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Effie Bennett-Powe Child Development Center Responds to COVID-19 with Innovation and Resilience

Cobleskill, NY – As the faculty at the Effie Bennett-Powe Child Development Center (EBP CDC) at SUNY Cobleskill began to grapple with the new reality presented by COVID-19, maintaining “a warm, family atmosphere throughout the pandemic” for their preschoolers was paramount in their planning, said Elise Weiss, program director of the Center.

The Center currently serves 17 children, ranging from three to five years old, with a play-based philosophy promoting social, emotional, cognitive, physical, and language development. Moving from spacious classrooms, outdoor play areas, and an indoor gym to remote engagement was an urgent challenge, but also an opportunity to be innovative and resilient. Before the end of March, the Center’s plan was up and running.

Weiss, along with lead preschool teacher Renee Knapp, and practicum students, devised a schedule to engage the children throughout the day, beginning with their first morning hello from Murray the Monster, a character the children themselves created. Murray is available on a recently launched private EBP CDC YouTube channel dedicated to the children and their parents.

The channel offers a growing library of videos of the Center’s practicum students reading stories and singing songs from their homes and enhancing the family atmosphere by occasionally introducing members of their own families to the children and their parents.

As Weiss explains, in addition to offering digital content, the team decided to use some “old school” methods as well. A communication was sent to parents with the home addresses of the practicum students, who have become pen pals with the children, exchanging letters and drawings. Going even further, the children have all received “activity kits” filled with materials and resources to engage the children in making things, practicing their handwriting, and learning through play.

Knapp stays in close communication with parents and families through the Class Dojo app. Families can check in with Knapp and communicate with her daily. She misses her preschoolers dearly, she says, and has brought all 17 of them together through Facetime. “They had so much to say and so many things to show me.”

Early Childhood students continue to learn and grow. Throughout a normal semester, students enrolled in the freshman course, Child Growth and Development, study the preschoolers from an observation booth, in order to prepare reports that highlight the physical, cognitive, social-emotional, and language strengths of the children. This semester, with shortened observation time, Elise Weiss and Renee Knapp have collaborated to supplement the students’ observations with information and even the children’s artwork to analyze their developmental stages. Practicum students are also leading a Power Point project, using fairy tale and nursery rhyme themes to develop math, literacy and science activities, with links to songs, interactive play, and videos of students reading to the preschoolers.

“In essence, the shift to distance learning has provided additional rich learning opportunities for the college students,” says Weiss. “I am very excited about that for the future of our Early Childhood program.”

The Effie Bennett-Powe Child Development Center will be celebrating its 50th Anniversary in 2021.


This release was initially published by SUNY Cobleskill, 04/14/20

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