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.”
Melissa Wood Contributing Writer
As plans for the new Sweatt-Winter building start to form, UMF is taking action for future and current students.
Director of Sweatt-Winter and children’s programs, Julie Farmer, speaks as to what she knows for the future plans. She said, “The building should be complete by spring of 2021.”
Farmer and her team on the building committee want to create more space. “We try and utilize the space here,” said Farmer, “but there is a need for a new building.”
This process has been a long one for the team. It started “a year ago this December,” she said, “it will definitely take another year.” They have no finalized blueprints yet as to what the inside or outside of the building will look like.
She expects more work-study students with the new building. “We have a hard time getting workers in here currently,” said Farmer, “It would definitely be nice to be in a building that offers a space for the students.”
She has been the director for three years now and was teacher 25 years prior to that.
Professor of Early Childhood Education (ECH) and Co-Chair of the building committee, Patti Bailie, is very excited about the new change for Sweatt-Winter. Her and the teams’ goal is to double the current size of their space from about 5,000 square feet to 10,000 square feet. “We want at least two classrooms for the Preschool,” said Bailie.
The committee is continuing to evaluate the potential for an infant and toddler room or playgroup. This building will offer a more flexible space for all classroom and staff to utilize.
“We want a large motor room that will definitely be a flexible space for everyone to use,” Bailie said. They have decided to add in a little bit bigger of a kitchen, so they are able to do cooking projects with the children.
When it comes to childrens art work they typically do it in the classroom, in a smaller space. “We want to add in an Art Studio for all classrooms to use,” said Bailie. This will help show off the children’s artwork in the center.
Located on 274 Front Street, the new Sweatt-Winter education building looks to be completed by the spring of 2021 (Photo courtesy of UMF Image)
Bailie and her team have decided to put different classrooms throughout the center. “We want a classroom for practicum students,” said Bailie, “We also would like to add a classroom for graduate studies.” They want more for the ECH students in terms of how they will learn. A classroom is in the works to become a space where the students can have a space to learn, but also double as a conference room for the faculty and staff.
The outdoor space is going to be naturalized said Bailie. “We want three seperate play areas,” she said, “we aren’t sure yet.”
“We want this center that is a model for Early Childhood Education,” said Bailie. They have plans for a parent space, better security, and a lounge space for students and staff.
They have had some good news when it comes to the process of the building. “The contractor has been hired,” said Bailie.
She also wants more student involvement. “I want all stakeholders involved with this project,” said Bailie. She knows how important it is to incorporate all the families and parents in the process, but also the students and staff. She has decided to get her ECH environment class involved in the making of the outdoor spaces for the children.
One student here at UMF, and parent of a child that goes to Sweatt-Winter, Natachia Lovering, spoke about her experiences with the center on campus. “They haven’t given an exact time as to when it will be done,” said Lovering, “it is really raising my curiosity.”
Knowing the amount of change happening to Sweatt-Winter she added, “The student perspective will be a positive change.”
She explains how the location of where the center is now and where it will be going is very helpful for her. “I have some travel barriers,” said Lovering.
When it came time for Lovering and her daughter to move to Farmington she knew she needed a daycare for her daughter. “The week before school started my daughter started at a different daycare,” said Lovering, “it was a 38 minute walk from my home.”
Then Lovering was surprised with some great news. “Julie called me and said they have an opening for us,” she said, “so far it has been a good experience.”
Lovering has already seen the change in her daughter after settling her in the new school environment. “In the beginning she didn’t have any relationships with people,” she said, “now she has established some great friendships.”
According to Bailie, the new building will be located at 274 Front street.