Despite pandemic, on-campus childcare and preschool continues operations


Sami Mirza

In addition to housing the two preschools, Oddfellows also hosts the English and Philosophy and Religious Sciences Departments

The return of students has also brought the return of Meadville Cooperative Preschool, located on campus in Oddfellows. As with many educational institutions, the preschool has had to make major adjustments in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Everything the college students are doing, we are doing,” said Mary Stewart, the director of Meadville Cooperative Preschool. This includes masks, social distancing and sanitization of shared spaces, Stewart said. Along with working to follow all Centers for Disease Control guidelines, the preschool has worked with Allegheny College to develop plans to ensure the college community is safe.

The preschool has been running since the semester began after working with Allegheny administration to ensure limited contact between the students and preschool. According to Stewart, there have been challenges, but things are going well so far.

In past years, work-study students have had the opportunity to work with the preschoolers, but this position was eliminated for this semester.

“We don’t really have any contact with students,” Stewart said.

Along with limiting students’ contact with the children, contact with the Meadville community is also limited. Everyone is screened before entering, families are no longer allowed to come into the preschool, and classes have been staggered to allow for less contact, according to Stewart.

There has also been less enrollment, which makes the issues of ensuring health and safety easier for those at the preschool.

As is the case with students at the college, there are also floor markers and mask requirements.

“Everyone is wearing a mask, the children are doing very well,” Stewart said

Stewart also expressed appreciation for Linda Wetsell, Allegheny College’s CFO and vice president of finance and administration, who provided a lot of information when working to enable the preschool to continue to provide its services this fall.

Wetsell explained the procedure for on-campus vendors, which includes the preschool this year, saying, “(a)ny vendor is required to submit a pandemic safety plan.”

In this plan is an explanation of what precautions will be taken to limit the spread of COVID-19 between students and the on-campus vendor coming in from outside of the campus community.

For the preschool, this includes limiting the number of entrances, mandating masks for workers and students, deep cleanings daily and aligning with the college’s standards on COVID-19 protocols. All of the changes had to be drafted by the preschool and then approved by the college. The preschool came back into session about a week after Allegheny students returned to campus.

Provost Ron Cole talked about the lack of student workers this semester.

“In accordance with (the) health and safety plan, there were no off-campus placements,” Cole said. “(This helps) maintain the integrity of health and safety at the college.”

In terms of allowing students to work in the preschool, or off-campus in general, both Wetsell and Cole said that they would have to see how the status of COVID-19 in the spring.

“There will be no off-campus workers for the academic year, unless something changes,” Wetsell said.

Meadville Children’s Center provides childcare for children six weeks to 12 years of age. The children’s center is also based in Oddfellows, and as part of the college’s policy, had to make changes. The Director of Meadville Children’s Center could not be reached for comment, but changes have also been made there in response to COVID-19, according to Stewart.

Assistant Professor of English Susan Slote, who advocated and worked as the proposal writer to get the children’s center set up on Allegheny’s campus, talked about the importance of having childcare services available at Allegheny.

“In 1990, there was only one place, and it was private, that would take children under three in all of Meadville,” Slote said. “For faculty to be able to teach and have quality childcare, a bunch of faculty got together and basically advocated for there to be on-site childcare.”

Slote also pointed out that the on-campus childcare was an issue of equity and something that was to be shared for the rest of the Meadville community.

“That was part of our initial argument with the college, it’s like here is a way to make a difference in the community,” Slote said. “We felt like it was one way for the college to do something really positive for the community.”

Slote also said that the presence of a children’s center and its story should be seen as activism that we may take for granted today.

“The world has changed to the point where maybe those problems got solved a little bit, so I guess that’s a hopeful thing about activism,” Slote said.

Despite the pandemic, both the preschool and children’s center are still in operation, and Stewart feels that things are going well.

“The children are doing tremendous,” Stewart said.