It’s Different, but it Works!

Dec 15, 2020

What is a Loyola Early Learning Center classroom like, now that we’re physically back in school but still coping with a coronavirus pandemic? We’ve asked two of our teachers to tell you.

Danielle Dawkins

Danielle Dawkins has been with LELC since we opened in 2017 and is a lead teacher for Pre-K-2 students. Leslie Lacey joined the faculty in 2019 as an assistant teacher for Pre-K-3 and this year became a lead teacher in Pre-K-4.

My 2-year-olds—five girls, four boys—are wonderful high-energy kids who keep me and my assistant teacher, Imani Sims, on our toes.

Danielle Dawkins

Danielle Dawkins

Lead Teacher
Pre-K-2

These are the school’s younger Pre-K-2s. When they came to us in September, they had never been away from home or their parents before. They weren’t very vocal. For the first couple of weeks, they cried a lot.  But we’re seeing major growth already. Now, they are telling us what they want or need rather than crying. They’re adjusting well to the routines of class.

At first, they didn’t understand that everyone had a personal carpet square for circle time. But by October, they were each pulling out their own squares so we could sit together to sing, to learn our letter and number of the week, and to learn our shapes and colors. Our theme in late October was pumpkins. In art, we painted pumpkins. At story time, we read books about pumpkins.

Our 2-year-olds can’t wear masks, but Ms. Imani and I do. The children wash their hands frequently: when they arrive at 8:30 before breakfast, at potty times, before lunch and nap, and when they get ready to go home.

The major obstacle for Ms. Imani and me in the pandemic is communication with and help for the parents and families. We’re not just teachers; we’re coaches, nurses, social workers and more, all in one.

But with rules in place for quick daily drop- offs and pickups, we’re not able to talk in depth with parents about their children— how they’re feeling, how they’re doing, approaches parents can take at home as we did before Covid.

We do now have a tool called ClassDojo that parents log into. We send a daily report and post pictures and videos for parents to see. We ask them to message us directly if they have any questions or concerns. A good relationship with our parents is critical.

We work to build trust with the families who leave their 2-year-olds with us. Working remotely in spring and summer was a challenge, especially at first. It was difficult for children so young to sit still at a screen. Every so often, we switched to do- ing motor skills—like dancing—to keep their attention. But at least the kids were already familiar with our faces, and eventually they were able to sit still for up to 30 minutes.

Leslie Lacy

I have eight Pre-K-4 students this year, five in person and three whose families have chosen, for Covid reasons, to keep them home. I call them my Zoomers.

We tried at first to have them Zoom into class during the school day. That didn’t work well. All the Zoomers could hear were the kids in the classroom, and we in class could all hear other family members trying to work in their homes.

Now, I teach my Zoomers in the evenings when I get home, one on one. They each have my complete attention for 40 minutes. For the first few minutes, they just talk away about what they did all day. They can’t wait to tell you! (One of them FaceTimed me on a recent Saturday just because he wanted to tell me something.)

Leslie Lacy

Leslie Lacy

Lead Teacher
Pre-K-4

Then we get to work. We talk about our letter of the week and think about words with that letter. They practice writing their letters. I show them the whiteboard from class that day, or show them photos from class. That helps keep them connected.

One advantage we have is that I was with this same group of kids last year, as an assistant teacher with the Pre-K-3s. So both Zoomers and in-class children knew me well when I moved up with them to Pre-K-4.

To help us all maintain social distance, LELC moved my classroom across Madison Street to Ignatian Hall in the basement of the church. Assistant teacher Marisol Poling and I spent two weeks getting our new space ready. We love it! It’s really large and flexible. The kids do miss seeing their friends from the other class of 4-year-olds, but some- times we Zoom with them.

Ms. Marisol is bilingual and helps three students who speak Spanish at home with their English, but also teaches Spanish words to everyone. All the kids love to go on walks around Mount Vernon to collect things from nature like acorns and leaves, or to spot things listed on their clipboards, like bumblebees. We’ll go to the monument and talk about George Washington. We saw Fr. Watters on the street the other day. He hasn’t been able to visit our classroom, because of Covid rules, and the kids were all ecstatic to see him. “Fr. Watters, Fr. Watters!” they yelled.

To tell the truth, it is a long day for me, teaching both in-person and remotely. It’s working for now. But we all would prefer for everyone to be in class. I hope things get better, not worse, with the pandemic, so everyone can come back soon.