An interview with Journal authors Dawn M. Curtin and Linda L. Wilson
Editor’s Note: In their article for the Journal, authors Dawn M. Curtin and Linda L. Wilson shared examples of the lengths to which staff at The Enola Group Early Head Start program went to stay connected with children, families, one another, and their communities in spite of the restrictions and barriers of the pandemic. The stories of transformation they share are practical, insightful, and encouraging. But we also wanted to know how living through and telling those stories has transformed them.
1. What is one thing that you learned about the children and families in your program that surprised, moved, or inspired you?
Dawn: The one thing that surprised me about the children and families in our program was their willingness to adapt to the new virtual format we introduced to provide services. This whole new realm we entered due to the pandemic was both daunting and overwhelming to many, and yet they trusted our staff to guide them through this journey. For example, we discovered that some parents needed significant support to learn how to navigate the Internet, use technology, and grow comfortable in engaging their children in activities that involved the virtual platform. By the time summer rolled around, families were sharing virtual resources with us as well as initiating activities with other families through virtual socializations.
Linda: Home life for children and families became more stressful because of the COVID-19 pandemic. We could have expected families to be less involved with our program during this time. We, however, experienced children and parent relationships flourishing with many parents becoming more active in their child’s learning than before the pandemic. Parents were sharing more about what their children liked to do, describing their child’s abilities, trying new parenting strategies, and being increasingly creative with child learning opportunities. This was observed while teachers or in-home educators conducted virtual visits. A few parents even offered to record videos of activities and gave us permission to share them with other parents. Families were giving, understanding, and appreciative of the program and staff
2. What is one thing that you learned about the staff in your program that surprised, moved, or inspired you?
Linda: Our program’s staff amaze me. They didn’t question pulling together and looking at different ways to ensure that the children and families enrolled in our program continued to feel connected. They listened to families. They teamed up with each other and other organizations to help get families connected to resources. They found a way to make sure each family knew they were important. Staff also sought out ways to recruit new children and families. For example, staff arranged to volunteer at local food banks to share program information. Staff had team meetings and shared ideas and strategies over different virtual formats. Supervisors and managers communicated safety and health practices and kept their focus on the “big picture” while responding to individual staff needs and concerns. I am proud to be a part of this program.
Dawn: I have learned that the staff in our program have a dedication that far outshines typical employees. I knew we had a strong, professional team who cared about the relationships and quality of our program, but the level of caring, compassion, and resourcefulness they displayed was amazing. They advocated for families to ensure that they had what they needed, were engaged in positive experiences during a dark and difficult time, and made sure that the children enrolled still had the opportunity to learn and grow in a variety of ways with their families. I have always believed that the staff in our program are amazing, and this experience has highlighted the talents and strengths they bring to the table. To say I am proud to be part of this team is an understatement.
3. What have you learned about yourself or how have you changed as a result of this time—as an administrator, family advocate, family service provider, or just as a human being?
Dawn: I have learned that planning and preparing for multiple options, besides the “normal” method of operating, is necessary and essential in this new environment and with an open mind, anything is possible. I have overcome my hesitancy to depend on technology and have become much more adept at navigating the resources available through our virtual world.
Linda: It strengthened my belief that our program was successful because of the relationships that we built with children, families, and each other. This time also solidified for me that our program was strong because of our effective and compassionate leaders. Program leaders communicated continuously and created with staff new ways of doing things. They also helped address staff needs, which included advocating for Internet support, giving breaks, supplying masks, providing guidance, giving flexibility with schedules, and creating access to mental health supports. Taking care of ourselves and each other was important.