Life changed for many people in Montana on Saturday, March 28,when Governor Steve Bullock issued a shelter-in-place order to slow the spread of COVID-19. The order suspended the operation of nonessential businesses but permitted essential businesses to remain open. Examples of essential businesses and services include, but are not limited to, health care, agriculture, grocery stores and childcare. Bozeman’s ASMSU Preschool decided to keep its doors open after implementing major changes to their day-to-day operations. The children of essential workers are now provided a safe and routine environment as well as three healthy meals a day by the preschool.

Health and safety are the leading concerns for Deidre Hodgson, director of the ASMSU Preschool program. Hodgson shared, “We sanitize and disinfect toys and surfaces all day long!” Under normal conditions, the preschool would be run by four lead teachers and fifteen MSU student aides. Now, only the lead teachers remain as part of an effort to limit the number of people in the building. Parents must drop their children off at the entrance, and they are not permitted to enter the classroom. “All staff wash their hands upon arrival and frequently all day long,” said Hodgson. “We all try to leave home germs at home and school germs at school.”

Making sure the children learn healthy habits is another priority for the program. Hodgson says, “We have basic, but real conversations with children about the virus and they all know to cough or sneeze into their elbow… The children have become really great hand washers!” Growing up in strange times like these can be especially difficult for children who have a hard time understanding all the changes happening in their lives. Keeping as much consistency as possible and creating new norms and routines can be very helpful.

Keeping the preschool program active isn’t easy with lower income to support staff, but despite the struggles, the ASMSU Preschool program will continue operating for as long as they feel safe. The preschool industry doesn’t have the option of working remotely. The teacher’s primary job is to spend eight hours per day with children. Hodgson claims her biggest worry is, “the daily question of ‘Are we doing the right thing [by staying open]?’ And for now, I think we are.”   

The COVID-19 virus has made daily life difficult for many people, especially our essential workers who are taking large personal risks to make sure our country remains operational. The burden on those people’s lives is being eased, thanks to people like Hodgson and her staff, who understand their responsibility to the community in these trying times.