As the Covid-19 pandemic ramped up last March, Midcoast Maine Community Action’s Head Start + Early Head Start teams were open on a typical Monday when they learned that they’d be closed the very next day due to lockdown precautions. With no notice, they worked quickly to develop a plan to keep Head Start parents and children connected to learning and resources.

“Teachers put up classroom websites and communication platforms within a week,” says Barbara Moody, Ph.D., Child and Family Services Director for MMCA. “They chose a platform based on parent input, and we used apps including Facebook, ClassDojo, and Seesaw. Teachers were highly responsive to what parents needed and wanted, even as things changed rapidly.”

At the time, very few Head Start teachers had work computers that could be used at home, so the program quickly purchased eight iPads and the teachers worked together to ensure that everyone was able to access everything they needed. “They did a fantastic job, but it wasn’t easy,” says Barbara.

When Head Start + Early Head Start resumed in person in the fall, the teachers knew they’d need to be prepared in case of another shut down. It was tough to source technology because of the demand, but they were able to obtain 25 more iPads, which are being distributed with training. “If our physical sites are closed, every teacher will be equipped,” says Barbara. “We’re able to do classroom record keeping, direct parents to resources, manage the bulletins and announcements, and be completely engaged with families and their kids.” The purchase was made possible through CARES Act money allocated to the Office of Head Start. This was distributed to all Head Start programs in the country based upon enrollment. MMCA received $132,000.

Parents have expressed gratitude for this rapid pivot to virtual classrooms, which have provided parents of very young children with developmentally-appropriate activities for their children and a resource for their questions. Teachers have provided more direct teaching to preschoolers in the Head Start program, while continuing to support family needs including food assistance, case management, and information on other services. The virtual classrooms have also made it possible for more parents to attend parent. teacher conferences and keep up with individualized education plan (IEP) meetings.

“We’ve learned so much, and we’ll keep using some of the practices we’ve adopted during this time,” says Barbara. “We’ll be using ClassDojo in every classroom next fall because it allows teachers to share updates and announcements with parents, and they can share about the child’s activities and progress in a way that parents respond to with enthusiasm. Anything that strengthens those connections is a winner.”