As a former preschool teacher with a background in human resources, Julie Jacobson doesn’t view herself as an actor. But when the webinar camera is turned on to her audience of young children, it’s showtime.
“All of us were really surprised about the talents we found in our co-workers and in ourselves,” she said.
Jacobson is one of four instructors for Educational Service District 112’s 1-2-3 Grow & Learn program: a no-cost, parent-child facilitated educational playgroup for kids ages 5 and younger. Register at www.esd112.org/ece/1-2-3-grow-and-learn.
Its main purpose is to connect children with their future elementary schools and get them prepared for school, said Michelle Aguilar, ESD 112’s Child Care Aware manager. The program contracts with area school districts, including 14 elementary schools in Vancouver Public Schools, to help young learners prepare for kindergarten through a host of learning activities.
But just like everything else when COVID-19 hit last spring, the 1-2-3 Grow & Learn staff had to adapt their program – and fast. Schools closed, meaning trips to local elementary schools were halted.
That’s where Zoom comes in, and the virtual space is where the program continues to thrive this school year. The on-screen sessions run 45 minutes Monday through Friday and are jam-packed with events to keep little ones educated and entertained. The program uses games, stories, practicing numbers and letters, and other learning activities for kids to do at home with adults. It also has featured guest authors of children’s books.
It draws in an average of 162 children a day and has reached close to 20,000 kids and their families since last spring. And it’s not just Clark County’s youngest learners benefiting, either. Because it’s virtual – all you need is a webinar link to log in – viewership has reached kids and their families in Arizona, California, Montana, Oregon, Nevada and Utah.
In non-COVID-era times, the program reaches about 125 kids per week stretched across 14 sessions at local elementary schools. Jacobson said she remembers hoping five kids would log in for their first virtual session when, in fact, more than 100 tuned in.
“It is incredible,” she said. “A lot of kids call that their school, and it’s a normal part of their lives continuing after COVID, and families really appreciate that.”
Jacobson and her colleagues continue to find new ways to use their imaginations while being virtual. Art projects, for example, are now done with common household items. A popular one has kids use materials from home recycling bins to make robots.
“Our creativity has definitely gone up,” Jacobson said.
Last month, all Clark County school districts completed their K-12 transition into hybrid learning. Students who choose in-person instruction are now receiving at least twice-a-week learning at their schools. Aguilar said the 1-2-3 Grow & Learn program will remain virtual for the rest of the school year, but the virtual benefits have made a big impact on those near and far watching on a screen.
“The amount of energy and just the talent of the four of them when they get on the screen, it is amazing to watch,” Aguilar said. “The children engage and connect.”