Pre-School: Pandemic Style

A Look Inside the RISE Pre-School During the Pandemic

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Bridget Parks ('21)

The driveway under the bridge doesn’t have much traffic in the winter of 2020.

Maddy Forse ('21), Orbit Contributor

A brisk gust of wind followed the small boy as he walked towards RMHS’s fieldhouse door, which has become the temporary front door, as he starts his socially-distanced day as a preschool student at RISE preschool.

He was squeezing his mother’s hand and kept fidgeting with his child-sized Spiderman mask that seemed too big for his tiny face. His red and blue polka dot backpack was very small but seemed massive in proportion to his body. Once he got close enough to the door, he gave his mom a quick hug, took the lunchbox she was holding for him and walked through the door being held open by his teacher, Mrs. Tesoro.

“Good morning and happy Wednesday! Don’t forget to use the hand sanitizer!” Her voice is kind and kid-friendly as she ushers the kids into the new and improved classroom. All of the tables were now 6 feet apart to prevent the spread between the kids. “In an effort to keep the students 6ft apart, young children are sitting in desks or long tables spaced out and are not allowed to do one of the most important things that they come to preschool to do which is to learn important social skills,” says Mrs. Tesoro.

Good morning and happy Wednesday! Don’t forget to use the hand sanitizer!”

In the next hour, 14 more kids walk in the door, with an interval of about 5 minutes in between. They shuffle in with their masks and put down their little backpacks on hooks 6 feet apart that spread all the way down the hallway. The kids try their best to stay as far apart as possible, but it’s easy to tell that they just want to run up close to their friends. 

Ever since COVID hit, Mrs. Tesoro and Mrs. Donofrio’s jobs have gotten that much harder. They struggle to keep up with cleaning the classroom frequently while juggling all the kids in the rooms. Some of the suggestions from the CDC say that all desks and chairs need to be disinfected and wiped down as often as possible. “We are no longer allowed to have rugs, dramatic play areas, and center activities. We clean often, and children are not allowed to share toys,” says Mrs. Tesoro. 

One of the most important parts of being in preschool is learning how to play and share toys with other children. Mrs. Donofrio says, “They have some toys in bins for just them to play with. We spray the bigger toys down after each child plays with them.”

Usually, kids use materials that are in the classroom, but it’s different now and it’s not possible to wipe down and disinfect every Crayola crayon or Expo marker. Mrs. Tesoro says, “Many teachers, including myself, have spent a lot of their own money to purchase multiples of the same items. For example, I have purchased 20 pencil cases that store individual sets of things such as dry erase markers, scissors, glue, crayons, markers, etc…”. 

With such close contact in these tiny classrooms, the masks won’t prevent the spread 100%. With preschool aged kids being so fidgety, it’s often unpredictable how compliant 3 and 4 year olds can be. Mrs. Tesoro says, “They know that there is a virus so they need to wear their masks for safety.  Most keep them on pretty well but some of the kids with more severe disabilities that don’t quite understand are harder and we just keep trying to keep them on them.”

In regards to testing, teachers are not tested, but there are plenty of local places where they can get tested in case someone comes in contact and it is accidentally spread in the classes. Mrs. Donofrio says, “In the case that one of our students tests positive, administration tells them to stay home to quarantine and the nurse and director do contact tracing to let anyone who may be affected know.” Adding onto this, Mrs. Tesoro says, “RISE has already had 1 staff member and one student test positive. In both cases, the school nurse, Mary Giuliana, consulted with state epidemiologists to contact trace. As a result, two classes had to quarantine. If a parent tests positive, it is my understanding that the student would be considered a close contact and therefore would have to follow the protocols in place before returning to school.”

By the end of the school day, all the teachers at RISE are ready to be home. The kids that had entered earlier leave in the same order that they had, at least six feet in between parents and kids at all times.

How was your day? Good? Did you wash your hands and keep your mask on all day?”

 

A short girl with a blonde ponytail walks out holding her Hello Kitty lunchbox and her matching backpack with a light pink mask. She sanitizes her hands at the station outside of the door, she says goodbye to her teacher before walking towards her mom, who was waiting by her red Nissan in a black Northface jacket. “How was your day? Good? Did you wash your hands and keep your mask on all day?” her mom asked her as she waved goodbye to the group of teachers standing (socially distanced) together talking about their days. 

It’s odd nowadays to have to ask these questions, but it’s now a part of our reality. Once all their students leave, Mrs. Donofrio and Mrs. Tesoro heads back into their classrooms. They quickly lysol the desks, chairs, markers, toys, door handles, anything that might have been touched in the past hour by the kids.

They gather their belongings, before locking up and heading out towards the parking lot. Mrs. Donofrio walks to her usual spot in the back of the school near the original entrance of RISE, near the playground that was often used in the past years. Since school started up again, the kids barely get to touch the playground because it would be difficult to contact traces if need be.

As Mrs. Tesoro pulls out of the parking lot, she drives by the areas where she takes the kids on their walks, or ‘adventures’ as the kids like to call them. After snack time, the kids need to get some physical activity in, and since playgrounds are off limits, walks around the fields are the best they can offer. As she heads home to prepare for another day, she sighs and hopes that these poor kids will have their normal preschool lives back sometime soon.