Keeping Watch

For Open Childcare Centers, Precaution Is Everything

How one preschool is handling its designation of being an essential business.

By Timothy Malcolm April 23, 2020

The Easter Bunny greets cars at a parade at Childrens Lighthouse in Cypress.

All Houston schools are closed, but you may be interested to know that some childcare centers and preschools are still very much open.

Like my children's, for instance. My three-year-old and one-year-old daughters attend separate childcare centers currently, and both remain in operation while the city stays relatively closed because of the spread of COVID-19. My wife and I have chosen not to send them to school at this time.

But why are childcare centers open?

"We made a commitment to serve the community and provide families with safe, quality, and educational childcare," says Jessica Wilson, owner of Childrens Lighthouse Cypress-Canyon Lakes in the Cypress area. "We intend to remain open to fulfill that commitment, especially for essential workers, who need to ensure their children are being cared for while they're at work."

Childrens Lighthouse and other centers across the area are open because they've been deemed essential and can play a key role in ensuring those who are working full-time, especially away from home, have plans for childcare. About 25 percent of the normal capacity of students Children's Lighthouse are currently attending class, but children of essential workers in the Copperfield Place and Cypress area can be enrolled during the stay-home order issued in Harris County. Families of those children must go through a screening process, first.

Despite this decrease in student population, all teachers at Childrens Lighthouse remain employed and are working through the order. Some are working from home where they're developing curriculum, hosting virtual story times, and making masks for the community. For those that are going in daily, the school is sanitizing anything that's been touched by a teacher or student, including operating a ZONO Technologies cabinet that cleans toys, equipment, and other items. (ZONO's cabinet has yet to be tested against COVID-19, but it has proven effective at killing norovirus.) The school is also checking everyone's temperature before entering. Class sizes have been reduced to no more than nine children, and drop-off and pick-up stations have been designed with social distancing considerations.

"Childcare workers and teachers are working extremely hard and are some of the more under-recognized people in this pandemic," says Wilson, who added that the school has contracted a counselor who is available to teleconference with teachers when they need support. "(The teachers) are providing continuity and stability for our students. I’m extremely proud of the way our teachers have responded to this situation."

Through this, families opting not to send their children aren't being penalized. Those families aren't required to pay during the order, while their spot remains held.

Childrens Lighthouse also did something for all of its kids and parents, and it's the kind of gesture that's been seen with childcare centers throughout the country. Two weekends ago, families of students were invited to drive past the school, while teachers waved and held signs reading "We love you." The Easter bunny was there, too, taking photos with each car.

On Wednesday, my three-year-old daughter visited school with my wife to pick up packets and school pictures taken over the winter. From a distance my three-year-old said hello to her teacher, and through my wife, gave her a card that read "I miss you."

In the minutes afterward, my daughter had been keeping quiet. My wife asked her if she was sad, and immediately my daughter burst into tears.

My daughter understands what's happening, but to an extent—essentially she knows "germs" are causing her life to be different. For nearly the entire time during this stay-home order, she has shown strength, barely ever expressing sadness. Wednesday was tough, a reminder that times are unusual.

Here's hoping that usual comes sooner rather than later, and that teachers everywhere are rewarded for their work.

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