As we begin to wind down this very unique and unusual year, I would like to start by taking a look back. Before I begin, I would like it to be clear that what follows is my own personal experience. I am the founder and CEO of 4 Montessori preschools in the Bay Area of California. Before the pandemic we were flourishing with 300+ students and 60+ staff members in our schools.
I started out in the year 2000, just after my youngest son was born. I had the very unique opportunity to take over a failing preschool. I had been managing schools for someone else for eight years. During that eight years, I put myself through college, completed Montessori training and started a family. I learned at a very young age that a strong work ethic, setting goals and applying diligence would lead me to the things I wanted. My mother, a single mom, raised me alone on a social worker salary, we didn’t have much.
Over the course of the next 20 years, I have opened 4 more schools.
Tuesday, March 17, 2020 brought with it one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make: to shut down our schools as part of the effort to “flatten the curve”. We sent everyone home and paid them through the month.
Our staff and leadership transitioned immediately; we were able to offer an “at-home Montessori learning program”. The teaching staff began recording videos and offering live zoom sessions with the children. Through the screens we could see that families were really struggling. You see, when children are at school, the entire day is focused on their learning, centered around them, and their development.
Parents working at home, were forced to also take on the role of “school teacher/guide” and subsequently realizing it is also a full time role. Instead of enjoying dinner together as a family, everyone was exhausted. We heard many stories where parents were taking “shifts” working late at night when the children are sleeping. How could this be beneficial for anyone?
On May 18th, 2020 – following two full months of being closed, we re-opened for those families that needed us most.
Without turning this blog into a controversial piece about both the performance and short comings of the approach adopted by the public school system and our county/state government, I will instead focus on what we did in our private preschool. I will be bold and say that public schools could have found a way to open safely for the students and the teachers that wanted/needed in person learning. It is my opinion that the public schools had themselves, their politics, and internal needs in mind: everything but the children they are paid to educate.
This is a term used often in the Montessori environment. The children are free to move about the classroom and choose what they would like to do. The work on the shelves is self directed and there is a process the guide follows to give lessons to children who are ready. This concept of “Freedom of Choice” ought to be applied in other areas.
Freedom of choice is missing in the State of California, and in particular, the county of Santa Clara. All was left up to one county official. Not even our county supervisors, who are elected by you and I, stood up for those of us who choose not to live in fear of a virus with a positivity rate of <.05% for children and staff under 65.
In the two months that we were closed and throughout the summer, we reviewed the constantly shifting guidance provided by the CDC, the State of California, and Santa Clara County. We dug in and figured out how we could safely take care of children and staff. We also created a comprehensive plan in the event one of the children or staff contracted the virus.
To this date, we follow this plan and have worked side by side with the families in a true partnership, with the safety, health, and welfare of our entire school community (children, parents & staff) being the very first priority.
Seeing the excited faces of the children running through the gate, hardly a look back to wave good-bye to mom and dad, was all we needed to confirm we did right by re-opening. The smiles and cheers on the faces of the parents as they drove off, now able to work while their child is at school.
The children picked up right where they left off, in their second home, their classroom, with their friends and their teachers.
What will Kindergarten look like for the children?
School will have been mostly closed for 18 months by September. The teachers who have been teaching online, will be as fatigued as the students. Many of the students entering kindergarten will have been home the past 18 months. Teaching a full year of Kindergarten online is a stretch at best (its actually quite absurd if you think about).
What will this new learning curve look like? I am not sure exactly, but I am confident that it is going to be a very difficult transition for many – if not most of these young children who have now spent as much as 20% of their entire life in lockdown.
In the media and social media today, proper credit is not given to the small businesses, entrepreneurs and people who run private business. Instead, we are criticized for being “privileged” and “greedy”.
I know I speak for many small/medium size business owners, entrepreneurs, and private schools. We have successful entities because we have sacrificed, we have worked without pay or very little pay to build them.
When governments shut down these businesses, “greedy” and “selfish” owners like us either significantly reduced their pay or stopped paying themselves entirely so that they could keep their staff intact. Businesses have had to fight for the right to operate and survive almost non-stop for the last 12 months.
As we come out of the pandemic and you have a student ready to start school, I strongly encourage you to consider the following when deciding between sending your child to a public or private school this September:
Private schools understand how to provide a top tier learning environment that is safe. This has been proven over the last 12 months if for no other reason than we were forced to in order to survive the lockdowns.
Recently we are seeing a lot of families who have come to the conclusion that private education is the right path for their children going forward. I hope that you will put serious consideration to the resiliency of the staff and administration of private schools – we are the institutions that kept learning happening during the lockdowns and will continue as they wind down.
Until next time…
“Children First, Always”
Is It Safe to Reopen Schools: An Extensive Review of the Research