The Five Towns Early Learning Center in Inwood, an essential part of the community it has served for 80 years, has remained vital during the coronavirus pandemic by never shutting its doors to care for the children of frontline workers. During World War II, women who attended trade school dropped off their children so they could work in the place of men.
Executive Director Pepper Robinson said that in the first few weeks of the Covid-19 health crisis enrollment dropped to as low as eight but has jumped to 30 in the past couple of weeks. “People are creeping back, sometimes parents who are working are uncomfortable leaving their children,” she said, in explaining the dip.
One family had the teenage kids watching the younger ones, 5 and 2, and Robinson said the parents realized there was no routine and the more youthful siblings needed the structure the Early Learning Center provides.
There is plenty of hand sanitized, hand washing and mask wearing, Robinson said, but admitted that social distancing 2-year-olds is not easy. However, staff meetings are held to remind everyone of the diligence needed to keep everyone healthy and that includes not having the parents walk into the Wahl Avenue building to pick up their children.
“We spend more time outdoors and were granted a waiver by the Department of Social Services to have the older kids, kindergarten and first-graders of the siblings already here,” Robinson said, adding that less noise and more time outside has allowed the kids to hear more of nature such as a woodpecker doing what a woodpecker does.
She said that the from the start all her teachers “my rock stars” never left and that has been a large part of helping their students through a challenging time. “We are worried about the children and their social, emotional development, that no one’s talking to them,” Robinson said, adding that coming to the center is a “pocket of normalcy” where the teachers offer a “sense of a routine that provides them with positive social, emotional experiences.”
That normalcy could head off a regression in maturity, where children might go back to wanting a pacifier again. So, Taco Tuesday remains in place, she said. However, the children did experience grief as the center’s 30-year-old turtle Gina died.
Similar to Blanche DuBois, but in a much nicer fashion, the Five Towns Early Learning Center relies on the kindness of others. However, both Kiwanis clubs in the Five Towns, the Five Towns Kiwanis Club and Peninsula Kiwanis Club, are not strangers to the Early Learning Center.
Over the years, both clubs have assisted the center. Five Towns Kiwanis member Tom Cohen said that the center contacted them to help with food donations as the pandemic strained the ELC’s resources.
“Many of the families of the children that ELC looks after they look after have been impacted financially, many have lost jobs and income,” he said. “Pepper is very well known to us and annually we support the organization though our charitable Five Towns Kiwanis Foundation.”
By providing Stop & Shop gift cards, center families were able to buy the food items they wanted. “The club noted that many organizations provide pre-packaged food supplies but our method of support allows the families to purchase items they specifically want,” Cohen said, adding that 25 gift cards valued at $25 each were given to center families.