A day in the life of a San Francisco preschool: Here's how they've changed to keep kids safe

From kids waiting in hula hoops to mandatory temperature checks. Here's an inside look at what's changed at Phoebe Hearst Preschool in San Francisco,

Lyanne Melendez Image
Tuesday, August 4, 2020
A day in the life of a preschool in SF amid COVID-19 crisis
While the vast majority of Bay Area schools will start the fall with online instruction, child care centers are allowed to open for in-person care. Here's a comprehensive look at the major changes two SF preschools took to stay open during the pandemic.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- More than four months since the novel coronavirus lockdown began, some child care centers and preschools have been serving children of essential workers and never closed. Now, these facilities serve somewhat as a model for all schools. Here's a comprehensive look at the major changes two San Francisco preschools took to keep children safe amid the ongoing pandemic.


At Phoebe Hearst Preschool in San Francisco, safety starts even before entering the building. Parents stand in line, six feet apart. The use of hand sanitizer is encouraged after signing in. Children enter and parents never go in.

"Stopping at the front door, temperature taking, parents no longer allowed into the building, all of us wearing masks, explains Irene Byrne, director of Phoebe Hearst Preschool in San Francisco.

It's 8:30 a.m. in the morning and each child stands inside a hula hoop with their supplies until it's time for their teachers to bring them into the classroom. This is preschool in times of COVID-19.

"And I have to say the children act as though none of that mattered at all," adds Byrne.

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Inside the classroom, all of the desks are spread out and spaces clearly marked.

Each child is allowed to only use his or her own supplies. Anything they share is immediately sanitized.

Still, the preschool acknowledges that one of their biggest challenges continues to be reminding kids to social distance.

"Whenever we can help them to social distance, we will, so eating, playing, if they are doing something individually they have their own materials so at that point they can be apart, but running on the playground no, they just want to be together," says Byrne.

Currently, the school has 50 kids. Teachers and staff have also remained COVID-free since being open for two months.

Statewide, as of late July, California has seen a slight increase in infections, still less than 2% of child care facilities have reported any cases. And nationwide, there are almost no recorded cases of child-to-adult transmission of COVID-19.

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Experts recommend parents have conversations with their children about wearing masks to help make sure kids keep them on in public.

That's not enough to convince Jen Kabbabe, a new mother who had every intention of sending baby Adela to child care. Now she's weighing her options.

"We have a very small apartment but we're looking,we're meeting with some nannies, people who have been recommended through friends and things to see if we could work something out just part-time. I'll be teaching from home and my husband will be working from home," says Kabbabe.

Even if they wanted her baby to attend a child care facility, there's a real supply and demand issue in San Francisco. Of the nearly 1,000 sites in the city, only 600 are operating today and the majority of them are running at half their normal capacity. This means less income and more expenses in order to comply with CDC guidelines.

At 6 o'clock in the evening in the Excelsior District, the deep cleaning process at Brilliant Kids Child Care and Preschool is set to begin.

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Wearing a mask and gloves, and keeping distance, ABC7 News' Lyanne Melendez was there to witness the steps taken by Barbara Ng and her daughter Serena Tsang to keep children virus-free.

"All the tables, this table sits four kids and this one, only one," explains Ng who sprays every surface. The tables are wiped down in one direction to keep from redepositing germs that they just wiped up.

"So she goes left to right," Tsang tells us.

The bathroom is thoroughly cleaned at the end of the day and every time a child uses it. So if they have eight children going to the restroom twice a day, that's 16 times.

"Half of the time is spent cleaning and half of the time we spend teaching," adds Tsang.

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Small programs like this one have lost nearly half of their daily attendance because of the pandemic. This is not a sustainable long term because these facilities operate on razor-thin profit margins.

Congress has provided some financial relief, and locally, Mayor London Breed's office has offered some short-term assistance but it's simply not enough.

Ng is hoping she can survive the financial hardship she now faces.

"I will put the safety, health and safety is priority first even though I need my economy and it's not that good, but I will do that first, expresses Ng.

"Early childhood programs that have reopened are doing it really, really well and we feel really confident that we can continue to do that so we're hoping that we'll be able to keep on going and that way children are engaged, they are in a program in real-time and parents are able to work," says Byrne.

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