Renee Williams, BVSD’s Director of Community Schools, started her new job in the district in January. One month later the coronavirus pandemic hit. She’s had to launch new programs, and manage a large department in which most staff worked in school buildings that closed. Community Schools operates most of the activities that occur outside of the school day hours, including facility use, school aged care, lifelong learning, and childcare. But Williams has taken on all the challenges with a positive light.
“It’s been a great way to get to know everyone,” says Williams. “ I now know my team really well, and I know what we can pull off. It’s been challenging but rewarding.”
Supporting kids and families
The emergency childcare program was launched in the beginning of April to support the families of emergency workers and other essential employees so they would have a safe place to leave their kids while they had to go to work. The program is free to all families of essential workers. It is supported by Colorado’s Emergency Childcare Collaborative, receiving some funding from the state and the rest of the costs being absorbed by Community Schools. It started out with only a few kids but has expanded to almost 70, in part due to more workers learning about the program and those having to return to work.
“It really is a sense of normalcy during this time,” says Williams.
Site staff aim to make the days as fun as possible for the kids knowing all that is going on and Williams says staff have done an outstanding job at coming up with fun activities for the kids.
Emma Mueller, a SAC Supervisor for two schools prior to the pandemic closing school buildings, now supervises the emergency childcare site at Community Montessori. She hopes that this program has really helped the kids during this time.
“When we opened the site, kids were anxious to get out of their homes and socialize again. We try to keep this as fun, and safe, as possible for them,”says Mueller.
People are our Strength
For a program that had to be organized and launched in a span of 2 weeks, staff was crucial to its success. Everyone had to learn new rules and guidelines, problem solve, strategize and create this program from scratch.
Childcare staff arrive at the sites before the kids arrive and set things up for the day. They take their own temperatures and confirm they, and anyone they live with, are feeling well. They clean and sanitize everything the kids will be using, despite it having been done the night before.
Once students start arriving a building monitor takes the kids temperatures and brings the kids inside. Throughout the day, staff work to balance fun activities with the demands of the home learning environment.
“It can be challenging to help up to 10 students log into their google classrooms and set them up for their scheduled meetings, but it's important,” says Mueller.
The childcare staff, many of whom volunteered to continue working or shift roles during the crisis, are what has made this program a success.
“They are tremendous in terms of their positivity and energy and can do attitude,” says Williams. “In the early days things were changing every day. Every childcare employee rolled with the punches, and they are happy to be there.”
Outside of the childcare staff, there are also many other employees from bus drivers to paras that have stepped up to make this program work.
“The custodians at the sites are rockstars,” says Williams. “The principals of the school buildings (Shannon Minch, Geoff Sandfort, and Joan Bludorn) have also been fantastic,” she continues. “That partnership has been really helpful.”
Out of the crisis, there are some small positives. Says Mueller, “ I have realized what amazing people I work with. I work with such an incredible team that has come together to strategize and brainstorm and make this thing we never dreamed of happen.”