Running a Nonprofit Preschool, In-Person, During a Global Pandemic

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On March 13th, 2020, we closed our physical doors as schools and businesses around the country closed due to COVID-19. When the news of closures hit our community, our families faced the threat of unemployment, evictions, food and income insecurity, and inadequate access to resources like broadband.

With a primarily Hispanic and Latino population, our families faced a disproportionate impact from the pandemic. After the shutdown of “non-essential” businesses, many parents lost their jobs in addition to experiencing the highest rates of COVID-19 infection in Alexandria (59% of Alexandria’s 1,233 cases in May 2020)1.

Historically, low-income families have systemically been excluded from access to high-quality childcare and early education resources, resulting in academic opportunity gaps. The pandemic has further deepened the academic divide, with low-income families being disproportionately affected by lack of access to stable internet connections. Inadequate access to broadband, a crucial resource in a pandemic, means that parents do not have the ability to work remotely, and children are left without access to the educational resources they need to learn.

Immediately, we leveraged our caring community in four ways:

  1. Food: For ten weeks, we held two food pick-ups on the East End and West End of Alexandria. We distributed hundreds of bags of food to our students and their families. 
  2. Technology: We partnered with Amazon, thanks to our Advisory Council and our Virginia Senator, Barbara Favola, to provide all of our students with freetablets and transition to an online format. 
  3. School Materials: Each month, we hosted a school supply pick-up for families to continue engaging students at home. 
  4. Webinars: We hosted weekly team check-ins and monthly motivational webinars. It helped us understand what our team’s fears and biggest worries about re-opening might be.  

In June, after hearing concerns and suggestions from our team and teachers, we decided to open a summer pilot, prioritizing frontline workers who needed childcare to get back to work. To prepare, we participated in intensive safety training, implemented cleaning and sanitizing procedures, required all employees to wear protective gear, and more. As a result, our teachers, families, and staff all felt safe and supported our mission of reopening. 

Our summer pilot program of 10 students was a success! We had zero spread in the classroom, and our students were able to safely learn and get ready for success in kindergarten.

Based on our summer pilot success, coupled with one-on-one meetings with our teaching team, we decided to re-open in the fall. To do this we: 

  1. Reduced class ratios and capacity due to physical distancing requirements. We went from 139 in-person students during the 2019-2020 school year to 81 students in-person during the 2020-2021 school year. 
  2. Reopened seven classrooms for in-person learning for our essential working families. 
  3. Implemented strict COVID-19 health & safety policies: including daily temperature checks and health and travel screenings in both Spanish and English.  
  4. Opened two virtual classrooms to support families who could have at least one parent at home.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Support teachers: When we reopened, we increased teachers’ salaries, added more vacation days, and reevaluated professional development opportunities. Still, teacher salaries remain very low.2 We must prioritize higher compensation for early educators. If there is anything parents and employers have learned during the pandemic, it is that childcare is the backbone of our economy. 
  2. Our community is resilient! Consistent coordination and communication between our team of teachers, administrators, and parents was the key to success. We communicated quickly and in multiple languages using our online platform, Class Dojo. 
  3. Prioritize Early Childhood Education (ECE): During a crisis, ECE and childcare programs are often one of the first to see their funding reduced. Studies show that ECE programs produce some of the highest returns on investments. In a study of the Perry Preschoolers from 1960-2009, the community saw a return of $7 - $12 for every $1 invested.3  
  4. Commit to racial equity: At CFNC, we created a racial equity vision to combat inequity. We will have work to do and are committed to building a better system and structure that supports all families and teachers. 

Being open in-person was and still is a challenge every day. By empowering our team, sharing information openly and with transparency, and implementing strict COVID-19 safety measures, CFNC will stay open and continue to make our mission possible. 

 

About CFNC:

The Child & Family Network Centers (CFNC) is a nonprofit preschool in Alexandria, Virginia that believes in a whole family, whole-child approach to education. We are completely free for families, are located in the neighborhoods where our families live, and are open five days a week, from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm to accommodate working schedules. The majority of our families live at or below 130% of the federal poverty level. 

The Child & Family Network Centers mission is to provide caring, high quality, free education and related services to children and families in their own neighborhoods in order to prepare and empower them for success in school and life. 

Our program addresses the barriers to learning that are caused by living in poverty. Our preschool programming teaches kids the core academic concepts they’ll need in kindergarten through a play-based curriculum, our Family Support Services provides individual case-management to connect families with the resources they need as well as building community through parent-workshops and home visits (virtually this year), and our Health Services addresses health disparities that negatively affect our students’ learning. You can learn more by visiting: cfnc-online.org.
 


1 - Cody Mello-Klein -, et al. “Our View: Arlandria Hit Doubly by COVID-19: Alexandria Times: Alexandria, VA.” Alexandria Times, 22 May 2020, alextimes.com/2020/05/op-ed-arlandria-covid-19/. 

2 - In 2017, the national median wage for early educators was between $10.72 per hour and $13.94 per hour, according to Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, and the University of California, Berkeley.  

3 - “Early Childhood: High Return on Investment - Center for High Impact Philanthropy.” Center for High Impact Philanthropy - University of Pennsylvania, 24 Aug. 2017, www.impact.upenn.edu/early-childhood-toolkit/why-invest/what-is-the-return-on-investment/.