Despite COVID-19 restrictions, one public integrated preschool program in Massachusetts has been open since September to service their families in town—the John F. Kennedy (JFK) Elementary School Pre-K Program in Randolph Public Schools, Massachusetts. At this school, preschool children have been going to school every day interacting with their peers in the most socially distant practices possible. Families who have children qualified for a specific program schedule are provided with the full academic instruction and service opportunities to their preschool-aged children. This inclusive nature of early childhood education during this pandemic is a daily scene at JFK despite the restrictions that COVID-19 has put forth on most schools, because the school leaders at JFK strongly believe that in-person learning for younger children is necessary for their growth.
Mr. John Licorish, the Principal of the JFK school believes, “The program has worked so hard to be a true model of an inclusive Pre-K program. This is made possible from the collaborative work that the PK teachers and staff have done beginning last year. They moved from an almost all substantially separate PK classrooms to now having only one sub separate classroom, two partial inclusion classrooms, and four full inclusion classrooms.”
In order to create and be true to the inclusive nature and philosophy of the Randolph Public Schools PK program during this COVID-19 season, Mrs. Danielle Galvin, Assistant Principal and PK Program Coordinator who is behind the work of the preschool team shared that “In August, the RPS PK program ordered individual desks for all students in order to maintain the 6 ft. social distance requirement in school. In addition, teachers have created and identified spaces with tapes around their desks so they can still play with toys and use manipulatives for instruction purposes. Each student also has individual bins that contain materials for their classroom use.”
This year, activities at JFK Preschool remain as inclusive as possible. Mrs. Danielle Galvin also confirmed that “This year play is still going on among students. At all levels, students interact as normally as possible within their socially distant areas. They also have a daily Morning Meeting where both in person students are sitting on their desks and remote students are engaged at home at the same time. Our Related Services use the push-in model and co-treatment as a whole group within the classroom which includes our SLP, PT, OT and BCBA. Music is integrated throughout the day and is used to support learning. Our students also take regular brain breaks, movement breaks, and music breaks. One of the biggest activities that we launched this fall to strengthen family engagement is the launching of our annual Pre-K “READS Program” where children are sent home with a book from the program for four weeks. For each week, there is an activity for families to do together in celebration.
The JFK PK teachers and staff are one of the biggest driving forces in maintaining inclusion during this time. In fact, inclusion is promoted in PK on a regular basis as students are exposed to general PK curriculum, modified as needed for individual students. In addition, teachers prepare lessons with opportunities for students to interact through distance play, movement activities and going outdoors. The JFK PK teachers and staff also provide remote instruction and services to students as inclusive as possible by ensuring that all their students are part of the classroom morning meetings, daily check-ins, engaging activities on the seesaw platform and teachers send learning packets to families, especially when hands-on materials/manipulatives are needed to reinforce skills.
Mrs. Alpha Sanford, Director of Special Education and Student Services at Randolph Public Schools, added, “I am very proud of the JFK Pre-K staff members and the JFK administrators for their dedication in ensuring that all students feel welcomed, all students feel that they are being cared for, and that all students feel confident while learning during COVID-19 times.
I am glad to see that the vision of Superintendent Thea Stovell on inclusion and innovation is carried through especially among our younger students during these unprecedented times. Kudos to our JFK Pre-K staff for making this happen!”