GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Several West Michigan schools are transitioning back to full-time in-person learning. The Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative is among them. ELNC offers one of West Michigan’s largest pre-school programs. Founder and CEO Dr. Nkechy Ekere Ezeh, agrees they’ve made the best of a challenging situation, but says it is time for kids to come back.
Dr. Ezeh says being force to learn remotely has been particularly difficult for the children of color.
“The black and brown children are struggling. If we don’t bring them back to school and get them ready for kindergarten, they’re going to be behind for a long time,” she said.
According a the National Education Association, “research shows that providing a high-quality education for children before they turn five yields significant medium- and long-term benefits for students.”
The nation’s leading teachers association goes on to say “providing high-quality education for young children is also about racial and social justice. Access to effective, diverse programs breaks down structural barriers that have prevented all children–particularly children of color and children from disadvantaged families–from achieving their full potential.”
Dr. Ezeh agrees, but says the benefit of in-person preschool goes beyond learning to read and write.
“Yes, social skills and social-emotional skills are really what children need to ground them. Preschool is not about just drilling down with the academics. It is about the social interaction. Children need to be children, and really enjoy being children in a quality early childhood setting like ours,” said Dr. Ezeh.
ELNC has nearly a dozen site locations in the Grand Rapids area. Dr. Ezeh says they are taking extreme measures to keep their buildings and classrooms safe.
Wow, I thought we cleaned a lot before, with children in preschool, but we are cleaning even more. Again, we are following the CDC guidelines. We have a COVID coordinator in all of our buildings to make sure that we take the children’s temperature. Everybody is wearing a mask when they come in. We are cleaning and have sanitizer. In fact, we have that all over,” she said. “But, we also have to re-adjust and let children know what we are doing and why. Children need to know this, and they need to know what they need to do. Also, the children come in the building, but the parents do not. We receive the children from our parents and then the parents can go home, go back to work, and go back to life and keep on doing what they’ve been doing. It’s important to say our parents have been amazing throughout the whole process.”