Reopening to Support Essential Workers: Lessons Learned from Educare Seattle

In March of 2020, in response to ongoing developments around COVID-19, and in an abundance of caution, all Educare Learning Network schools closed their physical locations and transitioned to virtual programming and support for families.

In early April, Educare Seattle was the first Network school to reopen their building, providing on-site childcare for enrolled children and families of essential workers. Educare Seattle is a direct service arm of Puget Sound Educational Service District (PSESD) and served by the Learning Communities Foundation. Educare Seattle’s staff and leadership worked tirelessly for weeks prior to opening their doors in order to ensure the utmost safety and comfort for their families and staff. The school also continues to provide remote learning and support for children and families of non-essential workers, or families who are currently unemployed.

Although Educare Seattle’s ability to confidently reopen to families was due in part to state and local conditions, much of their learning is applicable to other early childhood programs considering reopening to children of essential workers. Below, the school’s Executive Director Laura McAlister and Site Manager Aeryn King share what they learned during the reopening process, and as they continue to operate their physical location:

Q: How did your school define “safe” with regard to reopening?

A: We are following CDC guidelines, including putting numerous interior and exterior procedures in place for staff and families, rearranging classrooms and shared spaces and establishing care guidelines that allow for social distancing. Class sizes and teacher-child ratios have shrunk, and children do not shift rooms throughout the day. Every staff person has continued to be compensated. Each person was empowered to decide to return to onsite services for children or provide meaningful services to families through telecommuting.

Q: What do you wish you would have done earlier in the process?

A: Ordered our no-touch/contactless thermometers earlier! These are currently backordered and took much longer than anticipated to arrive. Our families take their children’s temperature prior to leaving for school every morning, and our staff screen families’ temperatures again from their vehicle when they arrive, so this equipment is critical.

Q: What other school-driven factors do you feel supported your successful reopening?

A: Our close relationship with families allowed us to frequently survey them to establish their childcare needs, which continue to evolve during the COIVD-19 crisis. Based on their input, we were able to staff the school to accommodate our families and facilitate new safety protocols. We also integrated COVID-19-specific play-based curriculum into our classrooms, such as normalizing more frequent handwashing, and using play to demonstrate the importance of face masks. We also leveraged early learning strategies to ensure children are comfortable with new school protocols such as temperature monitoring and reduced access to shared spaces.

Educare Seattle’s diligence has paid off. They can operate their physical location safely, and the teachers and staff are thrilled to welcome children every morning. “We’ve found strength we did not know we have, creativity at every level, and we are coming back as a community,” McAlister says.