Lost in the discussion about New Jersey’s public and private schools reopening in September has been the efforts expended by the operators of the Garden State’s childcare centers.
On its website, the New Jersey Child Care Association states it is “a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to providing professional development, support and guidance in the management and administration of child care centers in New Jersey.”
Maria Hughes, the association’s secretary/treasurer, is the owner and executive director of the Les Enfants Preschool in Palisades Park. She said the operators of childcare centers have discussed what they can do to help children feel safe and secure upon entering the facilities.
The Monmouth Day Care Center in Red Bank is an example of a New Jersey childcare center that is dealing with the changes brought about by the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. The center was closed for several months before reopening in mid-July.
Executive Director Heidi Zaentz said her staff worked diligently to follow safety guidelines established by the state. She said the reopening “has been going very well; better than anyone expected.”
The Monmouth Day Care Center has welcomed back 43 children ranging in age from 4 months to 5 years old. Zaentz said the children are cooperating with all of the new procedures that have been put in place.
For example, she said the children understand they must stand in line and have their temperature taken before they enter the building and they know they have to wear a face mask while they are inside.
Hughes said state guidelines recommend that children over the age of 2 should wear a face mask at all times to stop the spread of the virus.
Zaentz said she understands the importance of socialization for youngsters.
“The children are really happy to be back and to be around other children,” she said. “But they get the social distancing aspect and have to wear a mask. That has been very amazing to see.”
In some instances staff members are taking pictures of themselves with a face mask on and off so the children know who they are.
“A lot of schools are doing similar things to help make kids feel more comfortable, loved and secure when they come back,” Zaentz said. “The children and teachers have grown a little bit closer since they came back. The kids miss all that socialization and the teachers miss being around them.”
There are challenges to be met before a childcare center can reopen in the current environment.
Having enough staff members willing to work at the facility and keeping a stock of cleaning supplies on hand are two things to be considered, Zaentz and Hughes said.
State regulations require staff members to clean and disinfect each classroom a minimum of four times a day, which includes cleaning every surface and all of the toys in the room. The playground is disinfected after each class uses the equipment.
Zaentz said the Monmouth Day Care Center is accepting donations of disinfectant cleaning supplies.
At her center in northern New Jersey, Hughes hired a service which sanitized the facility before it reopened. Hughes said many childcare center operators have followed a similar procedure.
State rules mandate that the maximum number of children allowed in one class is 10.
At the Monmouth Day Care Center there are two teachers per class, with three teachers sometimes being stationed in a room where infants stay, Zaentz said.
Hughes said two teachers in a classroom is a standard procedure all day centers try to follow. That way, when one teacher takes lunch or uses the restroom, there is another teacher to watch the children.
Under the current guidelines, teachers and children from different classes cannot mix. Zanetz and Hughes both said that rule has made it difficult for classes to combine in the afternoon like they usually would.
The guidelines have tested the finances of childcare centers, which must have the ability to hire the teachers they will need to run the facility, Hughes said.
Zaentz said she was thrilled all of her teachers came back when the center reopened in July and said everyone has been doing a great job.
“Our staff has really stepped up to the plate and has done an amazing job,” she said.
Zaentz said she spoke with parents about the procedures the center is taking to provide a safe environment for the children and staff and answered any questions they had. At this time only children and staff members may enter the building.
“I have been very impressed with the patience of our parents,” she said. “They are very comfortable with what we are doing.”
Hughes said there have been very few cases of COVID-19 reported in the state’s childcare centers and said no program that has reopened has closed.
“We are doing it well and showing we can do it safely,” Hughes said. “Everyone is following the rules.”
The Monmouth Cay Care Center is part of the Red Bank Borough Public Schools and holds kindergarten classes. The school district’s plan for reopening could impact the center as well, Zaentz said
The Monmouth Day Care Center is open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and provides children with eight classrooms, two playgrounds, a multi-purpose room that also serves as an indoor gym and a library. The center serves breakfast, lunch and snacks.