Local child care facilities get ready new school year
Child care centers across Gillespie County are beginning preparations for the new school year. And because of the COVID-19 pandemic, child care centers are implementing new precautions and procedures to keep children safe and healthy.
“An easier answer might be what has stayed the same rather than what has changed, because so much has changed,” Kim Bonillas, director of Kindernest Montessori School said.
“There are unknowns of going back to school and having virtual learning, and we just want to provide our children with a quality experience,” said Stephanie Sanchez, preschool director at Bethany Preschool. “This is a scary time, so we just feel very grateful that we are able to do that and parents continue to trust us to keep their kids healthy.”
New procedures and precautions are being implemented left and right.
Kindernest closed following spring break and reopened June 1. Bethany closed for a short time but has otherwise remained open.
Billies Day Care Center has also been open.
Drop-off is now no-contact at most area facilities, and at Bethany, an app is used. The app also allows parents to directly communicate with teachers about any health-related issues or concerns.
“We have not had our parents in the building since March, so that kind of communication and connection that we have with our families has been a really big change for us,” Sanchez said.
At Billies Day Care, no visitors are allowed inside, unless it is an emergency. Hand washing is done as often as possible and adults are asked to wear masks.
COVID-19 symptoms are strictly monitored at all facilities.
“Every day we do a wellness check and make sure they are not entering (the building) with any kind of fever and have not had any symptoms of COVID-19,” Sanchez said.
If a child develops a fever, they are asked not to return to the school until they have been fever-free for 72 hours without the use of medication. In some cases, a doctor’s note may be required.
If a child or household member tests positive, the child is asked to quarantine for 14 days.
“It’s a different and ever-changing routine,” Bonillas said.
As a result of more diligent health monitoring, the facilities have seen fewer kids sick with things like strep and the stomach bug.
Classes are separated for most of the day, with groups spacing their time outside.
“We have two teachers per classroom so we can better separate students,” Jennifer Weaver, director of Billie Kids Day Care Center said. “When one group is inside, the other group can be outside.”
School and art supplies are also being issued to each individual child, rather than sharing.
Social distancing with younger children is something that isn’t realistic, so extra sanitation and disinfecting is key.
“We are sanitizing frequently touched surfaces a lot more, sanitizing toys more frequently,” Sanchez said.
“We are cleaning everything daily, sometimes even more frequently than normal,” Weaver said.
New school year
Typically, Kindernest will still operate when Fredericksburg Independent School District is not in session. This year, Kindernest will close when FISD closes, allowing for extra sanitation and cleaning.
Billie Kids Day Care is open 283 days of the year, including professional development days.
At Bethany, the school will host a meet-the-teacher night. Families will make reservations in order to limit the number of people coming in and out of the building.
“We get those first-day jitters just like everyone else and so we want to welcome every one of our students and our families,” Sanchez said. “We also want to make sure we are in tune to what the kids fears are and how we can handle those in an age-appropriate way.”
Adapting to the ‘new normal’
Sanchez said both the staff and the children at Bethany are ready to get back to the new normal.
Bonillas said that her staff has done a great job adapting to the new changes.
A lot of times this means coming to work earlier, working later, the addition of more staff and more sanitizing, Bonillas said.
“Our staff has done a really good job of pitching in and doing what they need to do,” she said. “At the end of the day, teaching and being with the kids is really what drives our staff so they are going to do whatever they can. It just might mean more coffee.”
Sanchez noted that parents are grateful for the normalcy that the preschool is providing.
“The feedback I am getting is parents thanking us for making it normal, making it a place their kids can come and feel safe and taken care of,” Sanchez said.
Both Bonillas and Sanchez noted how resilient the children have been during this time.
“They are troopers,” Bonillas said. “It breaks my heart when you see the fear they have for their parents or grandparents. They don’t want them to get sick or go to the hospital.”
Availability at child care centers remains few and far between. Most have waiting lists, one of which had over 60 kids.
“We have had pretty good enrollment this summer because the need is so high,” Sanchez said.
At Bethany, the capacity is 150 kids and they have about 60 on the waiting list.
“A lot of these names have been on our list for over a year,” Sanchez said.
For Kindernest, the center is accepting fewer children in order to better practice social distancing.
“Our capacity is 85 and we rarely take that many so we can avoid overcrowding,” Bonillas said. “We normally have about 70-72 full-time children, not including the children who are a part of our after-school program.”
This year, Kindernest will only be accepting about 60 full-time children.
“We still have parents on our waitlist but many have opted to just keep their children at home a little longer,” Bonillas said. “Families are being extra cautious right now.”
At Billies Kids Day Care Center, the infant and toddler rooms are at capacity, with 13 per class.
The facility’s primary focus is children of Fredericksburg ISD employees, but the facility is open to the public.
Currently, the preschool room has space available as well as about 10 spots open for kids ages 5-10.
“We are open and we are offering care for older kids until school starts as well as after-school care,” Weaver said.