The Oneida Indian Nation’s Early Learning Center re-opened its doors on June 10 to families of Members and employees that are back to work following the Nation’s partial shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now operating at a 50% maximum capacity to adhere to new social distancing guidelines, the center is taking all necessary precautions to ensure a healthy and happy learning environment.

Tricia Narolis, manager of the Early Learning Center, and assistant manager Tina Fox, came back on June 1 to put together a plan in preparation for the reopening. The guidelines stressed previous policies and procedures, but also added new precautions to ensure a healthy and safe learning environment for the children.

Among those new precautions is the curbside drop off and pick up procedure for families. The staff takes the temperature of every child outside each day as they arrive — the same screening that Nation employees must pass. All visitors must also use hand sanitizer before entering the Children’s wing of the Ray Elm Children and Elder’s Center.

With the 50% occupancy, the ELC staff has been able to provide more one on one interaction with the kids.

“We are doing our best to maintain social distance, but it can be difficult with younger children,” Tricia said. “We’re still doing a lot of the same things, they just have to be set up and ready to go in a different way. Which is where having smaller groups and more staff in the room makes that possible.”

Current enrollment is below the 50% maximum, but is fast-approaching that level as more employees are called back to work. There are only four babies in a room with three teachers — and four mini-toddlers (1 year olds), five toddlers, up to seven preschoolers and up to eight kids in pre-kindergarten.

Tricia says the center is ensuring the same kids are with the same teachers each day. “Everyone is staying with the same group,” she said. “We still have individual lessons and activities to meet the needs of each child. That’s still the same, but stressed even more.”

Each child needs their own bucket of toys because they cannot share anything yet. So the staff has set up the play areas for each child at an appropriate distance apart from one another. The staff also says the parents have done a wonderful job of educating their children about the importance of sanitizing and washing your hands.

As more kids come back to the center, the teachers and parents are thrilled to see just how excited they are to see and talk to their friends again.

“Because the kids still need the same experiences, we want to make sure we deliver what we always have, but present it in a different way,” Tricia said. “We are doing everything we can to keep the kids safe and healthy when they’re here, while also maintaining a fun, collaborative environment.”