By LAURA WEICK On the grade school side of the Romerry School for Young Children, students are separated into single desks, spaced apart from each other and bordered by PlexiGlass. All high contact surfaces are frequently sanitized. And although
On the grade school side of the Romerry School for Young Children, students are separated into single desks, spaced apart from each other and bordered by PlexiGlass. All high contact surfaces are frequently sanitized. And although children are not yet required to wear masks, older school-age students will need to once their schools begin in-person classes (preschoolers are exempt). What once seemed like a dystopian nightmare for adults is old hat for these youngsters half a year into the pandemic.
“What’s the first thing you do when you get here in the morning?” Terri Medeiros asks her group of daycare students, ages 5-9.
A choir of children reply: “Wash your hands.”
“How about when you are done playing with the bucket of toys?”
“Wash your hands.”
The refrain continues on loop. Before and after eating lunch. Before and after playing outside. Before and after using dry-erase markers.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, students would typically attend daycare for a few hours before or after school during the academic year. But students engaged in distance learning with busy parents may need to stay at daycare centers like the Romerry School for most of the typical “school day.”
Grade-school students, kindergarten/preschool students and toddlers are separated into groups with a maximum of 12 students each. Since daycare centers have been open statewide since June 1, little will change for younger students. Students in first and second grades, however, will have to juggle the socialization offered at daycares with schoolwork and staying safe. Students will be taking different courses from their respective schools, often online and on laptops provided by their individual districts.
Although the governor has ordered school districts to open completely in-person by Oct. 13, some schools, such as Warwick public schools, have opted for a remote start to the school year. Students at the Romerry School come from different school districts and operate on different schedules, so Medeiros has described planning activities for children to participate in when school starts either in-person or remotely depending on the child as “choreography of scheduling.”
So far, only one of the daycare’s students has started school: Poom Thavonnitidon from Griswold, Connecticut whose parents work in Rhode Island. He has a paper clock set in his pod that shows what times he has classes online.
“It’s more fun,” Poom said about his online classes. “Because I get to talk with my friends a lot.”
Medeiros is not charging parents any more for school-aged daycare than she did for summer camp, citing parents’ financial concerns as millions lose their job during the pandemic. School aged children can attend the daycare for $130 a week.
Even outside of academics, students are learning new things. William Leach, a student in the grade school daycare class, has taken up drawing. He enjoys doodling video game characters from Sonic the Hedgehog and Minecraft, and Medeiros explained that distance learning has forced students to get creative in terms of what they can achieve.
“This gets these guys to do that, because they just kind of naturally started looking at what they could bring into their pod,” Medeiros said. “When you look at all the supplies you ask what you would like to bring into your pod and then from that kind of organically.”
Daycare is about more than just learning. Medeiros said that although students miss being able to share toys with or play directly with their friends, the kids have generally looked on the bright side of the situation. Whether they play a game of chess on one side of a PlexiGlass divider, or play a game of “freeze dance,” the children make sure to find something to keep Medeiros on her toes.
“These guys have been awesome about it, they've found it very fun,” Medeiros said. “The first thing they did when they saw this was ‘Can we write pictures to our friends?’ So they all have their own set of dry erase markers. So it's been really kind of fun for them.”
Since scientists believe COVID-19 is less likely to spread outdoors than inside, the class goes outside more than usual. The daycare has a small playground that has to be disinfected after use, but students also leave the classroom for other tasks.
“We're outside all the time, so even on the rainy days we picnic under our tunnel,” Medeiros said.” We do our storytime for preschoolers outside. We are outside all the time because it's just safer. And so these guys, I even let them do their Chromebooks [outside]. We had two kids up the top of the playscape, two kids under the tunnel and there will be times during distance learning that they'll be able to do their schoolwork outside. We're happy to do that, until it gets cold.”
Although Medeiros and her students are glad to interact in some capacity, she admits that there is nothing quite like fully interacting with students.
“I haven't hugged a child since March,” Medeiros said. “That's really sad, it makes me want to cry every time I say it. But we do high foot now, instead of high five. That was creative, they came up with that. It's fun. But it's not the same as spontaneous human contact.”
Meideiros isn’t the only one to feel lonely, even when surrounded by socially distanced peers.
“Do we want it to end?” she asks her student, Mariyla Mambro.
“I don’t want the pods to end,” Mariyla says, fidgeting with a stuffed animal. “But I want to be in the pods with my friends.”