Moulton Head Start reopened its doors to early learning students last Friday after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the preschool to shutter its doors in March.
Students and parents were reminded "there's no place like Moulton Head Start" when they were welcomed back to school for the first time on Friday, as the school held a special Wizard of Oz-themed welcome party for early learning students and their parents.
"We want to let everyone know we're back, and we're implementing all the health and safety measures required by the state and the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) to safely reopen," Moulton Head Start Assistant Director Carolyn Brackin Orr said.
She said the school welcomed back 14 early learning students, ages birth to 3-year-olds. Since last school year, she said the education-based center has also added an additional preschool-aged classroom, which allowed the school to add 15 more student slots to its roster.
The school now has a total of three preschool classrooms, with a total enrollment of 50 students including the early learners who were welcomed back Friday, according to Moulton Head Start Director Edie Dugger.
She said preschool students, ages three to five years old, will resume in August.
"If at all possible, we follow the Lawrence County School System's schedule," Dugger said. "As of (Friday), we plan to return when Lawrence County High School does, which is August 12."
She said the school still had 11 vacancies to fill as of Friday, so parents and guardians interested in the free learning program may still enroll their young student.
She said the school is practicing all safety guidelines, including requiring face masks.
"We continued virtual learning over the summer. We have a private Facebook page that allows our educators to have one-on-one interactions with the children and parents. We Face Timed with the students and the parents weekly, and even made a "Peek-a-boo video" for the students with our face masks," Dugger added. "I think that's helped with the transition back. With any back-to-school day, there is always some anxiety, but we prepared for that for our 14 babies here (Friday). They've missed their teachers and their school, and we've missed them."
Dugger said the students and parents were required to social distance outside as they waited for their turn to be brought into the classroom. She said the school also staggered classroom arrival times, by having parents of one classroom drop off students at 7:15 and parents of students in the second classroom brought their students at 7:30.
This helped maintain social distancing and prevented large crowds from gathering in the parking lot as well as inside school hallways, she said.
She said the school performs temperature and pre-screening checks before students are permitted inside the building each day. Parents are asked a series of questions before they even set foot on campus, she added. If a parent answers yes to any of the questions, she said their child is not permitted at school until they are released by a doctor or are symptom and fever free for at least 24 hours.
She said the school also has a protocol provided by the state preschool agency, Community Action Partnership of North Alabama, which follows CDC guidelines, to help prevent student exposure to COVID-19.
"We've intensified our cleaning procedures," she added. "We've always been adamant about doing those procedures, but we've increased the frequency of those. Where some things may have been cleaned and sanitized weekly, like washing sheets, we do those daily now. We sanitize every toy and we're increasing how many times we do that. We're doing all we can to keep the school open and safe."
She also said handwashing is nothing new for students and staff at the curriculum-based early learning center. As always, she said students will be educated about personal hygiene, which will also help maintain a safe learning environment.
Orr called the Head Start program in Moulton a "resource that needs to be tapped into."
During school sessions, the center is open to its students from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Instructors employed at Moulton Head Start are "very qualified educators," with bachelors, and some with masters, degrees in child development, she and Dugger said.
"Our center prepares these students for school. We have a heart for children and community," she said. "We are very involved with our students and their parents, even before COVID-19. We want our parents to be well-informed and involved."
She said enrollment at the school is free to students, and there are no potty-training requirements or restrictions on children with disabilities.
"We offer two meals and a snack a day to students enrolled here. All the resources we offer students during their time with us, including diapers, wipes, and formula, are free to the parents. Plus their children are receiving an education in a loving environment," Orr said.
She said the center also offers a program that accepts pregnant women. The program attempts to meet all the needs of expectant mothers by offering prenatal care, social and emotional support, educational resources and any other support the soon-to-be parent may need.
When the mother's child is born, Orr said the infant is automatically enrolled into the program. In fact, any time a child is enrolled at Moulton Head Start, they are automatically re-enrolled each year until they graduate at age five, she said.
For parents interested in enrolling their child, contact 256-303-7343.
Orr said applications may be filed over the phone. Parents or guardian of students already enrolled may also call the number listed for any questions or concerns, she added.
Moulton Head Start is located at 979 Rosenwald Street in Moulton.