10.1111/j.1552-3934.2009.00003.x

How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting your corner of the early care and education world? Please email Ashley Walker at ashley@childinst.org or click the button below to submit your story through our form. 

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