CMU Helping Young Families Cope with the Pandemic
By Bruce Gerson
Carnegie Mellon’s child care and proctoring services created to assist families during the pandemic are getting high marks from parents and have recently been extended through the spring semester.
Launched this past October, CMU is now offering Flexible Child Care for children between the ages of 2 and 5; a Kindergarten Proctor and Play program to support 5-year-olds going to school remotely; and a Proctoring program for children between the ages of 6 and 12 who are taking classes online.
The programs, which employ 10 educators with a combined 168 years of experience, three proctors and two coordinators, are under the direction of Carla Freund, director of the Cyert Center for Early Education, and Judith Hallinen, assistant vice provost for educational outreach and director of the Gelfand Center for Service Learning and Outreach. Each of the 10 educators has a degree in education, child development, developmental psychology or other related fields.
Flexible Child Care
Tomohiro Nagashima, a Ph.D. student in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute, said he and his wife felt “saved” when they heard about CMU’s Flexible Child Care program for their soon-to-be 5-year-old son, Aoi. The child care facility they had been using prior to the emergence of COVID-19 has been closed since March, and he was thinking of sending his family back to Japan, where many child care facilities are open.
“CMU’s program has been beyond our expectations and we all so much appreciate it,” Nagashima said. “I didn’t expect that CMU would be able to put together such great resources — teachers and staff — for this program, but I was wrong. I hear from teachers, staff and Aoi that the program is well structured, good, clean toys are used and the teachers are experienced.”
The Flexible Child Care classroom is arranged with areas for learning and opportunities for play and social interaction.
The Flexible Child Care program currently offers morning (7:30 – 11 a.m.) and afternoon sessions (12:30 – 4 p.m.) at CMU’s 6555 Penn Avenue location at a cost of $5 per hour. More flexible hours may be announced soon in response to parent feedback.
“CMU’s program has been beyond our expectations and we all so much appreciate it.” — Tomohiro Nagashima
Nagashima said he feels safe sending Aoi to CMU and appreciates the open communication between teachers, staff and parents.
“I hear from Aoi about several strategies — socially distanced snack time, individually packed LEGOs — that teachers take in the classroom,” said Nagashima, who is in his fourth year at CMU. “I think all staff and teachers understand the rules and strategies well, which makes us feel very comfortable sending Aoi to school.
“I also really appreciate that teachers and staff have been creatively offering several opportunities for parents to know more about the program and what kids are doing at the school through office hours and daily reports with pictures. I love that staff and teachers try to communicate often, which makes us parents feel we are part of the process of building a good program together,” Nagashima said.
The classroom is arranged with areas for learning and opportunities for play and social interaction, Freund said. An age-appropriate “meeting time” in each morning and afternoon session includes songs, stories and prompts for children to share ideas. Weather permitting, the children spend time outside on the playground.
“Experiences and activities provided fall across all areas of early childhood curriculum,” Freund said, “including gross and fine motor, social-emotional, language and literacy, math, science and creative expression.”
Kindergarten Proctor and Play
The Kindergarten Proctor and Play program incorporates traditional activities that might be found in a Kindergarten setting.
The Kindergarten Proctor and Play (KP&P) program is a full-day offering from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for children currently enrolled in fully remote, mostly asynchronous Kindergarten. Like the Flexible Child Care offering, the KP&P is $5 per hour and is held at 6555 Penn Avenue.
Freund said when the children arrive, educators help them get organized and oriented with their technology tools. Support continues throughout the day based on an individual child’s needs.
“The experienced classroom educators utilize the Pennsylvania Early Learning Standards for Kindergarten when planning and facilitating group activities and designed independent learning provocations,” Freund said. “They also incorporate traditional activities that might be found in a Kindergarten setting, like practicing writing their name by signing in each morning and rotating classroom responsibilities, such as caring for the classroom fish and plants.”
Richard Pell’s son, Ryder, who attends Kindergarten at Montessori School in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, loves CMU’s KP&P program. His class meets online for an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon with time to complete assignments in between. The rest of the day includes play activities with the teachers and other children.
“Now he [Ryder] feels like he has teachers in his life again and comes home enthusiastic about what he accomplished in school.” — Richard Pell
“Prior to KP&P, Ryder had very little access to other kids and was frustrated by the pace of online kindergarten classes,” said Pell, an associate professor of Art. “Now he feels like he has teachers in his life again and comes home enthusiastic about what he accomplished in school.”
Pell said before the program he and his wife, who both work full-time from home, were at “wits end.” Without an in-person program for Ryder they felt they would be unable to work and care for their son. But then came CMU’s KP&P program.
“We love them,” he said of the teachers and staff. “The kids are getting so much individual attention. Ryder is thriving despite the circumstances. He is happy and we still have careers!”
All-Day On-Campus Proctoring
The Posner Center proctoring room has plexiglass barriers, vinyl mats for the children to work on and students are kept more than six feet apart.
The proctoring program for children between the ages of 6 and 12 is held in the Posner Center on campus. It also is $5 per hour and the full-day sessions run from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Beginning January 4, the day will start at 8 a.m. and end at 3:30 p.m.
Hallinen said proctors observe the children while they are involved in synchronous school activities and are there to help if there are technology issues. She said the Gelfand Center has provided art supplies and books for the children to use when they have finished their school work for the day. Weather permitting the children can get some fresh air in the nearby Kraus Campo.
“Vinyl mats that are disinfected nightly have been purchased for the children to work on,” Hallinen said. “There are two chairs between students in the space, which is greater than six feet apart. Everyone wears a mask, children wash their hands frequently and there are hand sanitizer stations. Air purifiers have been placed in several locations in the building.”
Cindy Lou Chepanoske, senior manager for business development and licensing at the Center for Tech Transfer and Enterprise Creation, has 9-year-old twin girls, Amelie and Zoe, enrolled in the proctoring program.
“It is not surprising that the Posner Center beats my dining room.” — Cindy Lou Chepanoske
“The CMU program is fantastic, well run and it feels very safe,” said Chepanoske, who earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry at CMU in 1995. “My girls absolutely love it and the attention they get when they run into any technical issue. They’ve enjoyed getting to know the proctors they work with and they love doing art projects when they finish their school work.”
Before the proctoring program began, she and her husband tried alternative working hours in addition to taking PTO so they could help their children during the school day. She sees the program as a big benefit to the whole family.
“The biggest benefit for me is very uninterrupted time working from home without needing to adjust my preferred working hours, knowing my kids are well cared for and getting their online work done,” Chepanoske said.
“For Amelie and Zoe, they have assistance at the ready — they don’t have to wait for me to be done with a meeting — and a feeling like they are going to school with meaningful social and safe interactions. They love that their ‘school’ is so fancy and modern with comfortable chairs. It is not surprising that the Posner Center beats my dining room,” she said.
In addition to the child care and proctoring programs CMU has initiated a free Family and Child Care Concierge service. The offering provides families with information, support, guidance and education on all dependent- and care-related topics. It utilizes available resources, such as Care.com, Carelink, the Employee Assistance Program, local child care centers and other after-school programs to provide assistance. You can contact the concierges at email@example.com.