September 8 marks the beginning of the school year for 667 children enrolled in Catholic Charities Head Start of Baltimore City. In normal times, all 15 sites across South and Southeast Baltimore would be filled with children excited to learn; however, COVID-19 has disrupted those plans. Instead, the Head Start teachers and students are gearing up for a virtual school year.

“This fall we have 80 teachers and assistants who will be participating in virtual learning,” said Erica Knox, director of Catholic Charities Head Start of Baltimore City. “Our faculty and staff have made the necessary adjustments and we are eager to welcome back our Head Start students.”

Head Start and Early Head Start programs are free, federally funded programs through the Office of Head Start and the Maryland State Department of Education. They are designed to promote school readiness for children from low-income families. Early Head Start serves pregnant woman and families with children under age 3. Head Start programs serve children between 3 and 5 years old. All the families are living at the federally defined eligibility for families experiencing poverty.

With the responsibility of instructing such a young age group, teachers and administrators must be very attentive, creative and flexible when it comes to teaching and engagement.

“Teachers will participate in daily Zoom sessions from their classrooms or home,” Knox said. “Throughout the day, schedules are adjusted to allow teachers to be flexible with bathroom and water breaks.”

Virtual learning will take place Monday through Thursday between 8:30 and 11:30 a.m. The curriculum will be engaging with language and literacy, music and movement, and small group activities. Teachers also plan to have outdoor engagement activities for families.

One family shared they appreciated the amount of support and attentiveness they received throughout the summer during the pandemic. Their child enjoyed seeing their teachers and friends on the computer.

Every child enrolled in Catholic Charities Head Start of Baltimore City receives a tablet computer to participate virtually, and the program looks to move to a hybrid model later in the year.

“We do not foresee us having virtual learning forever,” Knox said. “However, we are taking all precautions on making sure that when we do re-open our doors for families, it is safe to do so. For now, we will continue to support our children and families remotely.”

Aligned with the academic year for Baltimore City Public Schools, Baltimore City Head Start runs through June 2021.