While many people are staying home and waiting out the coronavirus pandemic, many others must continue on with their jobs in the community. For first responders, health-care personnel, and other essential employees, sitting out the pandemic on the sidelines is not an option.
That’s why the West Seneca Central School District decided to open a child-care center at Northwood Elementary School last month for children of the district’s medical providers and first responders, with the assistance of several Buffalo State College students. For the students from Buffalo State, jumping in to help out was the only option, despite any risks involved.
“I was called in to help,” said senior Kennedy Kirby, an exceptional education major. “My concern was the children. If they didn’t have another place to go, what would they do? I haven't thought about whether I'm putting myself at risk. As a future teacher, this is my role in my community, to be there for these kids.”
Kirby, along with fellow senior and exceptional education major Kathryn Jordan and others, is working with the children 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, trying to provide as much learning and structure as possible. Between 15 and 20 children attend the child-care center depending on the day, and they range in age from pre-kindergarteners to fifth-graders.
Both Kirby and Jordan had worked in the district’s before- and after-school programs, and both did their student teaching in the district.
Jordan works with the fifth-graders; they focus on core subjects in addition to reviewing what they’ve already learned this year, she said.
“We also do a lot of activities and science-related experiments,” Jordan said. “We try to do a lot of hands-on work.”
Kirby works with the younger children, teaching the alphabet and crafts to keep them busy during the day. The kids focus on one letter each day, sing songs, and read books that correspond with the letter they’re learning.
“Our biggest concern with the younger kids was not seeing a regression,” she said. “We do a lot of the stuff they’d be doing every day in school.”
A nurse works on-site, taking each child’s temperature as he or she comes in, while the parents wait. Any child showing a fever or other sign of illness is not permitted to enter the center.
“So far, that hasn’t happened,” Kirby said.
The nurse also takes the workers’ temperatures, to ensure the children aren’t encountering the virus.
Class sizes are fairly small, and physical-distancing practices are being followed to keep the staff and children safe, Kirby said.
Jordan said they’re also constantly washing their hands, and that they take precautions when they get home, like taking off the clothes they wore that day before going into the house.
Kathleen Palumbo, a practicum lecturer in exceptional education, said seeing Kirby and Jordan stepping up to take on these roles in a trying time was hardly surprising, because the program works to instill those values in students.
“In all of my classes, I’ve tried to pass on this sense of joy and passion for helping students who struggle, and for students in need, and for being there for all children no matter what,” she said. “I know my colleagues do the same. This is certainly a great time of need on all levels. To be able to help out, in ways big and small, is part of who these students are.”
Palumbo said the work Jordan and Kirby are doing is aligned with the mission statement of Buffalo State and of the exceptional education program. It’s the mission of all the students in the program.
“I oversee a course called Community Service for Individuals with Disabilities,” Palumbo said. “Approximately 50 students a semester participate in this course. The good work these students do is spread out all over Western New York. It affects people exponentially. It's all part and parcel of the mission of the college as evidenced by the coursework the students take.”
While the circumstances around the program could be better, both Jordan and Kirby said they’re enjoying their time interacting with the children.
“We're forming bonds with these kids, and they're forming bonds with kids that they wouldn't necessarily have the opportunity to if they weren't in this program, because they're in a different school,” Kirby said. “So I feel like it's been a lot of fun.”
“The kids talk to each other about what they’re learning,” Jordan added. “It’s really cool to hear them talk to each other, and it’s been really rewarding.”
Pictured: Memorial sculpture in the campus's Hank Mann Quad, dedicated to Horace “Hank” Mann, SUNY Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Exceptional Education.
Photo by Bruce Fox, campus photographer.