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A learning curve for PC Tots after reopening

Jeff Dempsey
The Park Record
PC Tots preschool teacher Riley Stinnett walks preschoolers through the letters of the alphabet during class Tuesday morning.
Tanzi Propst/Park Record

PC Tots, a nonprofit early learning and care center for Park City children, closed its doors this past spring in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. After months of planning and preparation — and the hiring of a new executive director — it reopened July 1, with some noticeable changes.

Rachel Barnett, who took over as executive director in late May, said adjusting to new safety protocols has been just that — an adjustment.

“We’re all learning the way we need to adapt and proceed and I feel like we’re doing well with it,” she said. “And the kids seem to be just really happy to be back with their friends.”

Being back with their friends isn’t quite like it was before, of course. Barnett said that, prior to COVID-19, kids could freely intermingle, but now they are kept within their own class. Barnett said PC Tots installed 6-foot partition walls to help keep the kids from wandering into other groups.

“We also had to implement increased daily cleaning,” Barnett said. And then, of course, there are the masks.”

Knox Olson, 3, reaches for a paper towel after washing his hands at an in-classroom sink at PC Tots Tuesday morning.
Tanzi Propst/Park Record

One big question as the school year draws nearer has been how well young children, like kindergartners, will acclimate to wearing a mask for most of the day. At PC Tots, the children are even younger.

When PC Tots first reopened July 1, the kids didn’t do so well with the masks.

“We even had one little girl try to bury hers in the playground,” Barnett said.

Health directives in Utah first called for kids 2 years and older to wear masks, then adjusted it to 3 and older. Barnett, who has a behavioral health background, said enforcement has been tricky.

“These are children we are talking about, and they’re not going to comply just because there is an order,” she said. “It’s a behavioral health thing we are trying to cultivate and it will take time. We have to applaud every win.”

With toddlers, Barnett said, a win might be keeping the mask on all morning.

“We’ll applaud that, and when they are able to keep the mask on all day, even better,” she said. “We can’t do this by traumatizing kids. It has to be positive. They have to want to do it.”

With that in mind, teachers at PC Tots have included mask wearing into lesson plans and games. Some of the older kids did a masquerade lesson that made mask wearing fun. Another class, Barnett said, did an essential jobs dress-up day, which meant the kids dressed up as doctors and firefighters and, of course, wore masks. Still another teacher had a superheroes-themed activity that allowed kids to wear, for example, Spiderman masks, a way to further create a positive association with mask wearing.

“I can’t speak highly enough of my staff and teachers,” Barnett said. “They are brilliant women and you can see their passion for what they do. They’ve been so helpful with all the adjustments we’ve had to make and so good at helping the kids adjust in a way that builds resilience and teaches them to cope with change.”

Barnett said those ideas — how to be resilient and cope with change — have been a frequent focus this summer. Barnett said anecdotally, she is hopeful the children who are aging out of PC Tots and heading to kindergarten will be well prepared to cope with school life in the age of COVID-19.

“We really hope what we’ve been doing here will help them in school and help them to adapt to things now and in the future.”


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