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Kresta Horn is the Director of Child Development at the Benevilla-Wirtzies Preschool and Childcare in Maricopa, Arizona. She is an active community member on the Early Childhood Connector and has shared her experience with operating the Benevilla-Wirtzies Preschool and Childcare Center amidst the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Kresta’s posts on the ECConnector have given others the space to discuss and ideate on current challenges facing early childhood systems builders. Her engagement has made the community stronger. In a post titled, “Masks & Early Childhood Development”, Kresta asked fellow ECConnector members to share their strategies on how to best support childcare workers with adopting the guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to wear protective face coverings when feasible while balancing concerns for how this might impact day-to-day interactions with children. Kresta has also posted about sustaining staff morale, the necessity of finding joy amid the ongoing pandemic, and reconnecting to the reason so many of us are called to early childhood systems building, to build better structures to support children and families.
ECConnector connected with Kresta Horn and asked her to share some reflections about her interactions and conversations with others in the community. The following is a recap of ECConnector’s interview with Kresta:
ECConnector (ECC): In your May 22nd post on the ECConnector, you shared some of your challenges with the guidance outlined by the CDC for staff and children two years and older to wear masks in an early childcare center. You specifically named your concern for how young children would interact with your care providers; do you still have these concerns?
Krista Horn (KH): May 22nd seems so long ago! When I first posted this, it was still considered a recommendation for adults to wear masks. Since then, in Arizona it has become an expectation and no longer something I can fight. Originally, I was concerned about the socioemotional connection between the children and the staff which is important for healthy social interactions. I was concerned about the physical development as it related to speech and what masks would do in the long term with child development. From facial expressions to articulation of words I was sure masks would inhibit that. Now that my staff have been wearing their masks constantly, (and even the children have been haphazardly trying) I do still have the same concerns. When I have gone into the infant room to rock a two-month old, all they can see is my eyes and forehead. They look at me differently when I pull down my mask slightly to sneak in a smile. Teachers are often pulling their masks away from their face, not down, but away because children are asking “What?” frequently. Words are muddled.
With all that being said, I do still have the same concerns. Do my concerns outweigh the risks? Probably not, especially right now, but in the long-term I think we will need to understand that this generation of children will have had a very different experience of pre-school and early childhood care as a result of this pandemic.
ECC: Were you surprised by the responses you received to your initial post about wearing masks in the early childhood care setting?
KH: I was not surprised about the actual responses themselves, but I was certainly surprised by the quantity of responses! All of this as it relates to COVID-19 is so emotionally driven and we are all learning as we go. The pandemic is challenging all of us in the early childhood education field to look at how we deliver services differently. The broad set of responses make sense when you consider the different education, lived experience and current fears and emotions from all who responded. Ultimately this diversity in community helps us learn more and grow with each other.
ECC: Did any of the responses from ECConnector community members support your efforts to address this challenge?
KH: They did actually! From being validated and not feeling so alone to offering ideas of the different types of masks that we might investigate purchasing for our staff. Previously, I did not know that there were masks with clear mouth coverings and now we are using these in the Pre-K room to support children to better read our lips when speaking. It was extremely helpful. While there were some responses that were not as supportive of my opinions, I still appreciated those as well. We all need to be challenged and stretched. If I can’t be challenged in my thinking and stretched to look deeper as to why I believe what I do, and also be flexible with adapting my beliefs because someone has broadened my understanding, then I will stall in this field. COVID-19 has given me plenty of opportunities for broadening my mindset as did the responses to my discussion post.
ECC: The CDC issued guidelines for childcare centers operating amidst COVID-19 which has resulted in many childcare centers limiting their enrollment to remain open. Given the challenges that come with decreasing enrollment capacity, what state or federal supports are necessary to help childcare centers, like Benevilla-Wirtzies Pre-School, remain open and safe for children, families and staff?
KH: Where do I start? Financial support will be key - for both reopening centers that have had to close and maintaining operations for centers that have struggled to remain open. At Benevilla-Wirtzies Preschool and Childcare, we chose to self-limit our capacity to 50% occupancy. This means that we are losing half of our typical revenue each month to stay within the guidance of smaller group sizes. Through the Department of Economic Security Child Care Administration, as well as our Early Childhood State Quality First Scholarship Program, funds are being delegated at the same rate they were before the pandemic called for such strict physical distancing. What the state is not considering is that centers are losing their private pay revenue. My center is affiliated with a larger organization that is doing everything they can to keep us open. Without this support, we would be at a significant financial loss that would force us to close our doors. When this is over (we are just going to believe there is an end to this), childcare centers that needed to close will need immediate start up monies to reopen. It is not all about the financial supports, but budget bottom-lines are often the language that our local, state, and federal officials speak. As early childhood educators, we know there is so much more to what we do, but we need the funds to sustain our work.
ECC: You posted a powerful discussion on staff morale and your role as an early childcare center director to build resiliency of your staff. What inspired you to post this in the COVID-19 Group?
KH: As a Director for an early childhood center, I have found myself so alone. The ECConnector provides a place for me to share my daily challenges with my peers. I am hoping that my posts reach someone else and help them feel a little less alone. I feel so responsible for my staff, whom I see as my other family. I see them give themselves selflessly every day to their work. Perhaps part of me hoped that if there is anyone who is feeling undervalued in their work, they would read my post and understand that so many of us do see them and value them deeply.
ECC: Have you adapted any other strategies for building staff resiliency since your post? What is working for you right now and what advice do you have for other directors navigating similar challenges?
KH: This question makes me smile! Besides keeping a well-stocked snack area in the staff room, we have a donation box for staff that anyone is welcome to take from if they are in need. We also try to have stress relieving activities. Recently, we provided a creative expression activity where a couple teachers at a time were able to come out of the classroom to paint, draw or decoupage a picture of how they are finding beauty amid COVID-19, we affectionately called it #beautyamidcovid. My humble advice to other directors is to be kind to yourself, practice self-care and remember that acknowledgement of hard work can go a long way. For some staff, a simple “thank you” and “I see what you are doing” can be incredibly meaningful.
ECC: How has being a member of the Early Childhood Connector impacted your work?
KH: The ECConnector provides a place to share my thoughts, process my opinions, connect with others in the field and in other states. I have found a platform for my own self-care, writing. It is such a gift to share things with other colleagues. There are so many of us that have a voice that needs to be heard now more than ever. If we can stay united as a community, we will be an even bigger force to be reckoned with.
Above Image: Ms. Janae and Ms. Juanita show off their masks
Above Image: Self-care activity set up by Kresta Horn for her staff to explore the theme Beauty Among COVID-19
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This blog is shared on the Early Childhood Connector (ECC) News to support the goal of elevating community voices. Check out the discussion thread in the COVID-19 Group on the ECConnector to add your voice to the discussion or find additional resources provided by members.
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There is a new conversation happening in the Rebuild and Recovery Group that might be of interest to folks reading this post. We asked about what brings you hope given all the the challenges that are posed by the dual public health challenge with COVID-19 and racism currently in the country. Check out the post to see what others in the community have shared!
Hi Kristin. I actually am friends with Carie Bires and serve with her on the Early Childhood Committee for NAEHCY. One day I emailed her and said how amazing it would be to have a place to share with other directors and early childhood leaders. (This was in April I think I sent that) And she emailed me back about the Connector. It is such a gift. And I am so grateful to have a platform to connect. Thank you!