ABINGDON, V.a. (WJHL) — Virginia First Lady Pamela Northam’s annual back-to-school tour looked a little different this year, as many other aspects of 2020 amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Northam launched the third annual tour to travel from school district to district across Virginia — starting in Southwest Virginia on Monday at Miss Amy’s Childcare Center.
She told News Channel 11 that these tours help shed light on classrooms and learning dynamics and create legislation to present to the General Assembly.
Northam contrasted this year’s tours to classrooms across the state to tours in years’ past and addressed that an increase in virtual learning could affect the future of education within Virginia.
“It’s really an interesting time in education, and I think as we’re innovating and learning as we go and moving very quickly, I think we’re looking for some silver-lining and opportunities,” Northam said. “Yes, there are lots of challenges, but I also look at that as opportunity as well.
“(Virginia teachers) have really taken on this new challenge whether it’s learning in the classroom or learning at home or some combination of both. They’ve really jumped on board and held the line for us to get out there and do what the kids need no matter what that looks like now.”
Northam will be traveling to schools within the Southwest Virginia region until Tuesday, August 1.
The impact: Early childhood education and abiding to guidelines
Amy Bowie established Miss Amy’s Childcare Center almost three decades ago and had yet to experience a year quite like 2020 until the pandemic hit the U.S. in late January.
“Every child has their own pencils, crayons, scissors, markers, and Lego blocks that no one else can touch,” Bowie said. “Socially distanced circle time…when normally we’re holding hands and sitting together, we’re sitting far apart…those are just a few of the changes.”
According to Bowie, socialization acts as a fundamental necessity of early childhood education, and scrambling to meet state guidelines while ensuring to meet all those needs of her program’s original dozens of children just wasn’t possible — cuts in both attendance and staff were made so the center could remain open.
“In March, we dropped to below 10 children some days, and our license is for 61,” Bowie said. “We’ve stayed open the entire time. We have rearranged the center five times; every time there’s a new phase or guidelines, we have to change what we’re doing to meet those guidelines.
“Right now, the problem that we’re having is hiring and retaining qualified staff. I laid eight people off in March; some of those people couldn’t return because they live with people who have immuno-compromised systems.”
Currently, there are more than 50 children on the waiting list to return to the preschool.