Preschools around northern Westchester are embarking on a new school year of holding in-person programs amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The directors of Katonah Village Kids, Landmark Preschool in Bedford and the South Salem Nursery School said they are up to the challenge and will apply the lessons they learned from holding school sessions over the past year and a half.
Erika Glick, the director of Katonah Village Kids, said despite the pandemic her school had a highly successful school year ending last spring. While the school did experience what she described as “slight hiccups,” KVK finished the year without any spread or transmission of the virus in the school.
Director of Bedford Landmark Preschool Evelyn Tangney said that during the 2020-21 school year, her school never had to close and saw no COVID-19 cases or need for quarantine.
At the South Salem Nursery School, director Pamela Leibman reported one case of COVID-19 in their 4-year-old class last year but said that there was no further transmission. She said the school closed for several days for thorough cleaning and then reopened without any other new incidents for the rest of the school year.
Ms. Glick said they are keeping almost all safety protocols from last year, with the exception that temperature checks are no longer required. Based on their prior success, Ms. Glick said the school is continuing with comprehensive cleanings of the facility, mandatory health checks before arriving to school and mask wearing.
Last year, Ms. Glick said all children except for 2-year-olds were required to wear masks, and noted that this year’s mask requirement will be extended to that age group following updated guidance from the New York State Department of Health. Ms. Glick said she understands mask wearing might be new for a lot of the youngest children, but the staff will work toward making them feel as comfortable as possible.
Ms. Leibman said South Salem Nursery School this year also is mandating masks for children ages two and up, echoing Ms. Glick’s point that the practice might be challenging for some in this age group.
At Bedford Landmark, children over two will be required to wear masks. Ms. Tangney, along with the other two directors, added that they will not enforce mask-wearing outdoors.
“We’re trying to take advantage of the beautiful weather while it’s here,” Ms. Tangney said.
Ms. Glick said another notable difference from last year is a new policy requiring all staff to be vaccinated.
Ms. Leibman said her staff will be masked and vaccinated this year. Noting how diligent parents were last year keeping their children home if not feeling well, she said temperature checks and health questionnaires would no longer be used.
Ms. Leibman and Ms. Tangney said both of their programs would continue physically separating cohorts, which proved extremely effective last year.
Ms. Glick pointed out preparing for the new school year over the summer was especially difficult due to a lack of guidance from state health officials. She said it led her to make many of the decisions about protocols on her own.
As one of three Landmark preschools, Ms. Tangney said her program benefited from the work of a task force on reopening plans consisting of the three preschool heads, including herself, the associate head of schools and the director of development.
With more families moving into the area throughout the summer, Ms. Glick said her enrollment increased from last year, and now almost all of the class sections are at full capacity.
“Families began seeing the value and importance of bringing children back out into the community and taking calculated risks,” Ms. Glick said.
Bedford Landmark Preschool and South Salem Nursery School also reported increased enrollment compared to last year despite the growing threat of the delta variant. Both hired additional teachers to meet the demand for larger class sizes.
Ms. Tangney and Ms. Leibman each said they were in contact with several parents who were hesitant about sending their children to preschool due to compromised immune systems and other health concerns.
“I have some children waiting until January to start to see how the pandemic plays out,” Ms. Leibman said.
While recognizing such reservations, Ms. Leibman said staff’s main focus remains keeping the children safe so they can continue learning.
Gina O’Rourke, the mother of a 2-year-old starting this year at South Salem Nursery School and a 4-year-old who attended last year, said teachers were in constant communication with parents and have kept them informed on protocols and what to expect for their children.
Ms. Glick said the emergence of the delta variant rattled the nerves of parents but said they have felt reassured about safety on the basis of the successful protocols adopted last year.
Amanda Nish, the mother of a 3-year-old boy, said Ms. Glick’s consistent communication was one of the reasons she felt comfortable sending her son back to the preschool this year. “I just felt really safe with my son going there previously,” Ms. Nish said. She noted that he goes to school every day now and is looking forward to wearing his Mickey Mouse mask.
“Going back this year, I’m incredibly confident that it’s probably going to be as it was last year,” said Ali Tejtel, a parent of a child at Bedford Landmark Preschool.
Ms. Glick said Katonah Village Kids, which opened on Sept. 14, would continue to find creative ways to make school enjoyable and educational for the children.
Ms. Tangney said Bedford Landmark, which had the first day of school on Sept. 9, is excited to bring back their after-school enrichment programs, which were not offered last year. She said they are also hoping to reintroduce special activities such as a music program and science experiments with a teacher from Ridgefield Academy.
Ms. Leibman said South Salem Nursery School has already scheduled outdoor field trips for the 3- and 4-year-old groups and planning Halloween celebrations.
“My staff and I are very excited for the school year and for the kids to come and have lots and lots of fun,” she said.