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Early Child Learning And Returning To School With COVID-19: Topics For Park City Council Roundtable

Park City Council’s Friday roundtable discussion focused on COVID-19 impacts to early childhood daycare and learning. They also discussed the challenges for Pre-K through 12 education delivery since schools closed in mid-March.

Early Childhood Alliance Coordinator Kristen Schulz says her group advocates for children and families in the Wasatch Back. They focus on prenatal through 3-year-olds. She says the system before COVID-19 was not optimum. Babies brains are very susceptible to learning in those early years. She says research shows it is critical time for child development. She says investment at this age reaps the highest return. According to Schulz, the childcare system in the U.S. was in crisis before COVID-19.

“Huge increases in dual earner households. We've had a model where it’s a private market and so the childcare providers have to be able to make a profit running a business that frankly, for variety of reasons, is just very hard to make profitable. We've had extremely limited public investment in early childhood years, and I think this is really due to two main factors. There's been a disdain for working mothers historically. And, I think there was a understanding that what you needed to do was keep children healthy until they magically turn 5 and then they were ready to learn and then we would invest in public education.”

COVID-19 public health concerns will put more pressure on childcare centers and Schulz believes this will result in more facilities closing. She says the impact will be long term.

“And those students who attend high quality preschools show substantial economic growth towards their kindergarten readiness. And if you look at Park City's 2020 budget, they've identified the greatest academic need in the Park City School District. And so, we need to recognize that our early childhood system is one of the reasons why we have the achievement gap that we do.”

Schulz says income inequality and rising costs have left many families with few options and they’re unable to find safe and affordable programs that includes appropriate child development curriculum. 
Park City School District Chief Academic Officer Amy Hunt says the children who have quality early childhood learning opportunities are more prepared when they get to kindergarten.

She says transitioning from classroom learning to virtual at home learning was made easier because the school district provides computers for each student.

“It hasn’t been perfect but what I can say is that our educators really championed around this and did their very best work and trying to provide both some online learning that could be done independently with students but also providing the support mechanisms for families to be able to engage in helping support students to learn.”

Hunt says the direction from the state board of education and public health is that schools will be open this fall. She says they’re preparing now and have formed multiple groups of stake holders to make sure it is a safe return in August. 
“And that means both the health and hygiene issues but also those emotional issues. We've had pretty traumatic experiences in the last couple of months and we want to be mindful of how that feels coming back. So we are thinking through all of these things.”

Hunt says they are prepared to help students transition back to school and will be providing individual support as needed.

“The emergency room learning as a result of COVID-19 has really shined a flashlight on some of the opportunities that our students have in their own homes to be able to have the support they need to grow. So coming back, we're very aware that we'll have students at different levels and will have students that will need some additional support.”

The Park City School District master planning priorities include expanding all four elementary schools to provide universal Pre-K.

The state board of education and Utah leads Together has detailed safety guidelines for the reopening of schools this fall. More communication on those guidelines is expected in early July.

A link to the round table meeting can be found here.

KPCW reporter Carolyn Murray covers Summit and Wasatch County School Districts. She also reports on wildlife and environmental stories, along with breaking news. Carolyn has been in town since the mid ‘80s and raised two daughters in Park City.
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