Delaware Stars staff member delivering supplies during COVID-19 pandemic

UD Helps With Early Care and Education Programs

Delaware Stars provides essential supplies and educational assistance

Imagine teaching 3-year-olds to practice social distancing. Not an easy task, but one of many requirements that early care and education programs must implement to stay open during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Early childhood professionals are today’s frontline responders, taking children’s temperatures, rigorously disinfecting classrooms and implementing social distancing to help Delawareans return to their workplace.

Fortunately, early childhood professionals aren’t alone. Delaware Stars, a state-funded program within the Delaware Institute for Excellence in Early Childhood (DIEEC) at the University of Delaware, charged with helping early care and education programs improve quality, has provided much-needed resources, such as thermometers, cloth face coverings and hand sanitizers to more than 600 programs statewide through contactless delivery.

“The goal of DIEEC is to improve the quality of early care and education programs throughout the state of Delaware,” said Rena Hallam, director of DIEEC and professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences. “The work in Delaware Stars is a great example of how we have adapted to meet the changing needs of early childhood programs during this difficult time.”

The Institute is housed in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences in the College of Education and Human Development.

Before Gov. John Carney issued a State of Emergency on March 12, 2020, Delaware Stars staff supported early care and education programs through what is known as “technical assistance.” Technical Assistants are child care experts who work with early childhood professionals throughout the state to create successful outcomes for Delaware’s youngest learners.

“Through Delaware Stars, we partner with early care and education programs and support quality improvements by being responsive to program needs,” said Kristy Sheffler, director of Delaware Stars. “However, the content of the areas we’re supporting has shifted with COVID-19.”

Nikki Nokes, an early childhood professional from The Children's Place in Camden, Delaware, is overwhelmed with joy after receiving healthcare supplies from Delaware Stars staff.

Nikki Nokes, an early childhood professional from The Children’s Place in Camden, Delaware, is overwhelmed with joy after receiving healthcare supplies from Delaware Stars staff.

The Stars’ mission and that of the entire early care community ramped up during COVID-19. In early April, when businesses closed, many early care and education programs became emergency child care sites so Delaware’s essential personnel could work.

Early childhood professionals were required to navigate a new set of safety and health requirements. With Delaware Stars staff no longer allowed in child care sites, supporting programs required responsive and creative thinking. Delaware Stars quickly mobilized to support early childhood professionals virtually with a menu of options, including weekly Zoom calls with technical assistants, webinars, and other resources to share step-by-step instructions for keeping children safe and healthy.

“Had it not been for Stars, I would have not been able to continue operating,” said Tressa Clemow, owner of Lovebug Lane Learning Academy, a large family early care and education program in Wilmington, Delaware. “My technical assistant keeps me in the loop of all the requirements every step of the way, helping me access all the resources, including financial support to keep me open.”

As the state moved through Phase 1 and Phase 2 of reopenings in June, more child care sites opened to the same stringent health screenings and hygiene requirements as emergency child care sites.

“The number of programs that chose to adapt their operations to meet all of the updated licensing and health regulations, so they could remain open and serve their children and families, blew me away,” said Sheffler. “When we started hearing that the programs that chose to remain open weren’t able to find hand sanitizer, that the touchless thermometers were hard to come by and expensive, we wanted to do our part and be responsive to make sure that Delaware’s early childhood professionals had the supplies that they needed to keep their children, their families, and themselves safe.”

The Stars sprang into action. In addition to assembling more than 600 healthcare kits, about 20 Stars staff members spent several days canvassing the state to deliver the kits in a contactless manner.

“Early childhood professionals are essential personnel in every way – our state wouldn’t function without them,” said Sheffler.

“We are so thankful for all that Stars is doing and for thinking of us with the kits,” said Cindy Jones, early childhood professional from Room to Bloom, a family early care and education program in Dover, Delaware. “We know Stars has had to make adjustments during the pandemic so we are especially appreciative of their staff taking the time to put together the bags and delivering them to us.”

Article by Lin Nordmeyer | Photos courtesy of Heather Cobb and Nikki Nokes