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.”

On Effective Preschool with Dr. Christina Weiland

On Effective Preschool with Dr. Christina Weiland

In this episode of The Early Link podcast, we speak with Dr. Christina Weiland, assistant professor at the School of Education at the University of Michigan.  Dr. Weiland’s research focuses on the effects of early childhood interventions and public policies on children’s development, especially on children from low-income families. She is particularly interested in the active ingredients that drive children’s gains in successful, at-scale public preschool programs. Her work is also characterized by strong, long-standing research collaborations with practitioners, particularly the Boston Public Schools Department of Early Childhood. Dr. Weiland is also an author of book Cradle to Kindergarten: A New Plan to Combat Inequality.

In this conversation, we take a look at what it would mean for the U.S. to invest in a system that serves children under 5, with high-quality care and preschool programs available to parents who choose to access them. Thus far, Dr. Weiland points out, individual cities like Washington D.C. and Boston have been leading the way on effective preschool programming, but political will across the country is growing to ensure access to high-quality early education doesn’t depend on where you live. 

We also discuss the features of high-quality preschool programs that are responsive to the way young children learn and aligned with elementary school. Finally, Dr. Weiland shares her views on the early childhood landscape here in Oregon. 


Multnomah County Commissioner Discusses Preschool For All

Multnomah County Commissioner Discusses Preschool For All

Oregon is the fourth least affordable state when it comes to preschool. State and federal funding provide preschool for only those families in deepest poverty, reaching only 15 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds in Multnomah County.





Redmond Early Learning Center Shines as an Early Learning Innovator

Redmond Early Learning Center Shines as an Early Learning Innovator

Early learning leaders in Central Oregon met on January 8 at the Redmond Early Learning Center (RELC) to discuss how best to meet the needs of kids and families throughout the region. The meeting included a tour of the RELC, which opened three years ago and serves nearly all kindergarteners in the Redmond School District.

The meeting and tour included state legislators Senator Tim Knopp (R), Representative Cheri Helt (R), Representative Jack Zika (R), and 10 members of the leadership council for the Early Learning Hub of Central Oregon.  

Principal Desiree Margo recalled when the district began exploring how to reopen the building as a K–5 school, though it once served middle school students. “We read the reports from Children’s Institute about pioneers around the state who were focused on early learning in Gladstone, David Douglas, and Pendleton,” Margo said. “We were inspired by Earl Boyles [the first Early Works site] and we began to ask, what if?”

That exploration led to the idea of serving all kindergarteners in one building. “We realized we could go so much deeper with instruction and learning for young children by focusing on the needs of our 4- and 5-year-olds,” Margo said. “We had some funds set aside and used them to remake the school for young learners.”

Today, the school has more than 400 kindergarten students enrolled in 17 classrooms. Two classrooms offer bilingual Spanish/English learning. They also added two preschool classrooms, one funded with Title 1 dollars and the other funded by Head Start.

The Oregon Child Development Coalition (OCDC) is hoping to fund a third preschool classroom, and Margo is partnering with the High Desert Education Service District to fund an Early Childhood Special Education classroom for children with developmental delays or disabilities. She is also hoping to serve additional kids and families with Preschool Promise funding.

Right now, the preschool classrooms offer a half-day program, an approach that doesn’t fully meet the needs of working parents and families in the region. Margo hopes to expand to full-day classes and is well-positioned to do that with room for expansion in the building.

Beyond kindergarten and preschool, the RELC is designed exclusively to meet the needs of the district’s youngest learners. Through partnerships with Healthy Beginnings, Head Start, public health, and other entities, the center serves as a hub for early learning for children from birth to age 6.

After a tour of the school, council members shared stories with legislators about the services and needs in their communities. The need for child care and preschool for working families is clear, as well as the need for additional facilities to hold full-day classrooms in more locations. Home visiting services are in demand and could be helping many more families. Early Intervention/Early Childhood Special Education staff are strained with more referrals than they can manage, and very few children are receiving adequate levels of service. Teachers also need training, supports, and professional learning opportunities. And, according to Margo, the RELC is seeing more children struggling from the effects of trauma and displaying challenging behaviors, factors that require resources, planning, and capacity.

This spoke to a need for further investment in programs that serve young children and their families. Council members and legislators appeared eager to help one another reach that goal, but the 2019 legislative session poses one significant obstacle: early learning investments in Governor Brown’s budget will largely require new revenue.

Read more about our 2019 policy agenda and the many ways to get involved with our advocacy efforts.

Special thanks to Tim Rusk from MountainStar Family Relief Nursery and Brenda Comini from the Early Learning Hub of Central Oregon for arranging the meeting.

Webinar: Creating Caring and Culturally Responsive PreK–3 Classrooms

Webinar: Creating Caring and Culturally Responsive PreK–3 Classrooms

“To change the outcomes, we have to change the experiences.” – Dr. Sharon Ritchie

Join us for a free webinar exploring strategies to create culturally responsive and emotionally supportive preK–grade 3 classrooms for children from diverse racial and cultural backgrounds.

Register today!

April 24, 2018

11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Pacific Time

The early elementary years lay the foundation for school and life outcomes, so what can we do to improve early school experiences and set all students up for success? Hosted by Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Northwest, this webinar will feature Dr. Sharon Ritchie, national researcher and principal investigator for the FirstSchool initiative. Ritchie will discuss strategies for:

  • Using classroom observation data to motivate change, guide professional development efforts, and engage in collaborative inquiry to improve teaching practices in preK–grade 3 classrooms
  • Creating culturally responsive classrooms in which all students feel like they belong and are competent, valued, and safe

Ritchie will be joined by two elementary school principals, who will discuss how these research-based strategies can work in schools and classrooms.

Teachers, administrators, child care providers, nonprofit staff members, equity directors, state and local education agency staff members, and anyone interested in optimizing pre-K–grade 3 experiences—particularly for Black students, Hispanic students, and students from low-income families—are encouraged to attend.

This webinar is co-sponsored by Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO), Children’s Institute and the Northwest Comprehensive Center.

Webinar: Creating Caring and Culturally Responsive PreK–3 Classrooms

Oregon’s Fastest Growing Population of Young Students: Dual Language and English Language Learners

Oregon’s Fastest Growing Population of Young Students: Dual Language and English Language Learners

Oregon's Fastest Growing Population of Young Students: Dual Language and English Language Learners
According to the Migration Policy Institute, 28 percent of children under the age of 5 in Oregon are dual language learners (DLLs). Since 2000, Oregon’s young DLL population has increased by 32 percent, compared with 24 percent nationally. A recent report by the Department of Education reveals that in seven school districts in Oregon, English language learners (ELLs) and DLLs comprise 20 percent or more of the student body. This growing population of DLLs and ELLs suggests the need for a greater understanding of the challenges and opportunities for educating non-native English speakers.

Oregon's Fastest Growing Population of Young Students: Dual Language and English Language Learners
Challenges and Opportunities

According to a new report from The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), Promoting the Educational Success of Children and Youth Learning English, DLLs and ELLs often face additional barriers to their educational success. In Oregon, 62 percent of DLLs live in low-income households, compared with 44 percent of the non-DLL population, and DLLs are enrolled in preK programs at lower rates than their non-DLL peers. Nationwide, about 9 percent of DLLs and ELLs have learning disabilities; these Oregon's Fastest Growing Population of Young Students: Dual Language and English Language Learnersstudents are less likely than native English speakers to be referred to early intervention and special education programs.While DLLs and ELLs face challenges in their education, those who become proficient in two languages will likely see benefits in their cognitive, social, and emotional development. Bilingual proficiency is more likely when students are consistently exposed to both English and their home language. It is therefore important for early childhood educators to learn strategies to support the maintenance of all languages.

Recommendations for Educating Young Dual Language and English Language Learners

The NASEM report provides the following recommendations for the education and support of young children from birth to grade 5:

  • Systematically introduce English during infant, toddler, and preK years while supporting home language development
  • Encourage adults to talk to young children in the language adults are most comfortable with
  • Provide visual and verbal supports to make core content comprehensible
  • Capitalize on students’ home language, knowledge, and cultural assets
  • Screen for language and literacy challenges and monitor progress
  • Provide explicit instruction in literacy components in grades K–5

Recommendations for Government Agencies and Policy Makers

The NASEM report includes the following recommendations for government agencies and programs to support the academic success of young children learning English:

  • Follow the lead of Head Start/Early Head Start and provide guidance and strategies to serve DLLs and their families
  • Use social media to promote the idea that infants, toddlers, and preschoolers have the capacity to learn more than one language
  • Evaluate district- and schoolwide practices for serving DLLs for adequacy and appropriateness
  • Programs that serve DLLs should increase their capacity to understand and interpret results of assessments administered to students in both English and their primary language

Here in Oregon, early childhood advocates including the Latino Network are advocating for the creation of an Early Childhood Equity Innovation Fund, which will provide dedicated to resources to culturally specific early learning services with prove track records of success.

Oregon's Fastest Growing Population of Young Students: Dual Language and English Language Learners

Dual Language Learning in Action

Oregon's Fastest Growing Population of Young Students: Dual Language and English Language LearnersTwenty-four miles west of Portland in Forest Grove, Echo Shaw Elementary School hosts a bilingual Preschool Promise class, instructing 37 preschoolers in half- and full-day classes in English and Spanish. Students at Echo Shaw show up in kindergarten speaking two languages, both of which they will continue to learn in the dual language elementary school. Our recent story “Echo Shaw Prepares Children for Kindergarten in Two Languages” provides more information about the program.

For a more in-depth conversation about dual language learning in Oregon, check out our 20th podcast, “Promising Futures,” a with Ruby Takanishi, author of the book First Things First and co-editor of the NASEM report Promoting the Educational Success of Children and Youth Learning English; Maria Adams, language development specialist for the David Douglas School District; and Perla Rodriguez, principal of Echo Shaw Elementary School. In the podcast, we discuss the needs of English learners in our schools and early learning systems and take a look at two Oregon districts leading the way on language development for their students.

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