Caring for a group of toddlers while social distancing at a child care center. It’s hard, but it can be done. During this edition of Ed Lab Live, short conversations with people on the frontlines of the rapidly changing world of education, we talk to Alfonso Campos with Launch. Campos is part of a team providing child care for essential workers. Here he discusses the extra steps his nonprofit is taking to keep families safe and how they explain the pandemic to small children.

This was the first of a series of short, virtual events. Find the schedule for upcoming conversations below. You can check out recordings of other past events here.

Alfonso Campos is a regional director with Launch, a non-profit that provides learning opportunities for children in preschool through age 12. Now he’s a front line child care worker. Learn what it’s like to do this work during the pandemic.

Upcoming conversations:

Monday, May 4, at noon — Kristie Wong with Kandelia talks about supporting immigrants and refugees during the pandemic.

Wednesday, May 6, at noon — Yazmin Aguilar with Centro Latino discusses how young people can advocate for themselves and their communities from home.

Monday, May 11, at noon — Page Ahead helps young kids develop and maintain reading skills, partially by giving them books. Susan Dibble talks about ways to support literacy during the pandemic. Register for this event here.

Tuesday, May 12, at 11:30 AM— Virginia Burton is this year’s Truman Scholar from Washington. In this break from pandemic news, Virginia discusses how her life changed when after a tumultuous life she went back to university in her 40s, and the strength she gained from that path to push for criminal justice reform. Register for this event here.

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Email ahillman@seattletimes.com with suggestions of future guests. Find the recordings of other conversations here.

FULL VIDEO TRANSCRIPT, LIGHTLY EDITED:

Anne Hillman: Hi, and I’d like to welcome everybody to our first ever Ed Lab Live event. I’m Anne Hillman, I’m the engagement editor with Education Lab at The Seattle Times. Alfonso, would you like to introduce yourself?

Alfonso Campos: Yes, my name is Alfonso Campos, and I’m a regional director at Launch, which is a nonprofit child care organization.

Anne: So, normally for Ed Lab we’d love to bring people together to have conversations around what’s affecting our lives. Clearly the in-person-conversation-thing can’t really happen right now, so we are trying these just short events that bring you closer to people who are really out in the field and changing lives every day right now. Which is why Alfonso is here because he can talk a lot about what it’s like to be a child care worker right now.

So thank you for being here. Thank you for everyone who is tuning in. I do have this big list of questions in front of me, but I don’t want to ask all of them; I would much rather hear from all of you.

If you look at the bottom of your screen, there’s a little thing that says “Ask a Question.” I’ll be monitoring that to see any questions from the audience. You can also vote on people’s questions and we can monitor when they’re being asked and answered.

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Let’s go live.

I was hoping you could just start a little bit with kind of what it’s like to be a child care worker nowadays.

Alfonso Campos: It’s definitely smaller. It’s very meticulous, making sure that we’re you know, performing all the daily required health checks that we are supposed to do now. It can also be fun at times because I get to hang out with students again, and other human beings, which is fun sometimes, but it’s definitely different. A lot more space between children and adults. No more adults allowed into buildings. So it’s definitely different from what it used to be. And we’re just trying to make it as safe and fun and, you know, academic as possible for the children.

Anne: You keep bringing up safety; like what does that look like?

Alfonso: I think for starters, it’s you know, being up to date with as much information as possible. You know, as we all know, everything keeps constantly changing. And then another thing to be mindful of now too is how much misinformation is kind of available all the time now. We are trying to kind of teach children to be able to be conscious of information, you know, not everything you hear is correct information.

So we start with making sure we know what to do. And then doing those things that are going to keep us safe, whether that be temperature checks, three times a day, morning, lunch, and then right before they go home, just to ensure we’re monitoring their temperature, just monitoring symptoms. If we notice anything, just being very diligent, making sure we’re communicating with parents. Anything that we may observe. Staying away from each other, you know. Gone are the games of tag where you have to physically tag somebody. Now it’s how do we come up games that teach children to play a different version?

Anne: Can you describe one?

Alfonso: Yeah, so we originally brought out jump ropes because they’re very long and you can, you know, keep a lot of space between people and that’s kind of been our measuring standard right now. I’m like, hey, make sure you guys are staying away, one jump rope’s length away. A lot of jump roping has been done, a lot of double dutch and stuff like that. So there are some activities still.

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We got to think a little bit more as to what those can be.

Anne: How young are the kids you’re working with right now?

Alfonso: The ages range from 3 years old all the way up to 12 years old. We serve preschool at one preschool classroom and one school-age classroom, which is a mix of kindergarteners through fifth grade. And then preschoolers where I’m specifically at is just only 4-year-olds. That’s just been a coincidence. We take 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds, but right now we solely have 4-year-olds for some reason.

Anne: So a lot of the other child care workers I’ve talked to are like, yeah, you try keeping a whole bunch of 3- and 4-year-olds off of one another.

Alfonso: Yeah, it’s very challenging. One thing we have to our advantage now is that we’ve been open for a couple of weeks, so we have that routine. And we’ve been very diligent in making sure we do the same things every day. Everybody knows the why. We tell them what our expectations are, then we try to hold everybody accountable, staff included. Making sure we’re doing the same things we asked for the children.

And then I think when it comes to younger children, I just think that consistency of doing it all the time, every day will, you know, eventually sink in. Obviously, it’s challenging to, you know, tell a preschooler not to hug you or give you a high-five but we’re you know, finding ways around it. Give me an air-hug or air-high-five and what are some other things we can do to show to show some affection and appreciation for others without actually physically touching.

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Anne: One of the people tuned in is asking what kind of precautions do you share with parents or guardians to make sure that the kids don’t arrive with coronavirus from home?

Alfonso: Our enrollment process is through the city of Seattle right now. So they have their own kind of precautionary things that they screen for and they do. But for me, just kind of some of the things I’m mindful of making sure that they are consistently feeling the same way, right? I don’t notice any of those symptoms that we might be not aware of. And then I just try to communicate with parents as much as possible. If you notice anything, it’s OK, this person maybe has a high temperature, we’re going to go ahead and place them away from everybody else, call for a pickup immediately. And then take it from there. If they do exhibit symptoms, it’s you know, do the standard timeline for exhibiting symptoms, whether I think it’s stay in quarantine for a prolonged amount of time, just making sure that you know, once you are ready to leave the house it’s because you’re healthy. Same with masks. Masks have become kind of a challenge too, because, you know, because it keeps constantly changing whether you should, you shouldn’t. Our thing is if you’re here it’s because you’re healthy, so please don’t wear a mask just because you think, “Hey, I might be more prone to getting COVID right now” — then maybe you shouldn’t return. Just so we’re all just being safe and we don’t want to risk any, any sort of contraction.

Anne: Do the kids react differently to people when they have masks on, like the visual?

Alfonso: We’ve had conversations, especially with the younger children, about why people are wearing masks. And we’re just trying to kind of put a positive connotation on it. I like to just say that, hey, you know, there’s ninjas now who like to keep everybody safe by wearing those masks. Things like that, where we’re just kind of putting a preschool touch to it. So OK, it kind of resonates a little bit more with them. For the older children, it’s more just answering their questions and saying “I don’t know” when you truly don’t know because, you know, I’m not an expert in this, obviously, and it’s letting them know I’ll try my best to find out. Or sharing with them the information that I have about masks — “Hey, I’ve seen a lot of you know, graphs where it shows, if you wear a mask and you know, you can help others by making sure that when you sneeze, your sneeze is covered, you don’t have to worry about you know, doing a Dracula cloak on your elbow. You’re covered.” So yeah, just try to be there for them and just kind of just answer any question that they might have.

Anne: So those are the sort of practical “OK, this is what I see in the street” kind of question. What about these bigger, I want to say existential questions, like, the bigger everything’s different now, like, my world is different now. How do you have those conversations with kids?

Alfonso: You just try to, I don’t know, just kind of explain to them but it’s everybody’s duty. It’s everybody’s responsibility now to keep others safe. And that’s why we want to make sure that grandma is safe, and if it means having to wash our hands for the duration of the alphabet that’s going to make grandma safer.

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Let’s, you know, go ahead and keep reminding them that so they are more more responsible, you know, for the community. And then kind of just approaching it holistically to letting them know hey, you know, you’re here because your mommy or your daddy is a doctor or a grocery store worker or a policeman or fireman, and they have to go to work so that other people are safe. So it is now your responsibility to make sure that you are safe, while your parents do what they have to do.

And just kind of letting them know like, if we all work together, you know, hopefully soon this will be all over. And everybody did a really good job because they were able to do a good job.

Anne: Another question from the community. How many kids do you usually serve and how many are you serving now? What do you need to know? What do you need in order to serve more?

Alfonso: Sure, so specifically for the region that I work at, which is the Central District, I’m usually at two different schools and combined it is probably around 200 students that I would work with on a daily basis. And now it’s gone down to 14 students. So drastically smaller. You know, which is just to ensure the health and safety of everyone, making sure that we have enough space just between bodies, clearing out furniture, making sure everybody, you know, their desk is far away from somebody else’s desk. So it’s definitely different. But you know, that’s kind of the world we live in now.

Anne: Are you, now that you’ve got some older kids with you all day who wouldn’t necessarily be there all day, what are you doing to keep them academically on track?

Alfonso: We are working with Seattle Public Schools. They have been providing physical academic learning packets for children.

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We have been in communication about the children that we have, specifically if anybody has a specific plan that we can hopefully, you know, work on together. And then making sure that we’re still in communication with their teachers.

I will say, a testament to Seattle Public School teachers, they’ve been very passionate about making sure that those children continue their education away from home. Just connecting them to those resources. Right now a challenge we’ve been facing is access to technology. There’s a lot of materials available online, resources for students, but because we’re kind of limited in our spaces and our funding right now, it’s kind of hard to just get, you know, a couple of computers where the children can actually do some of that work that they have. But for the most part, it’s just them working with our teachers and their school teachers, their public school teachers to ensure that we’re completing that coursework they’re providing weekly.

Anne: Cool. All right, more community questions. The first is, are you only serving essential families? Are you open to anyone in the community?

Alfonso: Yes, right now it is for essential families only. First responders, front-line workers, anybody who is in need of the service, right. I know. We’re also available to families who are homeless and just some sort of facing some sort of insecurities that child care can be of service. We provide it for them.

Anne: All right. And then do families have to pay for care?

Alfonso: No, it is absolutely free. It is made possible with a couple of community partners. Again, city of Seattle has provided some support. Seattle Public Schools has provided support, and there’s others too.

Anne: I know a lot of child care providers are really concerned right now financially, because normally they’re serving so many more kids and they had various other forms of income. Is the support you’re getting enough?

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Alfonso: No, I would say, you know, which is the case from other providers as well, I think you know, we have the privilege of being one of the first and only providers open just because you know, we are physically in school buildings. So it made more sense for us to be one of the first ones. But you know that you’re right. There’s other providers that aren’t getting that funding, that revenue that they’re used to. And, you know, it’s hard for them to be sustainable right now and perhaps even come back. That’s one of the things that we talked about recently is what is child care going to look like when this is over? Who’s going to be left? And I think that’s definitely something to think about now to see how we can help those.

Anne: Which brings us straight to the next question. What can the community do to help at this point?

Alfonso: Donations to providers specifically, to Launch, to city of Seattle, to those resources that we get, Child Care Resources.

A lot of providers are also still, even though they’re not collecting tuition right now, if the family wants to provide their tuition for this month, it will just be used to supplement other things. It will be seen as a donation. They’re not required to pay tuition, but if they do so choose, you know, there’s money being allocated that way.

Anne: All right. We’ve hit about 15 minutes. Do you have any parting ideas? Things that you really want community members and parents to be thinking about right now.

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Alfonso: For starters, if anybody needs child care right now, if it’s a service that is, you know, creating a hardship for you, there are options available. Launch specifically right now. Hopefully, other providers to come. And then just teaching our children just to be aware, being conscious of our new expectations and explaining to them why we’re doing these things.

And then just providing it as a responsibility for the community. And then I just want people to know too, that we provide the service at the risk of our health and it’s not something that we choose to do because, you know, we want to go back to work. It’s something that we try to provide as a service to the community so that other people can do their job just to, you know, help serve the community better.

Anne: Yeah, that’s a really important point. And Child Care Aware of Washington’s tracking what places are open and which places are taking kids for essential workers.

I’m gonna ask one last question because we can. How are you supporting children and teachers with their grief of ending their school year early?

Alfonso: We’re trying to connect them with resources that they used to get. A lot of children used to get, you know, some sort of therapy or counseling or some sort of resource that they’re no longer getting, which is, you know, sometimes it’s creating, it’s a big life event, right? It can be traumatic at times. So it’s making sure we’re still connecting those people to those resources (which) are still available and lots of people are willing to do things you know, over video, and making sure we’re just keeping those lines connected for staff as well. Letting them know that we can provide any sort of resource that you need at this time that is available.

It also helps just to know that we’re all in this together and just reminding everybody like, “Hey, you know, if we all just try to stay positive and do our part, hopefully, then this will be done.”

Anne: All right. Well, thank you very much for your time. Thank you to everyone who tuned in, we will be doing Ed Lab Live again next week on Monday, talking about how nonprofits are completely pivoting to help serve entire families instead of just students. Thanks for tuning in. This will be up on The Seattle Times website, and more to come. Thank you, Alfonso, so much for your time.

Alfonso: Thank you for having me. Goodbye!

Anne: Bye.