Orange Coast College’s Early Childhood Lab program has persevered through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s been taught by professors who have prioritized education and safety successfully. The early childhood program both benefits students who are taking the program and its children who attend OCC's preschool and lab, because the curriculum is designed to stimulate social and cognitive development.
It was closed during March through May 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As it was getting ready to open last year, both departments collaborated with risk management agency for safety and state licensing. As a team, they provided new guidelines regarding COVID-19. The newest major guidelines included such policies as sign-ins and sign-outs for parents being held outdoors and only able to use their own pens/pencils to reduce sharing. Before COVID-19, parents were able to come visit at the beginning of the day. That was not allowed in the new guidelines.
Students spend more time outdoors than they have before COVID-19 with more outdoor activities used to stimulate their brains in their learning process. Indoor space has been limited in order to sustain safety. If a student starts showing signs of illness, there is a protocol for parents to notify the school through Coast Community College District human resources.
“We haven’t been able to coordinate events since the pandemic. However, we are all brainstorming new ways we can create safe events with the help of the district and state,” said Kourtney Jones, early childhood lab coordinator at OCC. “Last year, we were a part of a car parade and our annual end-of-the-year picnic. We are hoping to resume these events soon.”
There was uncertainty as to how this program would continue. Due to that concern, distance learning was also incorporated into the new curriculum. Current students and children were also offered virtual learning during the shutdown. Virtual learning is only available to both students and children who are currently enrolled and will not continue into the new academic year in the fall. OCC’s Early Childhood Lab school will be fully opened in January 2022. There will also be a three-week summer program running this June, before they close for July and reopen, as usual, in August.
With the hands-on activities in the lab program, OCC students are able to experience the reality of working with children and their challenges. In addition, it prepared them with virtual resumes before the pandemic.
“The lab school virtual portfolio helped me well before the pandemic,” said Debbie Qiu, an OCC Childhood and Lab School alumni. “With my current job as a stem teacher for early childhood development, I was quickly hired because it drove attention to my work and mindset. They do a great job preparing you for the real world.”