Pandemic education tough, but Head Start children proving tougher

Published 11:02 am Friday, April 14, 2023

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The pandemic was tough on everyone, but the children enrolled in the Upper East Tennessee Human Development Agency’s Head Start program are proving to be tougher than the global disease’s impact on education.
COVID radically changed our approaches to learning. Teachers and students had to become very flexible and be prepared to make the change from in-person learning to virtual, to hybrid, and back to in-person again. This also impacted the parents and increased their responsibility to their child’s learning.
This flexibility and the ability to think outside the box during the shut-down kept learning going through a whole new virtual setting. This kept services going, families connected, and learning was on-going.
It wasn’t easy, though. Virtual Learning was very difficult for our Head Start children (ages 3-5 years old) because it is not developmentally appropriate. Because children were doing more virtual learning, they were unable to interact with their peers – and early childhood learning focuses on those interactions and how children learn from them.
It did, however, increase everyone’s resiliency and flexibility, both children and teachers. Teachers had to be prepared for in-person learning with virtual plans ready if needed, so disruptions in our service was minimal. Fortunately, we were able to set up a virtual learning classroom for families and children that were not comfortable with an in-person setting. We were able to keep the learning going by supplying tablets to families that needed them.
Learning is now more important than ever and must continue as we play catch-up. Last year, we continued to bridge the gap of classroom time lost during the pandemic. Most of our classrooms remained open with just brief interruptions in the in-person learning setting. Children have proven to be resilient, and this is backed up by our data from last year’s assessments.
At this point families are ready to get back to some normalcy and, by keeping the learning going (even through the virtual), we were able to stay in touch with families and know what their needs were throughout a time that they could have felt very isolated.
When the classrooms had to completely shut down at the beginning of the pandemic, we thought that the learning gap would take many years to recover. As we get back into the classrooms and have that instructional time with the children, we are excited to see that the achievement gap may be more easily overcome. At Head Start, we focus on children’s social and emotional development, and we did see more children struggling with this, but we have highly qualified staff that know how to scaffold learning and serve as good role models by having highly effective interactions with the children. In this environment, we are hoping that children will continue to show improvements and gains.
UETHDA Head Start is here to serve the children and their families by providing a highly qualified educational program. We are a strong agency, and we find ways to meet the ever-changing needs of our neighbors, one need at a time and the family as a whole.
We focus on the whole child and provide them with learning opportunities that will help their cognitive and social-emotional growth. We include the children’s families in every step of their educational experience with us. We work as an agency to better our community and help our neighbors. The COVID pandemic has shown us how strong we are as an agency, how dedicated our staff is to serve our families, and how resilient the children and their families are. The future still looks bright!
(Anne Cox is Education Manager for UETHDA Head Start and Michelle Tester is UETHDA Class Team Leader. UETHDA has Head Start classrooms in all eight counties of Upper East Tennessee: Carter, Greene, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington. We accept applications year-round. However, spots fill up fast. Families can reach out for support or apply for the program on our website,, or call us at 423-246-6180 to talk with one of our Family Engagement Specialists.)

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