By Beth Lederer and JohnTaylor Wildfeuer
It has been a long two years for City College’s CDEV Labschools as they have eagerly awaited the full reopening of their in-person childcare and toddler programs.
Childhood Development (CDEV) Lab Schools closed in March 2020 when pandemic restrictions forced many businesses to close in San Francisco, some permanently. When the City College preschool and toddler program shuttered in March 2020 its committed staff shifted to remote learning.
Enrollment at the Labschool programs saw the same downward trend as other daycares throughout the country.
Many daycares and their staff have been hit hard with parents and caregivers in a mutual, knotted struggle to continually adapt for communal safety while weighing economic losses in the second year of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
Analysis of an online survey conducted by The Harris Poll found that six in ten parents in the U.S. with children under 18 reported that childcare responsibilities made necessary by the COVID-19 pandemic have negatively impacted their ability to get ahead in their careers.
Akiyo Mineo-Aldis, who has worked for City College for 21 years, processes applications in the college’s Child Development Lab School, and says she is often “the first person to speak with families.”
City College uses Early Learning SF, an online tool created by the San Francisco Office of Early Care and Education, to waitlist families for local preschools and connect them with financial aid services offered at the state and local levels.
Qualification and enrollment priority are determined by family size and income for the program, which is supported by the California State Preschool Program through the Child Development Department of Education, which has provided funding since City College’s childcare programs began in the 1980s.
The Ocean Campus care facilities are in bungalows 212 and 213 and include a toddler program for families with children 18 months to three years of age, and a preschool program with children up to age five. Preschool facilities on the Mission Campus provide care for children aged three to five.
Mineo-Aldis recalled that the schools were closed on March 13, 2020. Almost two years later they reopened a week apart. The facility on Ocean Campus reopened on Jan. 31, and was followed by Mission Campus on Feb. 7.
Throughout the pandemic closure, the college’s care facilities have continued their classes, over Zoom thirty minutes a day, three to four days a week.
Describing the way distance learning was implemented, Mineo-Aldis said, “Tuesday was community building, Circle Time … Wednesday was book reading, and then Thursday was … music and movement.”
In addition to these planned activities, teachers communicated with students individually once each week, and parents in the Mission campus made time to meet with other families at local parks,
“We [and the children] are craving real kids,” Mineo-Aldis said.
Many parents opted to seek care for their children at other facilities because, as Mineo-Aldis said, “City College didn’t get to reopen in person … so we lost a lot of children.” Of the ten she recalled enrolling, only three stayed.
At full capacity, she said the Ocean Campus could have 50 pre-school children in a full-day program, which, with Mission Campus’ 40 spots in its half-day program, could serve more than eight times that of its 11 currently enrolled students. The Ocean campus also has spots for 16 toddlers in their toddler program (18 months -3 years). Currently all sixteen spots are available.
However, with facilities reopening for drop-off care, and staff members from the Mission Campus facility helping to communicate with Spanish-speaking families, Mineo-Aldus has at least five new applicants, and three new students scheduled to start March 1.
Rosario Villasana is the Chair of the Child Family Studies Department, Norma Villaza is the
site coordinator at the Mission Campus Lab schools, and Sheila Norman is the site coordinator
for the Ocean Campus Lab schools.
In an interview with The Guardsman the three said they are very pleased that City College students, who have enrollment priority, can start using the in-person childcare services again.
Villazana described their January reopening as a “minor miracle,” albeit one that posed unique enrollment challenges. She said, “… by January people have their children in a program for the school year,” as families would be seeking programs in September that run the full school year.
The Lab Schools are following the Return to Campus Plan, with teachers taking extreme care in setting up the environment and social distancing. Windows are kept open, air purifiers are run, outdoor play is prioritized, and best practices are followed regarding sanitation.
The program also has a Public Health Nurse from the Department of Public Health that works closely with them on any matters of concern. They also work with First Five who helps them stay abreast of the latest CDC and early childhood safety regulations.
The programs are capping the number of Children attending to around 24 keeping the
enrollment to half of what it usually is.
Pursuing the Mission
As a half-day program aimed at serving a college not still fully open, Mission Campus has its own unique enrollment barriers. The care facility in the Mission serves a higher population of Latinx parents than that of Ocean Campus, and there was a digital divide.
There were parents who didn’t know how to use the technology for remote learning, others for whom English was a factor, some struggling to connect to wi-fi or maintain a stable internet connection, or navigating a small space with many family members taking different classes at the same time.
Villasana said, “Before the pandemic the college wasn’t doing enough to support the
students so it’s been really challenging … [They] need more services, students
need a lot more support.”
Outside of the central eligibility platform Early Learning SF, students can fill out their paperwork in person on the Ocean Campus in bungalow 213, or on Mission Campus in room 172 of the Bartlett building, and be placed on the waitlist immediately.
The Ocean Campus Child Development Lab School is open every weekday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. except on Fridays when it closes at 2:30 p.m. for teachers to meet. The Mission Campus
Is open half-day, the hours from 8:30 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.