Toddler babble and a strong odor of disinfectant greets visitors when they walk into the Augustana Campus Learning Center (CLC). The staff wear an array of colorful masks as they interact with the children in both the toddler and preschool classrooms.
The CLC is open exclusively to Augustana faculty and students for childcare. Toddlers and preschoolers are given an environment to interact and learn with their young peers. Following the closure of the Augustana campus in the spring, attendance dropped significantly from 35 to around 20 children.
In order to stay open during the pandemic, the CLC has implemented a number of changes, including staff and visitor mask mandates. Director of the CLC Judy Knadel said they follow the CDC guidelines for sanitation to the letter. The toddler and preschool classes are separated throughout the day to limit exposure.
“I don’t get to interact with the staff and children like I used to. I am in the office more and that bothers me, but I know it’s necessary,” said Knadel.
There have been no reported cases of COVID-19 from CLC staff members or children so far. However, there have been individuals who have quarantined.
Freshman staff member Breanna Bostick quarantined for a few days over the summer when she was waiting for her COVID-19 test results. With pollen in the air, Bostick said she has found it difficult to discern whether her symptoms are COVID-19 or allergy induced. Bostick wears her mask as much as possible and reduces the amount of people she comes in contact with in order to reduce the risk of bringing the virus into the daycare center.
Masks are a shared concern among the staff because toddlers are still learning about facial expressions and phonics in class.
“Since they can’t really see my mouth, I have to express with my eyebrows,” Bostick said. “I have to speak louder, and sometimes it’s hard to tell if I’m speaking too loud because they can’t hear me as well as if I wasn’t wearing a mask. But sometimes they might feel like I am yelling at them when I’m not.”
Even though the children are not expected to wear facemasks, Bostick said some kids wear masks from home to copy staff and their parents. Though the Peppa Pig or Paw Patrol masks do not stay on for long, the children themselves are adapting to their new environment.
Knadel has tried many different ways to show expressions while remaining safe. In April, she started using a face shield but quickly realized that since the children are below her, they would still be exposed to her water droplets. As she tried different combinations, Knadel settled on placing her face shield upside down. This way the air would be directed upwards, and the children would be able to see how to pronounce sounds and letter combinations.
The time and compassion each staff member has invested into the CLC is evident to parents. Chemistry professor Andrew Klose of the said he trusts the precautions that the administration has taken to keep students safe. When the university transitioned to online learning in the spring, Klose found it difficult to teach classes remotely while taking care of his three daughters.
The decision to continue enrolling his youngest daughter in the CLC was not taken lightly, however. Klose was anxious to get his three year old back into a routine.
“I accept that responsibility for myself and my family to do this and working about community transmission,” Klose said.
Not all parents are comfortable sending their children to a larger daycare. Philosophy professor Leigh Vicens considered enrolling her youngest a few years ago but opted for a Catholic school with a single teacher for the classroom.
In May, Vicens considered enrolling her children in the CLC’s summer program before student staff members were exposed to the inevitable increase of COVID-19 cases in the fall, but there were no openings left for that time.
“We wanted our kids to be in the lowest risk care setting possible, and we thought having multiple college students in their classrooms would not be ideal,” said Vicens.
Even with the CLC’s precautions, childcare is difficult for parents to balance in a pandemic, especially when trying to make the best decision for a child’s health.
“In the end, it’s just kind of a balance of understanding risk and accepting risk — or not accepting risk,” Klose said.
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