La Escuelita San Marcos (LESM) has served the Spanish-speaking children of North Mecklenburg and their families for the past 8 years. LESM is the only bilingual parent cooperative preschool in North Mecklenburg. Primary services include a Reggio Emilia inspired curriculum for ages 2-5 and the Mama Maestra program, which empowers families inside the classroom as teachers and volunteers. Tuition is kept low to ensure affordability for families.
COVID-19 Impact on Students and Families
La Escuelita San Marcos serves an already vulnerable population reeling from the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on the Latinx community. Most families have lost wages, face increased needs and do not have proper health coverage. Many families do not have transportation.
At the beginning of the pandemic, La Escuelita San Marcos transitioned all its classes to a "Virtual Academy" to serve students. However, some families were not eligible for disaster funding, and preschoolers without school aged siblings were not eligible for broadband internet relief appropriated for K-12. Nearly half of LESM students and their families lacked the technology needed to support remote learning at home.
LESM sought and received a grant from United Way of the Central Carolinas and Foundation for the Carolinas and was able to purchase a Chromebook for all students who needed one, as well as laptops for the teachers. LESM was able to work with partner Caterpillar Ministries to ensure students who needed them had hotspots.
Working with educators that had experience in virtual teaching, LESM adapted their curriculum to a structured set of Monday- Friday classes targeted to 3-5 year olds in the areas of social emotional learning, music and movement, Handwriting Without Tears, phonics, pre-reading skills, and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math).
Each student in the Virtual Academy was allotted a 30-45 minute one-on-one weekly private class with his or her teacher as well as a 30-45 minute small group session at the end of the week to review homework tasks. Each month, the students received a package of hands-on learning materials around the month's learning objectives, such as salt writing trays, chalkboards, sensory bins, and traditional school supplies. These items were provided by North Mecklenburg Woman's Club and sponsors throughout the community.
LESM ensured that all classes for all students were accessible from just one shared document, making it simple to access virtual classes each day. Teachers received trainings on Microsoft Teams, Google Suite and Zoom, and assisted parents with learning the technology as well.
When the virus metrics were low, LESM held some outdoor "pop up" style classes. Because many families do not own vehicles, and the van that typically transported those students was not in operation during the pandemic, LESM held these classes close to students' homes.
Impact of LESM's Virtual Program
From the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, to now, about a year later, La Escuelita San Marcos has delivered over a hundred morning meeting "circle times" and over five hundred private classes to students! In total, LESM has delivered over one thousand virtual classes to students!
"LESM helped my child learn numbers and sounds so she will know when she is headed to kindergarten. San Marcos has an amazing team of teachers and lessons planned. Thanks so much for all they do." -Stephanie
"San Marcos has helped my son a lot. Every day, he learns something new. He is very happy!! Thank you very much to everyone at the San Marcos School!" -Karen
"LESM has helped us a lot. Our son is learning a lot and we feel very comfortable. Thanks to San Marcos for being patient with the children and for teaching them so much!" - Rosa
"La Escuelita San Marcos has helped my daughter learn English. She likes the classes and interacting with the other children, in addition to the activities they have outdoors- she loves it." -Viri
"The school has helped us because thanks to this pandemic, children tend to develop a lot of anxiety, and thanks to having their school at home, they are excited and have a better focus on what is happening. Our son is happy with each class and very grateful for your patience and dedication!" -Maria
"The San Marcos School has helped us learn new words in English, live together more as a family, learn that with simple and natural materials we can do a great job, know how our son likes to learn and see how he practices words in English. He gets excited when he sees his classmates and socializes, and the best thing is to see how he dances!" -Karina
"The San Marcos School has been a huge support for our family. Teachers are people who take their time, dedication and patience to provide our children with a better education with the help of us parents." -Margina
Transitioning to On Campus
Now, LESM is slowly and safely transitioning back on-campus classes at for those students who are able to provide transportation. These students will access their virtual classes in a "learning pod" along with parent volunteers and some staff.
With a generous grant from United Way of Central Carolinas and Foundation for the Carolinas, LESM was able to purchase equipment to disinfect classrooms, air purifiers, no contact implements, individual manipulatives, and much more. LESM was also able to purchase materials for hybrid learning that are portable and can be used outdoors or indoors to ensure that no matter where classes are held, students have what they need to learn.
Because many of our students still do not have transportation to and from school, LESM will continue to provide outdoor classes close to student homes.
Our Work Continues...
Our families and staff continue to be impacted by Covid-19, whether through family deaths from the virus, being affected by the virus themselves, or through job loss. Many of our families lack proper nutrition and the money to afford protein. LESM has been working with our sponsors from the community to provide home cooked meals to our families without means to purchase meats.
This past fall, LESM needed to make adaptations to its largest upcoming fundraising event due to social distancing, resulting in a financial shortfall.
LESM is also facing increased spending to ensure an optimal safe and secure reopening in the fall of 2021.
As we look to ways to bring students completely back to campus in Fall 2021, we need continued help from our community and sponsors.
We are proud of our students accomplishments in spite of the pandemic and look forward to continuing our mission of getting our Spanish-speaking preschoolers ready for kindergarten!
Thank you to all our current and future sponsors!