Imagine dropping your three-month-old off in a new classroom for the very first time. There’s apprehension, uncertainty and maybe some tears – and that’s just how the parent is feeling! Now overlay COVID safety protocols and social distancing and the experience could turn traumatic. In recent weeks, the team at Horizons has reimagined how orientation works, with the benefit of child and parent in mind. 

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Horizons’ parents dropped their children off in the classroom for the first time with special attention to the transition. Both parent and child were introduced to the classroom and care was taken to gently introduce new routines and practices.  Teachers were there to ease the minds of both parent and child,  but as so many other practices have been reconsidered due to COVID so have the welcome and orientation to Horizons’ classrooms. Parents now meet their child’s teacher via introductory Zoom sessions instead. First days are handled without physical interaction between parent and teacherand creativity has had to help fill the gap so parent trust and knowledge can be builtHorizons’ teachers are proving they’re up to the task! 

Parent and Child Orientation in the era of COVID-Horizons For Homeless Children

Guidelines from the Department of Early Education and Care require minimizing traffic within Horizons’ Early Education Centers. Drop off and pick up now take place at the front door of the building with dedicated staff couriering children from classroom to and from their parent. Lunchtime visits by parents have been temporarily suspended. Although the implementation of these measures aren’t idealthey are working to keep the entire Horizons’ community safe 

In response to the new guidelines, Horizons’ teachers have gotten creative to find ways to keep parents connected, despite not being able to be there physically.  

Agnella Gross, a Lead Teacher in Horizons’ Roxbury Infant Toddler Classroom, empathized with parents adjusting to the new pick up and drop off procedures and wanted to make them feel as informed and confident about what is happening in their child’s classroom as possible.

“We’re using our imagination to keep parents and families in the classroom, even if they can’t be there in person for a while,” said Agnella. “We text pictures throughout the day to parents and keep them updated on the kind of day their child is having. Parents really appreciate how open the lines of communication are.”

A few families new to Horizons started in Horizons’ programs after the restrictions took place so they were unable to tour the facility prior to their children starting in the classrooms.

“We recognize the level of trust those families were putting in us – they made the decision to drop their child off somewhere they hadn’t been able to properly tour because they knew it was in the best interest of their child.”

Agnella came up with the idea to create classroom welcome letters to distribute to parents, both new and returning. The letters take parents on a visual journey into the classroom. Accompanied by pictures the letter introduces Agnella and assistant teachers Alecia and Carmen, as well as all the students in the classroom. It shares photos of the classroom from all angles and provides a list of what children need to bring with them to school each day.

Parent and Child Orientation in the era of COVID-Horizons For Homeless Children

“It’s the least we can do to make parents feel connected to our classroom and knowledgeable about what their child is experiencing each day.”

Agnella added that parents have been receptive to the new measures and are fully on board to do their part to keep Horizons’ community safe and students in classrooms.

Agnella’s letter ends asking for parents to share a family photo.

“One of the ways we are trying to bring family into the classroom is through our family tree board. The board is a tool to help us teach children about the concept of a family tree and ancestry at a time we’re all really missing family and friends.”

“Throughout the day, we’ll point to the board and say ’there’s mommy,’ and the kids love it.”

Other teachers in Horizons classrooms are communicating with parents in new ways too. And while the entire Horizons’ team is looking forward to the day we can invite parents back into the classroom, teachers like Agnella are working hard to stay connected, validating that each parent knows what their child needs best. This period is a lesson in flexibility and creativity for both parents and teachers. Underlying it all though, is a steadfast commitment to being a strong support to the children and families we serve.

This piece was written by Rachel San Giacomo, a regular contributor to Horizons’ blog