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UofGH teams with David's Tea to honour ECEs and essential child support workers

The pandemic has been difficult for registered early childhood educators and other child care support staff who have carried on as essential workers and worked around-the-clock to continue to support children, families and communities, but these workers are often overlooked when we pay respect to the people bravely overcoming hard circumstances in this pandemic.

That’s why the Early Childhood Studies program at the University of Guelph-Humber teamed up with David’s Tea to provide gifts to those essential workers who were there for our kids when we needed them most.

UofGH instructor Katie Begley came up with the idea for the campaign. When she contacted David’s Tea to request a donation, she couldn’t have known that not only would the company reply back with enthusiasm, but that they would eventually provide enough tea to support every single child care centre in Ontario.

“Throughout the pandemic, watching all of the appreciation and recognition going out towards the essential workers, I realized that RECE's and child care support staff were missing. Many people were not even aware that child care centres were open and operating to care for the children of front- line workers,” said Begley, who pointed out that it would not have been possible to organize the gifts and deliver them to all the centres without support from UofGH’s Early Childhood Studies program, Program Head Dr. Nikki Martyn and Assistant Program Head Dr. Elena Merenda.

“While many of us were working from home, RECE's were out there caring for children of essential workers. I wanted to send some appreciation and recognition their way. A small amount of appreciation can provide an immense amount of motivation to keep going. 

“RECEs and child care staff (cooks, cleaners, etc.) are an underappreciated and undervalued profession,” she added. “We did this to shine light on the important work that they do every day.”

Overlooked but not forgotten

Begley has talked to UofGH students and alumni who have been working as essential workers during the pandemic. Until June 26, emergency child care centres were operating 24/7 to support parents and other guardians who were doing shift work. 

That was not easy. First, RECEs had to acclimate to working during night hours that most centres are usually closed. Maintaining physical distancing around young children is another challenge, especially doing so in a gentle way that doesn’t frighten or discourage children. Further, most centres were taking in children who were not familiar to them, so the RECEs and support workers were put in the position of having to get to know the kids under particularly scary circumstances.

“As we have discovered through the pandemic, registered early childhood educators are the backbone of our society and allow the other frontline workers such as doctors and nurses to go to work. RECEs are the backbone to restarting our economy,” said Dr. Martyn.

“RECEs give their whole selves. Through their dedication to supporting children and families, they use their emotions, empathy, compassion and care, their intellect and physical selves to pick up, care for and support children and their learning, fears, joys and social emotional development. They are required to lift and run, and hug and hold, and play and creatively engage as well as nurture the children while their parents are working in often stressful situations.

“Their jobs, responsibilities are stressful and they deserve recognition too. It is an amazing, giving profession and the ECE’s who worked in Emergency Care deserve to be cared for too and a warm cup of yummy tea, a moment to take a break and care for themselves is a nice way to offer them some care and say thank you.”

Even as the pandemic opens some people’s eyes to the immense importance of RECEs and child care support workers, they still don’t get the credit they deserve, Dr. Merenda added.

“Although we know that children who attend child care have better academic, social, and emotional outcomes than children who don't attend child care, the profession is still viewed socially and politically as a place for parents to leave their children in order to attend work,” Dr. Merenda said. 

“The truth is though, child care and early childhood professionals are the glue to our society. Without accessible, affordable, quality child care, parents cannot work and neither children nor the economy can flourish.”

Text that reads: As we have discovered through the pandemic, registered early childhood educators are the backbone of our society and allow the other frontline workers such as doctors and nurses to go to work. RECEs are the backbone to restarting our economy.

A nice surprise

Dr. Martyn was thrilled to receive a letter from one appreciative worker from Parry Sound, Ont. Although that community fortunately was not hit hard by COVID-19, Melissa Whitman still faced a variety of new challenges in making sure her community’s kids flourished even in an emergency child care setting.

So the tea was certainly a comforting and pleasant surprise.

“Although we knew that what we were doing was a great help and a part of history, it did kind of feel like no one else noticed. You and I both know we don't do this job to get recognition, but when my boss and I opened an envelope from you and your team, we both teared up,” said Whitman, Team Leader at the Waubeek Early Learning and Child Care Centre.

“It was one of those beautiful things you read over and over but can't read out loud because you won't be able to get through it. Thank you so much for sending all of us such a wonderful gift of being heard, felt and respected.”

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