COVID-19 and the Head Start Community

Remote/Virtual Service Delivery

Child handling two bags.

Teachers to the Rescue!

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

Educational packets were created using our curriculum and were distributed to all children enrolled in the program. In-person services started as soon as they were allowable; classroom environments, curriculum, and materials were all adapted to meet COVID-19 safety precautions. A distance learning module was created on our database system, which supported teachers in collaborating with parents in teaching children developmentally appropriate activities to support their growth. Through intensive and TLC coaching, the program provided teaching staff the support, guidance, and professional development opportunities needed for them to continue providing appropriate educational services to children and families despite all the challenges of the pandemic. From March to December of 2020, 9,432 education packets were delivered, 827 books were read virtually, and 114 coaching hours were provided.

“Chiqui Bags” for Home

Christian Military Academy (CMA) Head Start, Vega Baja, PR

For children with an Individualized Education Program (IEP), the CMA Head Start program used COVID-19 funds to acquire “Chiqui Bags”. The bags offer materials for the child's home and give the child an opportunity to learn and develop skills such as speech, language, literacy, fine motor, and sensory play. The bags are personalized with different manipulative materials according to the child's needs. They also provide adults with basic tools to stimulate the child in a directed way through play. To carry out health screenings and safety measures, CMA prepares areas of the center with digital thermometers, hand sanitizers, labels to keep distance, and other safety measures signs.

Tablets, Wellness Boxes, and Substance Abuse Help

ARVAC Head Start, Russellville, AR

The ARVAC Head Start program went virtual when schools shut down in March 2020. They gave tablets and hotspots to families that didn’t have access to or a way to access the internet. For families in rural areas who couldn’t access the internet even with a hotspot, they gave Alternative Methods of Instruction (AMI) packets. The program arranged an area outside of their centers for parents to safely pick up and drop off AMI packets, home learning logs, and other paperwork. ARVAC uses Zoom for the monthly parent meetings. This raised parent attendance by 40% compared to in-person meetings. ARVAC also offers Zoom meetings for Policy Council meetings, which has kept 85–90% attendance since August 2020.

For staff mental health and wellness, ARVAC has given wellness boxes to all staff that include masks, sanitizer, candy, stress balls, etc. They moved all meetings and trainings to Zoom so they could still connect with staff and families, keeping communication open for everyone. For children with an IEP or Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP), ARVAC gave their therapists access to Google classrooms, allowing them to continue working with the children. 

ARVAC is responding to the future by partnering with area medical professionals to work with pregnant moms and mothers who need substance abuse help. They plan to open a specialized women's program where pregnant moms and mothers with children can participate in drug rehab programs while their children attend on-site Head Start and Early Head Start classrooms. Family advocates will help families with family style meals, bedtime routines, and scheduling so mothers will become self-sufficient to take care of their children when they leave. ARVAC will also offer on-site mental health counseling and guidance for mothers, families, and children . 

Working Together to Adapt Virtually

AVANCE, San Antonio, TX

Beginning in March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic presented a unique set of challenges for AVANCE educators and families. Across Texas, shelter-in-place orders were announced during spring break when AVANCE operations were already closed for the week. In this short time, staff across AVANCE's Early Head Start, Head Start, and Parent-Education network met via video conferencing to develop a plan to continue programming virtually. 

Once equipment and connectivity was secured for staff working from home, AVANCE parent educators and support workers met to evaluate remaining curriculum content, select the core elements essential for parents and children, and begin creating content for virtual delivery via weekly Zoom and WhatsApp lessons and check-ins.

Educators turned their homes into classrooms and created video clips of themselves teaching the core lessons and providing toy making instructions. They led “discussion sessions” during normally scheduled class times, which included virtual support groups and a space for parents to connect, ask questions about the lessons, and share resources with each other. Examples of topics for these “discussion sessions” include virtual home visits, case management, assessments, and mental health sessions with yoga, meditation, and fun activities to do at home with their children. 

In addition to providing the Parent-Child Education Program (PCEP) virtually during an unprecedented pandemic, AVANCE-San Antonio also adapted to ensure critical basic needs of families were met. During weekly virtual check-ins, educators provided additional resources, referrals, curbside pickup of meals, and mental health support. Also, over the last 50+ weeks, AVANCE San Antonio has:

  • Provided 8,500+ children’s activities kits and parenting/toymaking materials to families via curbside pickup and doorstep delivery
  • Provided critical household supplies and food, including 45,000 diapers with wipes 
  • Supported 237 parents to complete a virtual literacy class
  • Continued adult education and workforce training for parents through the Caminos al Futuro program (Virtual GED/High School Diploma Recovery)

Providing Staff with the Necessary Professional Development to Work Under New Circumstances

Neighbors in Need of Services (NINOS), Inc., San Benito, TX

NINOS is using the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to continue to meet Head Start Program Performance Standards and to help staff, families, and children transition to the "new COVID normal" by providing virtual and in-person services. Once Cameron and Willacy counties went into lockdown, NINOS immediately began delivering instructional packets and hot meals to enrolled families. Staff received the necessary professional development to prepare for virtual and in-person classrooms and implemented electronic systems to avoid in-person contact. As the program prepared to resume in-person services, personal protective equipment (PPE) and supplies were distributed to the centers. NINOS also sent each family a revised parent operational policy manual with new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requirements and a children’s book that addresses masks, social distancing, and hand-washing in school to prepare for the centers' reopening.

Virtual Learning Kits and Lunch and Learns

Citizens for Citizens Head Start, Fall River, MA

COVID-19 funds were used to create virtual learning kits for all virtually enrolled children. Classroom teams worked to establish a connection between their virtual and center-based groups. Virtual families were also offered Head Start meal kits similar to the center-based menu. Virtual children and families were invited to join "Lunch and Learn" sessions, in which center-based meal time was live streamed. This allowed an opportunity for children from both groups to see and hear one another. It also modeled the importance of engaging in conversations during meal times for the participating adults. To build gross motor skills, classrooms offer a once a week livestreamed music and movement activity where both center-based and virtual children participate.

The program worked with the public library to give storybooks to all children in the program. This partnership highlights the many "free" programs the library offers for families and promotes literacy.

Thinking Outside the Box

Grand Forks Head Start (GFHS)Grand Forks, ND

Grand Forks Head Start education staff have met the challenges of online learning with positivity and an open mind to new methods of instruction. The Head Start team worked together to explore many different instructional strategies to meet each child’s diverse needs and to provide the very best differentiated instruction to help each child reach their school readiness goals. GFHS teachers and staff delivered bi-weekly home learning packets to supplement the online activities that each teacher provided via Seesaw, an online learning platform. GFHS also used daily class Zoom meetings for large group instruction and connection to their peers. Zoom was also used for individual Boom Card live sessions with each child for individualized instruction and targeted skill development. The Boom Card sessions also allowed staff to assess children’s skills using intentional teaching and developmentally appropriate activities. The weekly skills assessment allowed staff and parents to set goals for each child to target specific skill development. Staff also provided supplemental activities for parents to continue the work with their child at home.

The pandemic has challenged every Head Start program to think “outside the box” so they can continue giving the very best services to meet each family’s needs. GFHS has risen to the challenge and views it as an opportunity to learn. They have gained new skills, knowledge, and appreciation through the process. They are extremely proud and grateful for their highly skilled and dedicated Head Start education staff. They are making a difference!

Preschool child watching a virtual classroomMom’s Technology Success Story

Illinois Action for Children (IAFC), IL

During a parent meeting, one mother expressed that she had absolutely no knowledge of technology at the beginning of the pandemic. When teachers started to email her e-learning activities, she realized that she really is the most influential and important teacher of her own child. She felt she had no choice but to do something about it. With instructions and help from teachers and the family engagement specialist, she has learned a lot about using technology to support her child’s learning. This parent thanks the IAFC program for the encouragement and continued support provided to her.

Virtual Learning Platforms

Lutheran Services Duval, FL

Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding allowed this program to purchase necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep staff, children, and their families safe. It was also used to make sure each Head Start and Early Head Start classroom is appropriately equipped to minimize sharing of toys and learning materials. This funding has helped the program implement virtual learning platforms, as well as purchase technology to support teachers and families in implementing those platforms.

Supporting Home-Based Learners with Computer Tablets, Covers, and Hot Spots

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 also 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. There was a focus on skills such as language, literacy, math, social and emotional development, and approaches to learning, as well as creative arts and gross motor development. To support children in home-based or hybrid program option, as well as children with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), TCA purchased computer tablets, covers, and hot spots.

Virtual Parent Meetings and Events

Brazoria County Head Start Early Learning (BCHS), Inc., Lake Jackson, TX

Like many Head Start grantees around the country, BCHS was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. With strong leadership and dedicated staff, BCHS has been able to serve its children and families. Full-day summer school was offered to children that were either transitioning to kindergarten or had an IEP for the first time in BCHS’s history. 15 children participated in the summer program, which afforded parents an opportunity to go to work. The summer program was a chance for BCHS to experience the new normal of social distancing, smaller class sizes, virtual learning, and meetings. Procedures to minimize the risk of COVID-19 include parents signing in and picking up children outside the facility at the entrance; having all facilities professionally cleaned, sanitized, and disinfected; and purchasing PPE for both children and staff and making it available to others who may need it.

The 2020–2021 program year forced BCHS to reevaluate how they interact with staff, children, and families. BCHS prides itself on the strong relationships formed with parents. They have instituted virtual parent meetings and events and limited parent interaction on the campus, all to prevent the spread of the virus. They are offering virtual classes, smaller class sizes, and social distancing during meal times and naptime by placing barriers between the children. BCHS is confident that the strides made will provide examples to other grantees that are no doubt experiencing the same challenges.

Technology Purchases to Ensure a Successful Virtual Learning Experience

Garrett County Community Action Committee, Inc., Oakland, MD

Using CARES Act funding, the grantee purchased technology such as laptops, video recorders, and internet hotspots for both staff and families to ensure a successful virtual learning experience. Learning materials and books were also purchased. As a result of the purchases, management staff continue to focus on creating virtual classrooms, organizing materials and books to be delivered to families, assigning teaching staff to virtual lesson planning and recording, and scheduling delivery to families throughout their rural county.

Supplies and Materials Purchased to Support ISFPs and IEPs at Home

Reginald S. Lourie Center, Rockville, MD

This grantee used CARES Act funding to purchase supplies and materials needed for Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSPs) and IEPs so parents could properly work with their children at home. The disabilities manager has video conferences with families to show how to use the supplies and materials. 

Use of Samsung Tablets and Hatch Ignite Subscriptions

Lawrence County Social Services, New Castle, PA

Lawrence County Community Action Partnership (LCCAP) utilized CARES Act funding to purchase Samsung tablets and Hatch Ignite subscriptions for all preschool children through the Assessment System. The Ignite app allows children to learn how to manipulate technology, interacting with games that are specifically selected for each child’s learning gains. Their gaming responses are translated into data that is uploaded into MyTeachingStrategies. LCCAP recommends children use the tablet no more than 30 minutes per week.

500 Mobile Hotspots and Recorded Learning Content

Institute of Community Services, Holly Springs, MS

CARES Act funding has allowed this program to purchase almost 500 mobile hotspots for families and provide services 100% virtually. The grantee also developed a technology mentorship program for staff so that those who were not as technology savvy could receive support in building their virtual skills. They ensured each teacher had over 18 hours of recorded learning content for parents who aren’t able to join the class live with their children.

Laptops and Internet Upgrades

Clayton County CSA, Forest Park, GA

This program used CARES Act funding to provide laptops for teaching staff, family service workers, and administrative staff. With the provision of laptops and internet upgrades at different sites, staff can effortlessly teach children, contact parents, and conduct lessons virtually.

Use of Dojo Classroom Management Software

Harris County Department of Education (HCDE), Houston, TX

HCDE used CARES Act funding to purchase new laptops for Head Start teachers and family service providers to replace outdated laptops that could not handle the strain caused by the frequent use of Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Dojo classroom management software, and other applications. Software for training and professional development for staff was purchased, as well. HCDE bought PPE and cleaning supplies for 300 staff members so that in-person center-based services for 1,060 Head Start and Early Head Start children could resume in northeast Harris County.

Tablets Easing Stress for Parents

Hitchcock Independent School District (HISD), Hitchcock, TX

In the mist of the COVID-19 crisis, Head Start staff wanted to provide children and families with distance learning. Having school resume virtually became stressful for many families, as there were concerns about how the children would continue to learn. Some parents worried about how they were going to help their children learn virtually when they did not have the technology to continue their education. The HISD “Kids First” Head Start Program used some of the CARES Act funds to purchase tablets for children and families to continue their learning from a distance. Recognizing that times were tough, the program wanted families to remember: You are your child’s first teacher, and Head Start staff is here to assist you! Being able to provide students and parents with tablets was wonderful and parents were so very thankful for the help.

Zoom and Homeroom Platforms Facilitate Remote Programming

Tri-County Community Action, Inc., Center, TX

When schools were mandated to shut down, a plan was developed to continue providing services remotely. The agency purchased Zoom to better communicate with parents, children, and each other. Zoom allows parents to be actively involved in their child’s educational experiences. Home visits, parent conferences, and all kinds of meetings — from parenting classes to governing board and Policy Council meetings — are all conducted using this online platform. The agency is also using a free online educational platform called Homeroom for children and families choosing the virtual platform versus the in-person option. Through the CARES Act monies, the program was able to purchase tablets, laptop computers, and hot spots to facilitate virtual learning in its rural area.

Use of Hatch Ignite, ReadyRosie, and Starfall Applications

Lutheran Social Services of the South, Inc., [dba Upbring], Austin, TX

Upbring used CARES Act funding to purchase tablets that the program could loan to families so they could access the Hatch Ignite, ReadyRosie, and Starfall applications. Hatch Ignite is an adaptive learning platform that provides teachers with objective, standards-based documentation and scoring for children 28 months to 5 years old. Upbring uses it in conjunction with Creative Curriculum and Teaching Strategies Gold. For children under 28 months old, Upbring purchased a license to use the ReadyRosie research-based parenting curriculum.

OWL Motion/Sound Detecting Camera Allowing Virtual Students to Experience the Classroom

United Community Center (UCC), Milwaukee, WI

UCC has been operating both virtual and in-person services since June. Initially, they started out operating separate virtual and in-person classrooms with teachers dedicated to each option. However, in the late fall, they found that the virtual children were more isolated and not attending or participating as well. The program felt it was due to a lack of connection to their peers or a physical classroom and teacher. They began embedding the virtual children into in-person classrooms so all children can experience and participate in what is going on in the classrooms.

Each classroom has an OWL motion/sound detecting camera that is connected to a Smartboard. The virtual children join into the classroom for the structured group activities and the OWL camera is able to let the children experience what is going on. When the teacher is talking, the camera zooms in close on the teacher; when the children or group is responding; the camera zooms out to show the group. The virtual children are projected onto the Smartboard so the in-person children can see and talk to them and their parents at home. Since starting this process, UCC has seen the level of participation of virtual children increase to almost the same level of attendance as their in-person children.