Preschools reopen carefully in new reality

PHOTO: Many preschools are spending much of the day outside. Here children at Gan-Garrett Preschool eat their lunch outside picnic-style.

As the Portland area slowly resumes life beyond Stay Home orders, some Portland-area Jewish preschools have opened for small, limited preschool programs this summer with a focus on health and safety for children, families and staff. Some of the preschools said they are using the small, “soft” openings to prepare for what they anticipate will be a larger program in the fall. The preschools follow guidelines from the CDC and Oregon Dept. of Education Early Learning Div.,

The schools have shared the following information about their summer programs.

Last month, Tree of Life Montessori had 11 children participate, with a limit of 10 at a time. The preschool met for four weeks, 4 hours a day.
 “We spent most of the days playing outside, engaging in sensory or creative provocations on our covered patio, or working inside at individual tables,” says owner and lead guide Ariel Cohn. “The children were ecstatic to be together again, and it was wonderful to get some closure for those who were able to participate. … My assistant and I spent a lot more time sanitizing than usual. The children stayed healthy, no runny noses or coughs, and they adjusted to the frequent hand-washing and other routines well.” 

The Foundation School reopened at Congregation Neveh Shalom for a soft opening on July 13 for four weeks of camp.  For the first two weeks, camp was half days (9 am-noon). For the second two weeks camp will run from 9 am to 3 pm.
“We have two groups of 10 children each (for a total of 20 children) who are staying completely separated from each other at all times,” says Assistant Director Cory Willson. That compares to about 80 children who typically attend some or all of the eight weeks the preschool offers in a normal summer. 
“We reopened because we feel we can do so safely, we want to support our families and their children, we have staff eager and able to do the work, and we want to gain some experience and knowledge that will help us as we plan for a slightly larger group in the fall,” says Cory.
On top of the ELD and CDC guidelines, Foundation School is operating under guidance from Neveh Shalom’s reopening task force as well as guidance from medical experts.   
“Each group of 10 (children) has three teachers who remain stable within this group at all times,” says Cory. “We did this so that even if a teacher needs to miss work, we will not need a sub and can keep the groups absolutely stable.”
For added safety, the entire camp is outdoors (other than bathroom use and handwashing). Additional precautions include thorough  cleaning before and after children arrive, frequent handwashing, all food brought from home and only touched by that child, and social distancing “to the best of our ability given the age of our children.”  Children ages 2+ are encouraged to arrive in a mask; the practice is facilitated throughout the day. Health checks of all adults and children are done at drop off daily, and drop offs and pickups have been staggered for safety. Staff also has a health screening with temperature check each morning.

Portland Jewish Academy reopened July 6 “because we believe we can meet the childcare needs of our community while keeping our teachers, children and families safe.” A small group of children ages 1 through 4 returned to school for PJA’s summer program that runs from 9 am to 3 pm.
“Educators, children, and families have all expressed immense gratitude for this opportunity; after months of uncertainty in the world around us, we are not taking for granted the simple yet powerful ability to connect with others,” says Allison Hernandez, PJA’s assistant director of early childhood education.
“However, the hallways were not filled with voices for long. As we return to school we are returning to a new normal, one in which children don’t visit our larger community spaces throughout the building, instead, they spend time in their classrooms and in our multiple outdoor spaces,” says Allison. “Their materials for play have been intentionally chosen to allow for more items for individual use, as well as items that can be properly disinfected between uses.  Our class sizes are smaller, and we have more educators with each group of children, and increased responsibilities around sanitizing and disinfecting. Educators are wearing masks; we have been talking with children and reading stories about wearing masks (including A Mask is a Mitzvah! by Caroline Saliman), and they have been responding positively to interacting with their teachers in masks.”  
PJA has an emergency child care license for 150 children and plans on welcoming 120-130 children on Aug. 31. That is a drop from the roughly 180 children who normally attend PJA’s  infant/toddler and preschool programs.

Gan-Garrett Preschool in Clark County, Wash., opened July 6 for a six-week summer program. Though normally the preschool has two classrooms, a 2’s and a 3-4’s classroom, only the 3-4s class is available for summer. 
“We are limited to 8 kids per day (we have a few more signed up, but alternate weeks). This follows the DEL guidelines and actually works well as a slow opening to help us work out the details for a hopeful fall opening,” says director Tzivie Greenberg.
Keeping the kids distanced and the toys and furniture sanitized is a huge effort. 
Kids have been amazing at adapting. We spend a lot of time outdoors. Kids sit at individual tables when playing/doing/crafting. 
We are fortunate to have a very spacious room and so it allows for that. 
“I think the mask wearing is the toughest,” says Tzivie, noting only the teachers wear masks, not the kids. “They have been teaching the kids to read their eyes to note a smile.”
The school follows a new morning drop-off routine with children taken straight to their classroom. Previously parents brought their children into the lobby and then hugged them goodbye at their classroom door.
“We set up that kind of drop off intentionally because we wanted to give the parents an opportunity to hang out, say hello and chat,” says Tzivie. “And now we changed it to a drop off carpool lane, intentionally so that there isn’t any adult congregating.  It is sad to me that we had to do this since so much of our preschool’s goal is to create community amongst the families ... and now we have to work against that.”
However, she says that parents have reported that their kids are in so much brighter moods since school resumed. 

The Gan-Portland Jewish Preschool opened in early July with many new procedures and routines, temperature checks on the way in and staff in masks. Children spend much of the day outdoors, with activities and supplies for each child to work with individually. 
“We are happy to be open for those that really need the care and we love listening to the sounds of the children’s laughter each day,” says a post on the preschool’s Facebook page.
A parent posted, “The protocols set up are seriously thought out and meticulously followed and I have as much confidence as possible in these times that my daughter is safe in their hands.
The Gan has eight weeks of preschool for a total of 35 children. The three groups each have their own building and playground.

As previously announced, on July 20 Maayan Torah Day School began a Preschool Summer School for children ages 2-7. The preschool camp runs from 9 am to 3 pm Monday-Friday through Aug. 14.
Maayan is a licensed preschool operating under the highest level of safety and cleanliness. Space is very limited; full refunds will be issued for any mandated closure.


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