When the reality of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was clear many months ago, the Ounce and our partners quickly pivoted to support our youngest learners virtually, and we’re continuing to innovate and evolve to ensure our most vulnerable children and families don’t get left behind as the pandemic stretches on.
One of our strongest partnerships is with the Educare Learning Network. In 2000, the Ounce developed the first Educare school in Chicago to provide high-quality care, education, and a stimulating learning environment for children birth to age 5. Since then, we have partnered to create 24 Educare schools across the country to provide children in under-resourced communities with quality early learning experiences. In accordance with CDC recommendations, 22 of the 24 operating schools within the Educare Learning Network are currently closed, with 2 schools having reopened to provide essential services at a reduced capacity. But that does not mean our early learning programs have stopped. From online lesson plans to reading and singing sessions via Facebook Lives, our educators are helping to ensure children and families have the resources they need during these challenging times.
Check out a few of our favorite Educare moments from the past few months:
Beyond center-based programs, we are ensuring that the families and parents-to-be we serve through traditional home visits and doula services are supported in this new environment as well. Home visitors are finding innovative ways to connect with their families utilizing everything from phone calls, texts, web-based platforms, snail mail, picking up and delivering their school lunches and sending care packages with diapers and wipes, board books, and activities. Read more on how our programs are keeping families connected to resources during the COVID-19 crisis.
While we must support the children and families we work with, we cannot do that without supporting the teachers and practitioners who work most closely with them. We are restructuring our training and professional development services to ensure early childhood professionals can adapt to this rapidly evolving landscape. From quickly converting in-person, in-classroom, training material to an online platform to “virtual drop-in groups” for home visitors, we are changing the way we support the early childhood field. We also launched a new online hub for early childhood professionals – the Early Childhood Connector – to ensure they can quickly connect and share what is working across the country in the wake of COVID-19.
Over the past several months, both the strengths and shortcomings of systems and supports for young children and families in the United States have been illuminated. While strength and innovation have shown through, we‘ve also seen the harsh realities of the families we serve. Many do not have the necessities (food, internet access, etc.) needed to support a healthy learning environment on their own. While we do not know what the future holds, the Ounce is committed to ensuring that when the dust settles, the state of early education and care in America is better, stronger, and more equitable than ever before.