Local preschool survives and thrives during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Diane Rudman, Pre-Kindergarten teacher at Temple Beth Sholom, presents preschool diploma to 5-year old Yonah Sakhaee

When schools on Long Island re-opened in the fall, the list of supplies needed to operate preschool programs looked a little different.

In addition to construction paper, glue sticks and crayons, supplies for this school year included disposable masks, hand sanitizer and gallons of heavy-duty disinfectant. Ceiling filters were upgraded, air purifiers were installed, and school policies were modified and changed in accordance with the latest New York state guidelines for the re-opening of schools.

When Jen Schiffer, the then-new director of the Early Childhood Center at Temple Beth Sholom, assumed control of the program, parental anxiety was at an all-time high, and enrollment numbers were down.

Bringing in new leadership amidst a global pandemic was a challenge in itself. The prevailing emotions were anxiety and fear. “The health, safety and wellness of every student and teacher was, and remains my number one priority. They are all my family,” said Schiffer.

Because non-essential visitors to childcare programs were prohibited under the new guidance, new pick-up and drop-off procedures needed to be clearly outlined and followed. Temperature checks and daily health screenings became part of the daily routine.

“There was so much uncertainty about COVID-19 back in September. I don’t think any of us felt 100 percent comfortable opening school, however, we knew the children needed one another, and we needed to do what we love – to teach,” Schiffer shared. The Early Childhood Center staff painstakingly prepared “To Go” bags for every child in the school, filled with art supplies and activities that parents would be asked to pick up outside the school building in the event that the school needed to be shut down again.

Much-loved sensory tables filled with sand and toys were removed from classrooms, play dough orders canceled, and classroom spaces needed to be reimagined to maximize social distancing. Basic early childhood concepts such as sharing, helping friends, and even high-fives and hugs, were replaced with new rules and a lot of hand-washing. Time outside on the playground was cut short so that the equipment could be sanitized before the next class.

As the updated school policies took hold, and the school remained open for in-person learning, families that had initially chosen not to send their child to preschool this year began making phone calls. Temple Beth Sholom Early Childhood Center was ready to welcome these children and their families when they were ready. Fast forward to last Friday, June 11th 2021. Enrollment numbers have more than doubled at the preschool since the start of the school year, the “To-Go” bags have been dissembled, and Pre-Kindergarten graduates were lined up for their reimagined parking lot Moving Up ceremony. While the number of COVID-19 cases in Nassau county continues to decline, childcare programs like the one at Temple Beth Sholom continue to remain cautious, maintain the same health and safety policies that have kept the school doors open all year.

This year’s Moving Up ceremony, traditionally held inside the synagogue was moved outdoors the temple parking lot.

Attendance was limited, and seating was spaced out and separated by class in order to maintain social distancing. Families were reminded to be mindful when removing masks for pictures. In spite of the new location and plan, the overall feeling in the air was a mixture of emotions – jubilation, relief, gratitude, love and pride.

As the pre-kindergarten children made their way out of the school building and into the parking lot, proudly wearing their homemade caps and blue gowns, their faces were pure joy. The smiles and tears beaming from the faces of the parents and families were priceless.

The 2020-2021 school year will be one for the history books. The adopted school motto this year at Temple Beth Sholom’s Early Childhood Center was “We Can Do Hard Things” The staff, students and their families at the school did just that – some really hard things. The Pre-Kindergarten class of 2021 will move up to Kindergarten armed with the confidence and ability to face any challenge that comes their way.

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