A year like no other: A look back at early learning during COVID-19
by Janis Santos, HCS Head Start Director / CEO

As a long-standing Head Start Director and advocate here in the Greater Springfield area, I would like to publicly thank our early childhood educators and support staff for rising to the occasion and continuing to support children and families despite uncertainty this past year.

This once in a lifetime pandemic has turned both our personal and professional worlds upside down, and March 13, 2021 marks the one-year anniversary of COVID-19 impacting our Head Start operations. It was the last day we had all of our preschool classrooms opened for over 1,000 children in Holyoke, Chicopee, Springfield and Ludlow. Our staff however, and countless partners, too many to mention, instinctively jumped into action and developed strategies to keep vital services in place for our community’s youngest and most vulnerable population.

While this work hasn’t been easy, and even though my staff were mitigating their own feelings and concerns about the deadly virus, their dedication to the children and their families prevailed. Staff helped mobilize getting books, learning kits, food, diapers, formula, PPE, and so much more into the hands of Head Start parents in need during the height of the state shutdown.

When early education and care programs were allowed to reopen this past June, our Full Day/Full Year teachers stepped up to the plate and welcomed working families back into the classroom. They did this even though they were scared of the unknown. I applaud the efforts to ensure all teachers have access to testing and a path to the vaccine; this recognizes and respects them as the essential frontline professionals they are.

In addition to our teachers and support staff who are providing remote services to hundreds of children birth to five, we are equally grateful for the innovative work that is happening to support the early learning needs with the help of technology.

Head Start and other early education and care programs are an instrumental piece to the overall health of a thriving community. Those of us in the field have always known that; and now, the country knows it too. With the continual help from the community, our families and partners, we can carry on to effectively serve young children and families, opening windows of opportunity in their lives. I look forward to the next year with optimism and hope. As we look back and reflect back on this past year, I encourage us all to take a moment and thank a preschool teacher.

Janis Santos is the CEO of Holyoke, Chicopee, Springfield, Head Start, Inc.

Read the article on MassLive.com