Our staff are at the heart and are a key strength of KU. This was especially true in 2020, with frontline employees in early childhood services considered to be ‘essential workers’ during the pandemic by the government.
We spoke with Jackie Staudinger, Director at KU Macquarie Fields Preschool, to hear about the experience of the staff at the preschool.
KU Macquarie Fields has 14 staff including 13 educators and a Family Coordinator. The preschool has a vulnerable community, with 24 of the 70 children at the service being diagnosed with a disability and a similar number of children needing additional support. Many families at the service are also considered low-income earners.
During the year, the staff needed to make changes to how they supported children’s learning and development. The preschool held a virtual playgroup twice a week via Zoom for children in the playgroup, which was then extended to children who were unable to attend preschool in person. The sessions included singing, dancing, a story of the week and provided activities for children and families to take part in at home.
“Our team really started to embrace Storypark as a means of communication. We put together activity packs for children to take home which included craft activities and other projects such as instructions on how to make playdough and cooking multicultural dishes such as roti. Children and families took part in these at home and the experiences were shared on Storypark which the families appreciated,” said Jackie.
As each staff member at KU Macquarie Fields was entitled to JobKeeper, all staff were fortunate to remain employed and working their regular hours throughout the year, however it was not without its challenges.
“One of the biggest challenges was ensuring our team was in good health and good spirits. Some staff had to manage matters in their personal lives such as their partners losing work due to the pandemic or needing to find family to look after their children who were attending school from home so they could come into work.”
“Many of our staff could have taken personal leave to look after their children at home, but none did. They found loved ones to help out at home and came in to help support the vulnerable children and families at our service. I was so proud of their commitment.”
While the pandemic caused some anxiety and uncertainty, the staff at the preschool chose to keep positive by focusing on supporting children and maintaining positive relationships with families.
“We kept ourselves busy and we were always planning something. We held regular get togethers and morning teas online. We did aerobics with the children some mornings to keep everyone in a positive mindset, and we focused on doing things for others and making other people happy, like creating hampers for some of our families who were doing it tough,” said Jackie.
All staff had access to KU’s Employee Assistance Program, and the preschool received a lot of support from Central Office staff and departments, especially their Education and Quality Manager, Brooke Rankin, and the Child Wellbeing Team.
At the end of the year, KU Macquarie Fields held a picnic in the local park, with a parent from the preschool mowing squares into the lawn so the children, families and staff could celebrate together while maintaining social distancing.
“Our staff have a wonderful relationship with our children and families and throughout the year we never lost our sense of community,” said Jackie.