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Pandemic Preschool: How it Started and How it's Going

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!