by Bella Woodhouse Contributing Writer
Sweatt-Winter Childcare and Education Center has had to follow state required regulations in order to stay open and safe for the children.
The teachers working at Sweatt-Winter are constantly looking for ways to help children understand social distancing. “A teacher came up with what was originally three raccoons apart because they are two feet long but now it is whatever animal you prefer. It was something to help the kids understand 6 feet apart better,” said Julie Farmer, Director of Sweatt-Winter.
Yet, physical distancing has been hard for the children at Sweatt-Winter to understand. “The children are following the mask rule very well for such a young age. However, they are having a hard time consistently staying 6 feet away,” said second-year student worker Sierra Pennington.
Farmer and the teachers/students at Sweatt-Winter have become more flexible in wearing masks in physical distancing situations. “The kids keep them on for the most part but when they are outside playing they can take them off,” said Farmer. “The students can also ask for a quick mask break if they feel they need one.”
The COVID-19 rules and policies for Sweatt-Winter were heavily influenced by the Maine Center for Disease Control guidelines regarding COVID-19. “We don’t force preschool-age kids to wear masks, but anyone above the age of 5 has too,” says Farmer. “Parents aren’t allowed in the building and any other adult [such as workers] has to have their temperature checked before entering. If any student or adult has symptoms they have to have a doctor’s note before coming back.”
Sweatt-Winter workers have been fully prepared to keep the child care a consistently clean environment for the kids. “I feel safe as a work study student at Sweatt-Winter,” said Pennington. “Workers are constantly cleaning all areas including highly-trafficked areas such as doorknobs, phones, tables, etc. The children are washing their hands multiple times a day as well as the workers.”
Before they even step inside, workers have to check for possible symptoms before beginning their day, “Workers have to follow more safety precautions, such as required temperature checks before entering, sanitizing and handwashing more often, and wearing gloves to serve any food to the kids,” Farmer said.
However, there still were some safety concerns, parents were worried about the influx of people coming on to campus when the university opened. Now that a few weeks have gone by, “Those feelings have also settled down,” said Farmer. “UMF and Sweatt-Winter are doing what we can to keep students safe and healthy.”
By Savannah Bachelder, Contributing Writer
The Farmington Public Library on Academy Street. (Photo by Savannah Bachelder)
While the Farmington Public Library looks the same on outside, regular patrons will find both organizational changes and improvements within. However, there will be less time each week for visitors to enjoy these changes after weekly hours of operation were recently cut to make up for the rising employment costs associated with the statewide minimum wage increase among other issues. The library staff and board of directors are currently working to organize fundraising and grant-writing efforts to compensate for the funding shortage.
In a recent effort to open up more space, the genealogy room was moved upstairs in order to bring the young-adult section, which is in higher demand, to the first floor. Maurie Stockford, the director of the library, said that everything was moved around to help increase the use of the library. “There was no place for them to just be, to hang out. So we had to move the young adults section,” she explained.
There is tons of open space to walk around and sit at tables in both rooms, with their own study space. The library also received assistance reorganizing the section according to first year staff member Elena Kohout. “They are categorized by genre now, thanks to the Upward Bound students,” Kohout explained.
Other changes were made for the new children’s room as well. Along with the computers and magazines, the old children’s area, is now called the Computer Cafe Room. “The new children’s section used to be the staff’s private room and storage, so now we don’t have a staff room,” said Kohout.
Harley Davis, a senior at UMF, used the library a few times for college work last year, before the changes. “I’ve used the library for their children’s books,” said Davis. “They have a great selection in there, and there’s so much to choose from.”
In addition to these new improvements however, budget constraints have been posing a challenge for the library as of late. Hours of operation were recently decreased due to rising employment costs associated with the statewide minimum wage increase and rising health insurance prices. “The town of Farmington pays for staffing and health insurance,” said Stockford. “Currently, they could not cover for that. So we had asked for more money to cover for it.”
Originally, the library had requested $209,990 to help meet these costs and pay for utility problems, but they were allocated $196,029 instead. While this figure does represent an increase from last year’s budget and the revised budget submitted earlier this year, the difference is not enough to cover the rising employment costs. It was between the beginning of the budget process and the final vote that the library preemptively choose to reduce hours in anticipation of not receiving the full amount of their request.
There were two options of working with a lower budget: to either decrease staff, or to reduce the hours that the library would be open. Already short-staffed, the latter option prevailed. While the $209,990 figure would have covered the elevated employment expenses, the final budget does not, therefore the reduced hours remain.
From Tuesdays through Saturdays, hours changed from 9:30 in the mornings to 10:30 a.m. While in the afternoons, Thursdays have changed from 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., and Saturdays were changed from 2:00 p.m. to 12:30 p.m. The rest of the afternoon times remain the same.
Despite the funding situation and reduced hours, library staffers are keeping their hopes up, and finding more ways to bring in money. “Our board of directors is working on raising activities, like fundraising,” said Stockford. “Another goal would be to write more grants. We are already on the register for historical buildings.”
Kohout mentioned that last year in December, the library also received a generous donation from the Libra Foundation, of $5,000 worth of new computers for the new Computer Cafe Room. “We’ll be setting them up this week,” Kohout said.