For many youngsters, school is a place for required learning, a space to share time with friends and something to occupy the day until it's time to head home, finish homework and enjoy time with family. But for others, school means so much more.
"Because of COVID, for some of our kids, being at home all day isn't an ideal environment for them to be in," Lailanie Jones, executive director at Precious Lamb Preschool in downtown Long Beach, said.
Precious Lamb Preschool, a faith-based nonprofit, is available free of charge to children living in shelters and rehabilitation programs in the greater Long Beach area, offering early education to homeless children throughout the community with the mission of "breaking the cycle of homelessness, one child at a time."
Because of COVID-19, the preschool had to temporarily close in March, leaving some of its students without the safety net the school offers. For some, that's a warm meal, for others, it's a retreat from a home life that might be less than stable.
Jones said that while the school may have been out of session, the Precious Lamb staff continued to offer services to families that needed it, including help with paying bills, staying current on rent and providing a grocery and meal service every Thursday.
The school's emphasis on a low teacher-to-student ratio also made it possible for staff to keep in touch with families, allowing services to remain personal and attentive, Jones added.
"The good thing to our benefit, and what makes Precious Lamb so special, is that teachers were able to keep in touch with two to three families each," she said. "They have been able to check in on them, pick up deliveries of food and generally be a point of support should any of our kids or their families need it."
She added that while having to temporarily close the school wasn't ideal, the staff is used to thinking on their feet and adapting to changing environments.
"You have to be able to make unexpected changes and adjust," she said. "For our kids, anything can change in an instant, so adapting is a part of our model."
Along with check-ins, the school's staff has been uploading weekly learning videos on YouTube that feature story time, counting exercises and practicing the alphabet.
Jones said that they're ready to get back in the classroom too, with prep already taking place to make sure that the school will be operating with the latest CDC guidelines in place, including limiting the number of students in close proximity to one another, adjusting lunch and recess times to maintain social distancing and properly disinfecting all areas of the school daily.
"We are in close connection with the L.A. Health Department, we're following the new childcare CDC guidelines and we're making sure to get everything done right before everyone heads back to school," she said.
Jones's current proposal will ask teachers to come back to work on Monday, June 1, with preschoolers starting school two weeks later on Monday, June 15. When the board reached an official start date, families will be notified.
For more information about Precious Lamb Preschool, go to preciouslamb.org or call 562-243-1715.
To make a donation, go to preciouslamb.org/how-to-give.
Stephanie Stutzman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.