The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly made it clear what a very low rung the Early Childhood Education field has been placed on in Evanston and in our society.
From the very beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, Evanston’s Early Childhood programs have worked tirelessly to alter our environments, implement new safety and cleaning standards, purchase new PPE, enhance our ventilation systems, reconfigure enrollment to allow for smaller groupings of children, and figure out how to remain fiscally solvent with 50% fewer children.
Through weekly Zoom meetings in the spring and summer, our coalition of program directors debated and defined safety protocols, shared research on disinfecting equipment, and waded through what little guidance was available at the time.
All of this occurred in silence, without complaint, as the Early Childhood Education field quickly resigned ourselves to offering a safe as possible refuge for our community’s youngest children so that parents could work. At the same time that we opened our doors, what dominated the press was a very public debate over the safety of getting kids back to school.
Seeing this debate played out over and over in the media was frustrating and demoralizing to those of us who were already providing quality in person care. Still, the Early Childhood field quietly held our tongues.
As the fall school debate dissolved away and Evanston’s elementary school children learned to navigate school on iPads and computers, in person preschool and childcare in Evanston continued on – providing a small semblance of normalcy to children and families during a highly abnormal time.
The challenges of pandemic care for birth-5 year olds can be many: there is no 6-foot social distancing except while eating and sleeping, children under 2 cannot wear masks, and young children require very intimate, close care.
Caring for young children is certainly not a risk-free venture when it comes to the COVID pandemic.
To hear over a month ago that COVID vaccines were given out by Amita Health to District 202 and District 65 teachers (who were all working remotely from the safety of their homes at the time) but not to Evanston’s Early Childhood teachers who had been working in person nurturing our community’s youngest children for over 6 months was a direct affront.
But apparently that decision was made without the City’s input – we’ll cut them a little slack.
Last Friday however, the City of Evanston rolled out a day of vaccinations targeting teachers – all Early Childhood teachers over the age of 58 and any District 65 staff. Apparently, the age limit was only relevant for the Early Childhood teachers.
Even D65 teachers who are still teaching 100% remotely were lined up getting their shots. This last round of vaccinations by the City was a purposeful decision made by fully informed individuals in the face of numerous e-mailed and written letters by concerned directors, teachers and families of our programs who were anticipating the slight our teachers were about to receive. And, sure enough, we were right.
We certainly want all our community’s teachers to be vaccinated as soon as possible but to relegate Early Childhood teachers to the backburner and not consider them on even a level plane with D65 teachers is a clear reflection of the very low status in which the City holds the Early Childhood Community.
This pandemic has made it overwhelmingly clear that Evanston and society at large does not consider Early Childhood Teachers actual educators of our most vulnerable individuals but merely babysitters.
More and more, this pandemic is revealing the many inequities and disparities in our society. Educating a child does not start at the age of 5, in fact, 90% of brain growth is already done by then.
The devaluing of the Early Childhood profession needs to change if we have any hope of providing every child in our community with the best possible start they can have. Evanston’s Early Childhood teachers deserve to be vaccinated with the same parameters and sense of importance as other Evanston educators.
Tina Vanderwarker, Executive Director
Covenant Nursery School
Debbie Boileve, Executive Director
Warren W. Cherry Preschool
Margaret Parcell, Executive Director
Northminster Nursery School
Chrissy Cornell, Executive Director
School for Little Children
Stephen Vick, Executive Director
Infant Welfare Society of Evanston
Bettye Cohns, Executive Director
Reba Early Learning Center
Rosa Mendez, Administrator
Evanston Early Childhood Council
Lindsay Percival, Executive Director
Learning Bridge Early Education Center
Cathy Kurtz, Director
Carol Teske, Executive Director
Childcare Network of Evanston
Angelo Nikolov, Director
Toddler Town Daycare
Nancy Bruski, LCSW
Wise Choice Guidance
Evanston Early Childhood Council