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California county emphasizes emotional well-being in pivot to preschool distance learning

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  • County News Article

    California county emphasizes emotional well-being in pivot to preschool distance learning

    Transitioning to distance learning was hard enough for San Bernardino County, California’s preschool students, as they looked at the practical aspects of changing their entire way of learning during the pandemic.

    The county saw early on that it would need to put as much effort into supporting the emotional needs of the students and their families as it would into academic work. Within weeks, more than 6,000 families spread throughout the largest county in the contiguous United States were receiving instruction and services from a program that saw itself working on a long timeline when many nationwide were expecting a quick resolution to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    “I don’t think anyone anticipated 12 to 18 months of services being impacted, but within two weeks, we had our operations in place,” said Arlene Molina, deputy director of the county’s Preschool Services Department. Once the county had its safer-at-home order, Molina knew her department would have to help families navigate the emotional challenges of an uncertain new world.

    On the educational side, the department collaborated with First 5, Children’s Fund, and the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools to fund the digital Footsteps to Brilliance reading kindergarten preparatory program. The county supplemented surplus equipment with equipment paid for by CARES Act funding to provide mobile phone hot spots, tablets and Chromebooks to families in need. The Child and Adult Care Food Program made drive-by deliveries of fresh produce to help meet families’ needs.

    The department conducted 1,270 mental health tele-sessions, distributed more than 97,000 grab-and-go lunches and 5,000 boxes of produce and loaned out 103 mobile hot spots, 642 surplus or used tablets, and 35 Chromebooks.

    “In our reimagining of our face-to-face groups, we mailed materials for the home to replicate the experience,” Molina said. “We sent parents weekly routines and materials, books, paper, pencils… links to videos, storytelling for before and after the session.

    “We wanted to help create a routine,” because the lives these families were experiencing were anything but routine.

    The county formed a parent support group, with monthly meetings for parents who didn’t necessarily need intensive services but were feeling the effects of isolation. “We talked about things like parenting fatigue, challenging behaviors and effective routines,” Molina noted.

    “We had those conversations based on what the parents were saying,” Molina said. “They might not need intensive mental health services, but we need a space to talk to other parents, being mediated by someone who has access and knowledge of community resources. 

    “We work with some of the most vulnerable populations, many who are dealing with additional challenges like children with special needs,” she said, so additional guided support was crucial, as was incorporating wellness checks for the parents, in addition to children.

    “Countless families lost people who were important to them, so they had to have discussions about that with them, so we offered guidance for that,” Molina said. “A lot of families faced the question of ‘how to keep your family safe as you start to move outside of the home — what’s safe to do in a park?’

    “We consistently communicated with families and changed our messaging as was appropriate.”

    It wasn’t all turned on a dime.

    “For the last three or four years, we had a sharp focus on trauma treatment, so it wasn’t a huge jump to take our trauma treatment services program and figure out — how do we work together with families and teachers and clinicians to support families who are coping with their own grief and losses?” Molina said. “We took into account their cognitive expectations for a 3-, 4-, 5-year old, talking to them in a way they could understand and process their own grief,” not just for lost family members and friends, but lost time and opportunities.

    Families gave ample feedback, both directly and sending in photos of the delivered produce in use.

    “We’re not only an educational program, we’re not only a mental health program— we’re a comprehensive social services program, so we have nutritionists on staff, we have behavioral specialists on staff,” Molina said. “A lot of that comes because the model we’re in looks at families holistically. We aim to provide comprehensive services to families.”

    Molina was quick to credit the flexibility of county staff members, many of whom were dealing with the same issues at the same time as the families they served.

    “We were able to do that because we had so many partners and because our staff was willing to make so many adjustments for the needs of our parents,” she said.

    When San Bernadino transitioned its preschool services to remote delivery as the pandemic began, plans were already in place to augment instruction with emotional and mental health support for students and families. 
    2021-11-15
    County News Article
    2021-11-17
When San Bernadino transitioned its preschool services to remote delivery as the pandemic began, plans were already in place to augment instruction with emotional and mental health support for students and families.

Transitioning to distance learning was hard enough for San Bernardino County, California’s preschool students, as they looked at the practical aspects of changing their entire way of learning during the pandemic.

The county saw early on that it would need to put as much effort into supporting the emotional needs of the students and their families as it would into academic work. Within weeks, more than 6,000 families spread throughout the largest county in the contiguous United States were receiving instruction and services from a program that saw itself working on a long timeline when many nationwide were expecting a quick resolution to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I don’t think anyone anticipated 12 to 18 months of services being impacted, but within two weeks, we had our operations in place,” said Arlene Molina, deputy director of the county’s Preschool Services Department. Once the county had its safer-at-home order, Molina knew her department would have to help families navigate the emotional challenges of an uncertain new world.

On the educational side, the department collaborated with First 5, Children’s Fund, and the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools to fund the digital Footsteps to Brilliance reading kindergarten preparatory program. The county supplemented surplus equipment with equipment paid for by CARES Act funding to provide mobile phone hot spots, tablets and Chromebooks to families in need. The Child and Adult Care Food Program made drive-by deliveries of fresh produce to help meet families’ needs.

The department conducted 1,270 mental health tele-sessions, distributed more than 97,000 grab-and-go lunches and 5,000 boxes of produce and loaned out 103 mobile hot spots, 642 surplus or used tablets, and 35 Chromebooks.

“In our reimagining of our face-to-face groups, we mailed materials for the home to replicate the experience,” Molina said. “We sent parents weekly routines and materials, books, paper, pencils… links to videos, storytelling for before and after the session.

“We wanted to help create a routine,” because the lives these families were experiencing were anything but routine.

The county formed a parent support group, with monthly meetings for parents who didn’t necessarily need intensive services but were feeling the effects of isolation. “We talked about things like parenting fatigue, challenging behaviors and effective routines,” Molina noted.

“We had those conversations based on what the parents were saying,” Molina said. “They might not need intensive mental health services, but we need a space to talk to other parents, being mediated by someone who has access and knowledge of community resources. 

“We work with some of the most vulnerable populations, many who are dealing with additional challenges like children with special needs,” she said, so additional guided support was crucial, as was incorporating wellness checks for the parents, in addition to children.

“Countless families lost people who were important to them, so they had to have discussions about that with them, so we offered guidance for that,” Molina said. “A lot of families faced the question of ‘how to keep your family safe as you start to move outside of the home — what’s safe to do in a park?’

“We consistently communicated with families and changed our messaging as was appropriate.”

It wasn’t all turned on a dime.

“For the last three or four years, we had a sharp focus on trauma treatment, so it wasn’t a huge jump to take our trauma treatment services program and figure out — how do we work together with families and teachers and clinicians to support families who are coping with their own grief and losses?” Molina said. “We took into account their cognitive expectations for a 3-, 4-, 5-year old, talking to them in a way they could understand and process their own grief,” not just for lost family members and friends, but lost time and opportunities.

Families gave ample feedback, both directly and sending in photos of the delivered produce in use.

“We’re not only an educational program, we’re not only a mental health program— we’re a comprehensive social services program, so we have nutritionists on staff, we have behavioral specialists on staff,” Molina said. “A lot of that comes because the model we’re in looks at families holistically. We aim to provide comprehensive services to families.”

Molina was quick to credit the flexibility of county staff members, many of whom were dealing with the same issues at the same time as the families they served.

“We were able to do that because we had so many partners and because our staff was willing to make so many adjustments for the needs of our parents,” she said.

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