Enrolments at the Windermere Child Care Society (WCCS) have decreased by 88 per cent since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

On June 10, the WCSS reopened with enhanced safety precautions for attending families and WCCS staff have welcomed the opportunity to serve essential workers and parents who are returning to work.

“The attendance is way down, which is good,” said Pat Miller, manager. “We’re more or less just taking parents who are essential services where parents are going back to work.”

The total number of teachers has also decreased for the time being.

“We wanted to do this at a slow and easy pace,” Miller explained. “We didn’t want to rush it with a whole bunch of people… it’s a matter of when parents are ready to send their kids back.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, enrollments accounted for 84 children attending the WCCS.

“Now, there’s about 10 kids,” Miller said. “We’ve opened it for anybody that really needed us. We took them all in and covered emergency workers through the Children Community Resources and Referrals (CCRR) out of Cranbrook who was helping essential workers place kids for families during the pandemic.”

While the challenges of asking young children to practice social and physical distancing remain, Miller and her team are working hard to incorporate safety precautions at every turn.

“We’ve only opened two rooms,” she explained. “One room is not available, and preschool doesn’t run through the summer.”

However, there are some minor tweaks geared toward improving the safety measures to adhere to provincial guidelines regarding group sizes and sanitization efforts.

There’s a one-time waiver for returning families to fill-out in light of the evolving pandemic.

Now, parents who typically drop-off their children are met at the gate by a teacher who will verbally ask questions daily to screen for COVID-19 symptoms, then they’re escorted into their classrooms by the teacher.

“We come through one side of our yard. We have a health check. We sanitize there and sign them in,” Miller explained. “We have our teachers come from their rooms to the fence to pick up the children and we’ve made smaller groups to practice social distancing and require regular handwashing and hand-sanitizing. Parents do not come through the gates. Just our children.”

In addition, the WCCS has decreased the number of chairs in each room and has created play stations to ensure children aren’t cross contaminating shared toys.

“Kids will be kids,” said Miller. “But they’re coming in and catching on to washing their hands when they come through the gates. With the toys, they’re learning to play with their own toys at their stations. It’s a big endeavour, but it’s working and they’re really enjoying it.”

But so far, the returning students are happy to be back at school, even if it’s only for a couple of days each week.

“They’ve all missed their friends and are all having a good ol’ time,” she said. “Attendance has been the biggest change for us but everyone has been quite accepting because of the number of things we’ve done to show safety for their kids.”