Preschools wrapping up summer and getting ready for fall

Showing how to successfully deal with COVID

By Katherine Nettles

Local preschools in the north valley have adjusted to new public health protocols and succeeded in keeping their kids healthy this summer, and now look toward the start of the fall season with new adaptations and some take-aways to share. One local preschool has also purchased a major new piece of disinfecting equipment to prepare for the school year ahead.

The directors of Little Red Schoolhouse in Crested Butte South and Paradise Preschool and Stepping Stones in Crested Butte have each reported that despite a few scares, no children or teachers tested positive for COVID-19 since reopening in early May.

Each program has maintained its usual summertime outdoor field trips or “adventure camp” each week, with extra focus on walkable destinations and additional cleaning and distance measures when using school vehicles. Currently parents are not coming into any of the buildings and each center is conducting drop-off and pick-up outside to help minimize indoor germs.

“We are back to busy at Little Red, and doing great! No positive cases of COVID in 11 weeks!” wrote Little Red Schoolhouse’s director Jessica Rutherford by e-mail. “The older kids are doing great wearing masks, and our twice-daily temperature taking and disinfecting seem to be keeping everyone well. We have had a couple kids test out of precaution because they had a fever, but it turned out to be a teething fever. We have had no outside visitors all summer.

“[We’re] a bit worried as to what’s to come with all of the tourists this summer, but trying to keep the school as healthy as possible,” added Rutherford. “It may be inevitable that we have a bit of an outbreak, but I am super hopeful. Very happy as to how it has gone so far, and the kids are loving their summer at school!”

Stepping Stones director Jennifer Burks wrote, “Things have been going really well since we opened on May 4. We have had zero COVID-19 cases. I think the small group sizes with the same 10 kids and two teachers every day has really been helping. As well as mask wearing, temperature taking, excess hand washing and excess cleaning and disinfecting. Parents are being extra cautious, not bringing their kids to school if themselves or their children even have a small cold.

“We have had three parents and their kids get tested because they were exposed, but all came back negative. We have had two teachers get tested due to exposure and also came back negative. They do, however, have to take the days off while they await their test results, which can be difficult. We did not take in any tourist or out of town drop-in families this summer. This helped [us] keep to our small class sizes and also helped our year-round families feel more secure,” explained Burks.

Paradise director Ben Poswalk echoed the same review of summer’s success. “We have been fortunate enough to not have any reports of COVID illness in our center. With the increased efforts by our staff we have seen a reduction of any and all illnesses as well. We remain cautiously optimistic that these efforts will help continue to prevent a rise in illnesses in our Paradise Place family,” he wrote.

Additionally, Paradise has started using the Brightwheel Preschool app for “touchless” parent and child check-in and check-out, and shares daily updates, messages and photos using the app as well. Paradise also announced last week that it had purchased a Halo disinfecting mist system for its facilities.

“While we know that in these financially uncertain times for a non-profit to spend $10,000 may sound astronomical,” wrote Poswalk, but the preschool board of directors approved the request to allow teachers to spend less time cleaning and more time teaching and caring for students. “In addition it will be a more effective and efficient method of disinfecting the whole building reaching spaces that would be nearly impossible to disinfect with traditional cleaning methods,” he wrote.

As school districts across the state agonize over if, when or how to conduct in-person learning this fall for school-age students, the preschools have some experience to offer.

Rutherford says, “To the big school parents who are worried about masks, the kids get used to it quick! We were amazed how well they did and now it’s really no big deal at all. They are super resilient—more than I would’ve thought.”

Burks says, “My suggestions for the Community School is, if at all possible, keep the class sizes small and keep the same kids with the same teachers daily. Disinfect and sanitize rooms between uses that are being shared between multiple classrooms.

“Keep your masks on all the time while inside, wash hands all the time, make sure kids and families who are even a little bit sick stay home, take those temperatures in the mornings and afternoons. Stepping Stones has remained diligent with our new COVID-19 policies and procedures and it’s worked for two-and-a-half months, so I feel confident in the Community reopening if you stay the course,” concludes Burks.

Poswalk says, “Our best advice to any program would be to maintain systems and policies to ensure that proper cleaning and disinfecting and wellness checks for staff and students are monitored and documented daily. This ensures that all policy and procedures are followed by all staff and families, keeping everyone healthy and safe.”

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