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Here's what it's like inside an NYC preschool that just reopened, where kids wash their hands every hour and fill out health screenings every day

Here's what it's like inside an NYC preschool that just reopened, where kids wash their hands every hour and fill out health screenings every day
  • Business Insider toured a preschool and daycare in Queens, New York City to see how the staff, teachers, and kids were adapting to going to school during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • New York City became the first major metropolitan area to reopen public schools amid the the ongoing spread of coronavirus. Schools opened in person beginning September 21.
  • New York City, once the epicenter of the country's virus outbreak in March and April, had brought its daily coronavirus positivity rate to below 1% for more than a month this fall. Other parts of the country reported record-high rates during this time.
  • But a recent uptick in cases has already pushed the city to close schools in 9 zip codes, and a more serious outbreak could prompt all city schools to close.
  • Here's what it's like inside a newly reopened New York City preschool, where kids wash their hands after each activity, and teachers must adapt to teaching online and in person.
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Little Friends School is a preschool and daycare located in Queens, New York City. Director and owner Elisa Bellere founded Little Friends School 21 years ago.

Little Friends School is a preschool and daycare located in Queens, New York City. Director and owner Elisa Bellere founded Little Friends School 21 years ago.
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Source: Little Friends School

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The school is located in Queens' Elmhurst neighborhood, a primarily Asian and Hispanic area with a median income of $53,367.

The school is located in Queens' Elmhurst neighborhood, a primarily Asian and Hispanic area with a median income of $53,367.
JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images

Source: Census Reporter

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Elmhurst Hospital, one of the hospitals hardest hit by the pandemic, is located half a mile from the school.

Elmhurst Hospital, one of the hospitals hardest hit by the pandemic, is located half a mile from the school.
Greeting cards for healthcare workers are seen inside the Elmhurst Hospital amid the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic in Queens, New York. Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Little Friends School first shut down on March 13, when the city first ordered all schools to close. Although Bellere reopened the school as a volunteer emergency childcare center for essential workers, the school went from serving 100 kids a day to just two.

Little Friends School first shut down on March 13, when the city first ordered all schools to close. Although Bellere reopened the school as a volunteer emergency childcare center for essential workers, the school went from serving 100 kids a day to just two.
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After Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he would allow schools to reopen in-person learning at reduced capacity in August, Bellere invited families back to class. The school currently has two preschool classes with 20 students each.

After Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he would allow schools to reopen in-person learning at reduced capacity in August, Bellere invited families back to class. The school currently has two preschool classes with 20 students each.
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Because the state allows a maximum of 15 students per class, the two preschool classes are split in half. Each group of 10 students alternates between coming to class two and three days a week.

Because the state allows a maximum of 15 students per class, the two preschool classes are split in half. Each group of 10 students alternates between coming to class two and three days a week.
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The class schedule means teachers manage remote and in-person students at the same time. Raquavenek Ramirez, a head teacher at Little Friends, said ideally she takes care of the in-person students while another teacher spends the day with the virtual classrooms.

The class schedule means teachers manage remote and in-person students at the same time. Raquavenek Ramirez, a head teacher at Little Friends, said ideally she takes care of the in-person students while another teacher spends the day with the virtual classrooms.
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Sometimes, though, Ramirez does a live Zoom class for both kids online and in her class. To teach online, Ramirez uses a computer with a webcam attached that's placed close to where the in-person kids sit.

Sometimes, though, Ramirez does a live Zoom class for both kids online and in her class. To teach online, Ramirez uses a computer with a webcam attached that's placed close to where the in-person kids sit.
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Little Friends Schools has two schedules for kids, depending on whether they are in-person or remote that day. The school recommends parents assist them with the schedule if they have time.

Little Friends Schools has two schedules for kids, depending on whether they are in-person or remote that day. The school recommends parents assist them with the schedule if they have time.
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Ramirez said she uses Zoom, Google Classroom, and ClassDojo for online learning. She said she found adapting to the digital platforms initially challenging, and still battles with giving enough attention to students who are learning remotely.

Ramirez said she uses Zoom, Google Classroom, and ClassDojo for online learning. She said she found adapting to the digital platforms initially challenging, and still battles with giving enough attention to students who are learning remotely.
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Many students that come from non-English-speaking households required additional help from teachers to get used to the technology, Bellere said. She said some families are still waiting on city-provided computers for their kids.

Many students that come from non-English-speaking households required additional help from teachers to get used to the technology, Bellere said. She said some families are still waiting on city-provided computers for their kids.
Getty Images Jacky Muniello/Getty Images

(The photo is not of a Little Friends School student).

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To keep kids safe when they're in class, the school bought larger carpets to allow children to sit further away from each other while they're inside.

To keep kids safe when they're in class, the school bought larger carpets to allow children to sit further away from each other while they're inside.
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Duct tape is used to block off separate sections where children work and play to maintain distance.

Duct tape is used to block off separate sections where children work and play to maintain distance.
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Kids wash their hands after each activity, before and after going outside, before and after eating, and at other times, too. Bellere said they wash their hands more than once an hour.

Kids wash their hands after each activity, before and after going outside, before and after eating, and at other times, too. Bellere said they wash their hands more than once an hour.
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Students and staff are instructed to keep masks on all day. Ramirez and Bellere both said they were pleasantly surprised at how quickly students had adapted to frequent hand washing and wearing masks. "They are the best part," Bellere said of her students.

Students and staff are instructed to keep masks on all day. Ramirez and Bellere both said they were pleasantly surprised at how quickly students had adapted to frequent hand washing and wearing masks. "They are the best part," Bellere said of her students.
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Bellere also changed the way the school welcomes kids in. Parents are no longer allowed inside to pick up their kids, and visitors must fill health screening paperwork and wash their hands before coming in. Office staff sit at other corners of the room to keep as much distance as possible.

Bellere also changed the way the school welcomes kids in. Parents are no longer allowed inside to pick up their kids, and visitors must fill health screening paperwork and wash their hands before coming in. Office staff sit at other corners of the room to keep as much distance as possible.
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Little Friends School has also invested hundreds of dollars in cleaning supplies, including a $1,000 electrostatic cleaning machine. Teachers sanitize and clean touched surfaces between each class, on the playground, and in other spaces.

Little Friends School has also invested hundreds of dollars in cleaning supplies, including a $1,000 electrostatic cleaning machine. Teachers sanitize and clean touched surfaces between each class, on the playground, and in other spaces.
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As a daycare provider and small business owner, Bellere said she has taken a financial hit due to the pandemic. The smaller number students enrolled in her daycare, combined with the purchase of cleaning supplies, has been "astronomical," she said. Bellere said she had to reduce hours and staff, but hopes to get additional government funding.

As a daycare provider and small business owner, Bellere said she has taken a financial hit due to the pandemic. The smaller number students enrolled in her daycare, combined with the purchase of cleaning supplies, has been "astronomical," she said. Bellere said she had to reduce hours and staff, but hopes to get additional government funding.
Allana Akhtar/Business Insider
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The House has passed two bills that would provide $100 billion in direct childcare funding over the next five years, but the Senate has yet to move forward on the legislation. Without relief, experts warn one in three daycare providers could close permanently.

The House has passed two bills that would provide $100 billion in direct childcare funding over the next five years, but the Senate has yet to move forward on the legislation. Without relief, experts warn one in three daycare providers could close permanently.
Allana Akhtar/Business Insider

Source: Business Insider

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Ramirez and Bellere both said they are concerned that schools closing again would disrupt the schedule that kids were just getting used to. But Ramirez said she's better equipped to teach fully online now than in March. "We're more connected — I didn't have the tools I have now a few months ago," she said. "It'll be a change, but I think we'll be in a better position."

Ramirez and Bellere both said they are concerned that schools closing again would disrupt the schedule that kids were just getting used to. But Ramirez said she's better equipped to teach fully online now than in March. "We're more connected — I didn't have the tools I have now a few months ago," she said. "It'll be a change, but I think we'll be in a better position."
Allana Akhtar/Business Insider
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