Dylan Apodaca (right) and Hayleigh Partain

Dylan Apodaca (right) and Hayleigh Partain (left) play outside with not too much different aside from having to wear masks.

As COVID-19 shut down schools and daycares in March, many parents who still had to go to work found themselves without any means of childcare and were thrust into a frenzy of finding alternatives. This often meant having to stay home with their kids because childcare was unavailable.

With restrictions lifting, some childcare facilities such as The Council of Governments (COG) Early Learning Center have reopened to the relief of many parents as well as the kids.

“We opened again on July 6,” said COG Early Learning Center Director Deb Hartman. “It’s been very positive. The parents have been really cooperative.”

Hartman explained that parents had to understand that they would have to be available to pick up their child on a moment’s notice if they exhibited any symptoms of the virus.

“And there’s so many symptoms,” expressed Hartman. “The first sign of any type of illness, we’re sending them home and our parents have been so gracious with that.”

Hartman also said while they have had to change how they operate a little bit, most of the sanitization work was already being done daily. Additionally, some construction work they had done before the pandemic hit ended up working out perfectly for safely dropping off students without having to kick them out at the curb.

“When you come in our front door, you have to be buzzed in,” said Hartman. “The first area is an entryway. Then when you come through the second door, that’s where our receptionist is. That’s where we take the kid’s temperatures and ask the questions we have to ask. Then there’s a third entrance door and no parents can go past that.”

The center has what Hartman called “runners” who take the kids from that point to their classrooms. This reduces exposure, as the only ones allowed into the main facility are staff and kids.

“In creating that active shooter safeguard, it’s worked miraculously for our COVID-19 system,” said Hartman.

Another change that has taken some adjustment is the fact that, per health orders, kids cannot bring outside items into a childcare facility. This means no backpacks, juice boxes, or blankets can be brought with the child which has lead COG to purchase individualized items for their members.

“Nothing foreign comes in the building,” said Hartman, “just the kids. It became more of an expense because we have to buy blankets for the kids to rest with. We also had to buy children their own markers, crayons, and glue sticks and give them a baggie with all that stuff in it and their name on it. That way they all have their own and they’re not co-mingling their stuff.”

Hartman said that while children less than 3 years old aren’t required to wear masks, everyone else is required to other than at rest time and mealtime.

“All the other times they have to wear their masks,” said Hartman, “even out on the playground. They have been so great with it and know it’s just a norm now and don’t give us any problems. Even our special education kids have been so good.”

Studies have certainly shown that kids handle change often better than adults do and Hartman said the kids there have quickly acclimated to the requirements and even the questions that have to be answered each day they attend.

“They’re getting so used to us asking their parents if they had diarrhea or if they had a sore throat, or a fever and all that,” said Hartman with a little chuckle. “So now the kids themselves are answering. Even the two year olds. The other day the receptionist asked if they had a cough and the little girl said, yes I do but its just allergies.”

Hartman said they are thankful that the doctor’s offices and health department have been so helpful in helping them to navigate what’s been a confusing road over the past few weeks. While there have been no positive cases of COVID-19 to come out of their facilities, they have had to send a few members home due to exhibiting some of the listed symptoms.

COG applied and received a Paycheck Protection Plan loan and a portion of that is for the Early Learning Center.

“We were privy to that and it really helped compensate for wages,” said Hartman. “Especially since we’ve had to bring on a few more staff to help with the increased workload. We also received a lot of state support through the HULA Early Childhood Council that bought us smocks and hand sanitizer that’s easier for them to get.”

The Family Resource Center in Walsenburg also bought a washer and dryer that the facility could use to help wash the blankets, smocks, and things that they have to now keep on hand. Temple Hoyne Buell Foundation also gave them $2500 to use for whatever they needed and with the facility closed for March, April, May, and June, the Department of Human Services subsidized some of their enrollment for those months with their Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) funds.

“We got that subsidy because we typically have those kids,” Hartman said, “which really helped us meet our building and facility payments.”

Hartman also expressed that some of their concern at this time was the families who decide to travel with all the risks currently on the line.

“We handed out a map of the United States to all our parents with the hot spots on them to give them a visual,” said Hartman. “If you visit those places that are hot spots, just be cognizant that you may be bringing something back to our center and putting other families or staff at risk. That’s a learning curve I hope will improve.”

Hartman also said she would like other childcare facilities and schools to learn from their experience and use it to help them open safely in the coming weeks.

“I’m hoping that we’re a model so that they wont be scared to open the schools and just take that leap of faith,” said Hartman. “We will continue to do the best we can to keep everyone safe and healthy and hopefully we will see those numbers that are spiking right now go down.”

Staff members have been happy to be back at work according to Hartman, as well as having gained a new outlook on the importance and meaning of their roles as childcare workers in the community.

“They know it’s difficult with this new drop off system and stuff,” Hartman said. “But the staff have been so positive and they’re wearing those hot smocks and masks and trying to keep up with the kids too. Being off for three months gave them a new respect for what they do and see how much they are needed. I’m so proud of them all.”

As summer begins making way into the beginning of the school year, Hartman said they would be accepting new members should anyone be in need of their services. To check availability, give them a call at 719-845-0568.

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