COVID-19 and the Head Start Community

In-Person Learning

Upgrading Classrooms and Recruitment Strategies

Monterey County Office of Education (MCOE) Early Learning Program, Salinas, California

Thanks to the COVID funds made available to us, we were able to put in place innovative recruitment strategies; purchase, upgrade, and disinfect classroom furniture; provide additional hours for mental health consultants and projects involving staff and student wellness promotion and activities; and most importantly, provide additional learning materials for children's use, modified to meet health and safety standards.

Over the summer, the program launched enhanced recruitment campaign efforts to prepare for receiving all in-person students for the fall such as: video production to showcase staff/community testimonials for public relations, USPS postcard delivery, partner district phone blasts to the community, promoting the program with yard signs, electronic referrals from DSS and other agencies. We were able to streamline the electronic systems used for attendance, parent sign in/out, eligibility packets, and the enrollment process for parents and staff. We were able to provide devices to staff and remote based students and staff via Google Academy and Parent Technology Academy.

We also replaced all outdoor and indoor furniture at all sites with new items to allow for easy disinfecting and consistent cleaning throughout the day, without damaging the furniture as well as to provide a more friendly and consistent environment throughout all program classrooms.

Supporting Literacy and Sanitation Guidelines

Alexander County Head Start, Taylorsville, NC

The Alexander County Head Start program used COVID-19 funds to support literacy and health and sanitation guidelines. A partnership with the local Partnership for Children provides books to support parents reading at home with their children. At first, children took a different book home every week, returned the book and bag the next week, and received a new one. This raised concerns about transferring the virus and sanitizing the books and bags. The program rethought the approach and decided to order books for children to build their own personal libraries. Alexander County Head Start ordered enough books for every child to receive one book a month for the next 10 months. Once a month, each child takes books and a parent activity home. At the end of the year, each child will have a personal library! 

Another issue the program faced because of COVID-19 was limited access to a centrally located washer and dryer. Employees from different schools could only enter to wash soiled cot covers and blankets at a certain time. The limited schedule presented a problem, and some employees started taking laundry home and washing it in their personal appliances. The program worked with the school system's maintenance department to purchase and install a washer and dryer at each of its centers. Now, they can eliminate cross-contamination by moving dirty laundry from one site to another or into an employee's home. 

Ensuring a Safe Return to the Classroom

Collier County Public SchoolsNaples, FL

The majority of Head Start students in Collier County Public Schools participated in in-person learning from the beginning of the school year. Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds were used to ensure a safe and thoughtful return to the classroom. Individual classroom materials and supplies were purchased to eliminate the need for sharing items between students. Visual supports were added to classrooms to assist teachers in keeping students physically distanced from one another. Because all students and staff in the school district were required to wear masks, additional masks were made available for teachers to give to students who forgot to bring theirs or just needed a new one. iPads were purchased for each student. This gave students access to technology without having to share computers or miss out on learning in the event a student was quarantined at home due to COVID-19. While the district provided information to all parents on COVID-19 symptoms and the importance of students staying home if they were sick, the Head Start program gave forehead thermometers with the Head Start and Collier County Public Schools logos to its families so that parents could monitor children’s temperatures at home.

Teacher reading a story to children in a classroomSpeaking with PPE Vendors to Prioritize Supplies for Child Care

Delaware Opportunities, Inc., Hamden, NY

A manufacturer prioritized this grantee for personal protective equipment (PPE) during the shortage. When it was placed, the request did not indicate it was for a school program and it was back-ordered. The grantee called the vendor, explained they were a Head Start program, and were prioritized. The manufacturer actually set aside the PPE for the program because the owner’s daughter was educated at a Head Start program. If grantees are struggling to obtain PPE, many sellers are willing to prioritize school programs. Sometimes, a phone call goes a long way.

Hula-Hoops to Teach Children About Physical Distancing

Child Development, Inc., Minersville, PA

Child Development, Inc., purchased plastic shoeboxes and filled them with supplies (e.g., crayons, markers, watercolors, playdough, scissors, and a glue stick), a writing journal, and other manipulatives. Each child has their own supply box and an activity tray for in the classroom. The children absolutely love them, and the tray helps them understand physical distancing when at the table. Even when the pandemic has passed, the grantee will continue this practice. 

Throughout the pandemic, costs have been very high. The use of hula-hoops is a wonderful and inexpensive way to teach children about social distancing. This grantee is using CARES Act funds to offset the difference in cost of meals and reimbursement from the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Other than that, grantee funds went toward cleaning and disinfecting supplies, face coverings, and other PPE. 

Individualized Totes and Plexiglas Dividers to Support In-Person Learning

Private Industry Council of Westmoreland and Fayette Counties, Greensburg, PA

This program provided individual tote boxes for children to use both at home and in class. The totes include scissors, paper, paint, sorting bears, crayons, markers, paint brushes, liquid timers, and more. The items are used to support virtual lessons with teaching staff. Staff also offer parents guidance on how to extend learning in the home using the items provided.

The program ordered Plexiglas dividers for classrooms so children can sit across from each other at lunch and play while still being protected. Contact tracing flow charts were developed for staff to use in case of possible exposure. Program directors receive automated calls from local school districts about COVID-19 exposures and positive tests. This allows the grantee to respond appropriately since they are located across many school districts.

Additionally, the program is providing breakfast and lunch to children five days a week. Meals (grab-n-go bags or frozen) are delivered to the parents if transportation is not available. Touchless thermometers are on every bus and in every classroom. The cleaning and sanitizing schedule was revised to be performed hourly. Additional office space was acquired to ensure safety and social distancing of staff. Technology was purchased for every staff person to ensure they are able to work from home if needed and to keep staff from sharing computers. 

Extra Staff to Maintain Recommended Ratios

Washington County NB&PW Club, Inc., Sandersville, GA

CARES Act funding helped this program get a third teacher in the classroom. The extra staff helps ensure COVID-19 mitigation protocols are followed in the classroom and on the playground. This allows the program to provide more individualized attention to children and families during this critical time. It also helps them to safely serve children with disabilities and medically fragile children that may not otherwise get to safely participate.

Children flying kites.Creative Outdoor Summer Programming: Kite Flying!

Southwestern Minnesota Opportunity Council, Worthington, MN

This grantee was able to provide a summer program for their children going to kindergarten in the fall. Average daily attendance for the July 20-hour/week program was 81%. Mental health consultants were also able to provide programming for the children in their social and emotional enhancement and development classroom. This allowed children with mental health challenges, behavioral delays, and social and emotional delays to obtain the clinical therapies needed to support them.

The COVID-19 spring shut down was swift and lacked any real closure, as the grantee provided services virtually. For the summer program, they developed a reopening plan, cleaned the facilities, and ordered masks, bucket hats, and face shields. They prepped lessons, staffed the rooms, prepared the buses, and then went and picked up the children. The excitement could be felt as the first day of summer programming began. Everyone came in with smiles on their faces. The children were so excited to see each other and called out to their friends. In Minnesota, gardening units are hard to do during the school year, so this was a great opportunity to explore plants and watch a few grow in the sandboxes. Children played outside, learned about each other and the world around them. Their favorite activity was definitely the kite flying. Eligio, one of the teachers, was really a great kite flyer! Lori, the Head Start director, on the other hand, not so much.

The program operated at about half the capacity of a normal program year and that was perfect. It allowed them to practice their plan for reopening, try out their transportation plan, staff and child COVID-19 health screenings, and make any necessary adjustments before the fall program was to begin. A few children were not able to come because they had symptoms, per program policy. When two children had family members test positive toward the end of July, the program implemented their quarantine plan and saw how that would work. Families were so gracious as they honestly answered the questions and assisted the program in keeping COVID-19 out of the facility.

The laughter and energy of the summer program gave everyone a much-needed boost for their moods. It also helped them ease their fears as they slowly and carefully returned to their regularly scheduled programming. It was a success on so many levels, for the children, staff, and communities. The grantee cannot thank the Office of Head Start enough for the funding so that they could bring some laughter and learning to the children during a very trying time.

Temperature Scanners, Infrared Thermometers, and Plexiglas Dividers to Keep Classrooms Safe

Manhattan-Ogden USD 383, Manhattan, KS

CARES Act funding was used to purchase temperature scanners, infrared thermometers for each classroom, Plexiglas dividers, additional PPE (e.g., masks, shields, etc.), portable sinks, electrostatic sprayers and disinfectant for each classroom, and additional intervention kits for remote learners. These items have been helpful in limiting the number of exposures, as well as increasing the confidence of staff and families that adequate measures are in place reduce the likelihood of exposure to COVID-19.

Physical Safety Measures Leading to Greater Peace of Mind

Mid-America Regional Council, Kansas City, MO

Partner: Blue Springs School District

COVID-19 funds were used to purchase smocks, PPE, cleaning items, and accessories. Aside from the obvious use of these physical items, they also served to improve the mental state of teachers and families. Staff, children, and families were given peace of mind that the grantee was making every attempt to keep them safe. The insecurities that staff and families are experiencing is overwhelming. The program would not be able to support these families as well if not for COVID-19 funds. 

The program purchased a washer and dryer and is using them constantly. Young children contaminate everything. The washer and dryer allows staff to sanitize fabrics and toys that children would not otherwise be able to access. The program's operating budget would not allow any of these expenditures if not for the COVID-19 funds. They are so thankful for the mental boost and peace of mind that the center is extra clean and able to stay open and serve families well, face-to-face.

Fencing System and Zono Machines

Head Start CFDP Inc, Hastings, NE 

This program constructed a fencing system to divide their playground into three separate spaces for children/classrooms to utilize, which are sanitized after each use. They have purchased electrostatic sprayers for each classroom and COVID-19-approved disinfectants. The sprayers are used between each session of classrooms twice per day. The sprayers are also used daily in all of the common areas. The program has purchased and is utilizing Zono machines to sanitize everything from toys in the classrooms to carts from the kitchen that take food to the classrooms. They have purchased PPE for staff and children.

Coordinating COVID-19 Response with Local Health Department

Central Nebraska Community Action Partnership (CNCAP), Loup City, NE

Many Head Start programs were closed at beginning of March 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their communities. Closures resulted in months of lost learning opportunities and comprehensive services for children and their families. Research has shown that children tend to lose academic gains during the summer months. This is particularly true for children from low-income families. To offset these losses, Suzan Obermiller, early childhood director, wrote a grant to operate a supplemental summer program for a portion of the Head Start children who would otherwise not be served over the summer. Funding became available to existing Head Start grantees for supplemental summer programs through the CARES Act. The CNCAP Head Start program had to demonstrate the capacity to deliver high-quality summer learning experiences to promote school readiness and successful transition to kindergarten. 

The CNCAP Head Start summer programs afforded parents and primary caregivers the opportunity to return to work and connect to needed services and supports for mental health, parenting, and stable housing. Other benefits included program staff working during the summer program and receiving income and benefits, the opportunity to work with children and families before they transition to kindergarten, and having access to professional development opportunities. It was at no cost to the regular Head Start budget or any school districts partnership to provide this program. CNCAP Head Start served 166 kindergarten eligible students and families in the communities of Ainsworth, Aurora, Burwell, Central City, Columbus, Loup City, Ord, St. Paul, and Schuyler. 

The CNCAP Head Start program continued to follow local and federal guidance from health departments and other authorities when determining how to implement a summer program that maintained the health and safety of children, families, and staff. This program operated in July 2020 for four weeks, four days per week in the mornings. The goal was to not only help children be socially and emotionally ready for kindergarten, but to also have them academically ready to enter the public school. The CNCAP Head Start program believes it has met and exceeded the learning experiences to promote school readiness for successful transitions to kindergarten. 

Children having lunch outside, accompanied by a teacherAdjusting Procedures

Neosho and Granby Head Start, MO

In Southwest Missouri, laughter, learning, and compassion fill the hallways and classrooms at Neosho Head Start and Early Head Start, Granby, and Longview Head Start, where four Early Head Start (EHS) and 91 Head Start children and their families are served.

The grantee's routine and daily structure changed on March 23, 2020, when students were scheduled to return from spring break. Rather than returning to class, they went virtual with classrooms and weekly parent communication due to COVID-19 pandemic. In May, the grantee returned their EHS staff, giving them time to adjust to new procedures and classroom arrangements to provide safety during this pandemic. EHS children returned to class on May 19. 

In June and July, the grantee offered all children entering kindergarten in the fall the opportunity to attend its first ever Head Start summer school. Ten children attended. One of these 10, a little guy by the name of David, was able to attend both June and July sessions. When he started in June, he wouldn’t make eye contact with anyone, including the other children. His hand would shake when he held a pencil or crayon and he would shrug his shoulders when you asked him questions. By the end of the seven weeks, he was leading the other boys in games, writing his name, and talking over other kids to give answers.

As the grantee approached August and the beginning of a new school year during the middle of a pandemic with numbers increasing in the community, class sizes were decreased. EHS remains full with four children and the Head Start program now has 60 children, 10 in each classroom.

Attendance rates have been a pleasant surprise. Their lowest attendance month thus far for 2020–2021 school year is 81% at one of their sites during September. The grantee's highest attendance months are August, September, and October for two of their other sites, reaching and maintaining 97% five times. 
They currently offer five children virtual services, including mental health consultant virtual visits, weekly family virtual visits, meals delivered, and daily social media posts.

They are a small but strong community. As of November 10, 2020, the county has had 2,569 total positive COVID-19 cases and 38 deaths. 

The grantee's Head Start and Early Head Start centers are open to support children and families, taking all precautions and following CDC guidelines. They will continue to do whatever they can to help ensure the needs of children and families are met.

One member of their team summed it up: “I am thankful to be a part of this wonderful team. We are inspiring each other, and we will survive this.”

Personal Protective Equipment for Staff Safety

Total Community Action (TCA), Inc., New Orleans, LA

TCA used CARES Act funding to purchase PPE for staff. They also bought a washer and dryer for one of their centers so staff could wash and dry children’s blankets and other items to increase sanitation. TCA used funding to provide a high-quality three-week supplemental summer program for 152 Head Start children to prepare them for the transition to kindergarten with a focus on skills such as language, literacy, math, social, emotional, and approaches to learning, as well as creative arts and gross motor development. To support children in the home-based or hybrid program options, as well as children with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), TCA purchased computer tablets, covers, and hot spots.

Collaborating on Back to School Blueprints

Midland College, Fremont, NE

This program has been meeting weekly with two local health departments and all of the public and private school superintendents from the Nebraska Department of Education. As a group, they have worked together to align “back to school blueprints”, operations procedures, and messaging and communication to parents and the community.

Parents fill out an online daily symptom screener for each child, temperatures are taken before children enter the building, and they have curbside drop-off and pick-up. Staff also fill out a daily symptom screener and are temperature screened before they enter the building at a separate entrance. The program purchased crowd control barriers for extra child safety and staff lockers and smocks. They have two washers and dryers and launder items on-site every day. They also made sure that every sink, towel dispenser, soap dispenser, and hand sanitizer in the building (except kitchen) was touchless.

The program is operating at 75% capacity in classrooms to promote physical distancing and implemented staggered scheduling so that no classroom “mingles”. All bus riders are in designated classrooms. They have also kept siblings and children who attend the same child care together as much as possible. The program has two parents who are also staff, and they are in the same room with their own child.

Breakfast and lunch are individually plated and delivered to each classroom using disposable paper products. An afternoon snack is sent home each day. The only outside visitors they allow in the building are special service providers from the school for children with special needs, the mental health consultant, and essential deliveries or repairs.

The program purchased kits of individual supplies for each child to cut down on “sharing”. They implemented Microsoft Teams for all in-house meetings of more than two people. They purchased a commercial laminator for easier cleaning of posters, etc.

The program was also just accepted to the 2021 UCLA Health Care Institute’s Trauma-Informed Care Training (TIC) taking place in the spring. They are really excited that their mental health consultant has committed to participating. They have also been able to continue with their Nebraska Department of Education and the University of Nebraska coaching pilots virtually.

They also upgraded the entire IT system – hardware, software, network, security, and maintenance. All of the management team, family service workers, home visitors, and teachers are able to work remotely, if necessary. The program also has extra devices available for parents if needed.