HONOLULU — On Tuesday, the state House held a virtual meeting to discuss how early-learning programs in Hawai’i have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lauren Moriguchi, director of the Executive Office on Early Learning, said the public prekindergarten program’s capacity has been reduced to protect staff and students.
“As we ensure that teachers and educational assistants can safely care for and educate our 4-year-olds in person, our enrollment this year is at 55% of what our capacity would have been without the pandemic,” she said.
Moriguchi said there are three ongoing challenges that students, teachers and parents face this year in early-learning programs:
• Managing emotional and physical well-being with less social connection and support while providing a learning environment that young children need within an evolving landscape;
• Providing a level and depth of professional-learning-related guidance, coaching and mentoring, particularly for new schools and new teaching staff;
• Engaging in collaboration and coordination, particularly with complex, multi-dimensional work.
“We are working to transition the few remaining virtual public prekindergarten classes to in-person learning,” Moriguchi said. “Specifically, we are looking to move (to) 85 % to 95% (in-person learning) in January. So we are looking for all but one school offering in-person learning on campus during the third quarter.”
COVID-19 impact on public charter schools
Yvonne Lau, interim executive director of the Charter School Commission, discussed how the pandemic has impacted the state’s pubic charter schools.
There are currently 20% fewer seats available to meet physical-distancing requirements, sid Lau. And there has been a nearly-30% decrease in enrollment this school year compared to last school year.
In addition, 18 of 20 students who have exited the program did so due to the fear of COVID-19.
Lau said of the classrooms providing face-to-face instruction, 66% are operating at reduced hours. And despite COVID-19, schools are maintaining one teacher and one educational assistant per class.
As of today, 70% of the state public charter school students are in virtual instruction, 18% are face-to-face learning and 12% are in hybrid learning, a mixture of in-person and distance-learning.
“For the majority of our classrooms, they are working with a virtual learning model, and as we know for our youngest learners, this is quite the challenge,” Lau said. “At the heart of that challenge, our teachers are really doing amazing jobs of piecing that together and teaching in ways that they had not been prepared for.”
Some of the challenges Lau said she sees in charter schools include that the substitute-teacher pool has been reduced significantly, and that COVID-19 has impacted the schools’ ability to create routines for students.
COVID-19 impact on Head Start programs
Ben Naki, vice president of early childhood education programs at Head Start, said Head Start focuses services on children of low-income families and is designed to address children and families’ emotional, social health, nutritional and psychological needs. Services are centered around the child, but encompass the entire family.
Naki said Early Head Start is for families with children under the age of 3, including prenatal mothers, whereas Head Start is for families with children ages 3 to 5 years old, with an emphasis on children preparing to enter kindergarten.
“Early Head Start and Head Start programs throughout the state promote each child’s individual development through services that support early learning, health and family well-being,” Naki said.
On Kaua‘i, Child & Family Service is the only entity providing Head Start and Early Head Start programs.
Naki said Kaua‘i has four Head Start centers, but only two are currently open, with 45 students being taught in-person, 20 students taught virtually and 11 children served via home-based learning (virtually or in-person).
There are no Early Head Start centers open on Kaua‘i. Currently, 35 students are being served via home-based services, virtually or in-person.
Naki discussed the challenges that Early Head Start and Head Start faced during the pandemic: “The readiness of staff to resume in-person services, coverage because all of our agencies have been under the guide if they are not feeling well or people in their house are not feeling well, we ask them not to come to work. Of course, that will impact the ability to provide coverage in our classrooms,” Naki said.
Lack of qualified staff is another concern. “We are having to deal with not a lot of people applying for jobs.”
Other COVID-19 impacts
Other challenges that HS and EHS providers face during the pandemic are childcare options for staff; logistical concerns involving meeting the needs of families despite remote learning; partner organizations’ readiness of their facilities; connecting with families remotely and virtually; recruitment of new families; and meeting federal standards effectively, he said.
Cathy Betts, director of the state Department of Human Services, and Dana Balansag, child-care-program administrator of DHS, also spoke during the session. For more information, see earlylearning.hawaii.gov/eoel-public-prekindergarten-program/.
Stephanie Shinno, features, education, business and community reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.