VPK registrations down as COVID-19 concerns in Florida continue despite the upcoming return to schools

A number of parents are seeking a virtual VPK option amid the COVID-19 pandemic but that is not something authorized by the state of Florida at this time.

According to the Early Learning Coalition (ELCO) of Orange County, normally, 14,000 to 15,000 children attend VPK in Orange County each year. So far this year, only 9,700 have applied and only 700 parents have turned in their children’s certificates to attend.

The ELCO for Orange County is looking into ways parents can still provide early education for pre-k aged children.

“What we’re doing as a coalition is trying to come up with some alternatives as well,” said Karen Willis, CEO of the Early Learning Coalition of Orange County. “Talking with various child care centers about any materials, any kinds of online lessons, things that people have done since March; because there have been a number of programs that have done online things. We’re really trying to package some ideas that parents can access.”

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There are also other ways parents can prepare their children for kindergarten if they do not want their child to attend face-to-face VPK. Many of those resources are free. In fact, the Early Learning Coalition has resources specific to the pandemic and virtual learning on their website, including suggested reading guides.

“Libraries have a lot of great virtual stuff that parents can access, we have things on our website, UCF has a great program through the Sesame Street workshops, so there’s a lot of stuff that is available online that’s developmentally appropriate,” said Willis. “We know some childcare programs are doing some streaming of some developmentally appropriate practices.”

Willis even said she has seen several parents turn their living rooms into early-learning classrooms.

Some parents though are encouraged by precautions their VPK providers have set up to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Parent Alma Lopez is glad her four-year-old will be able to start pre-k at the daycare she has gone to since she was three months old. Lopez can even check in on her child’s activity via live-stream online.

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“We trust our daycare,” she said. “We drop off the kids at the door, they will check temperatures and all that, but they will let us know what’s going on with them.”

The decision required a high level of trust in the provider.

Lopez recommends parents do their research, and tour facilities carefully before choosing a place to send their children to VPK, stating that "you will know where is the right place for your child... look for reviews, try to talk with other parents, do virtual tours to see the places. And I recommend mine! It’s Best Memories Academy.”


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