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Early Bird

Vaccines, grieving, and legislative updates

A message from Katie Dukes, EdNC's early childhood policy analyst

Early Bird readers, hello again. Newcomers, welcome! If you were forwarded this email, you can sign up here to receive it every two weeks, and join our conversation on issues facing North Carolina’s young children and those who support them. If you’re already a subscriber, please help us reach more people by sharing this with your friends and co-workers interested in early childhood education.

A pre-K student at Comfort Elementary in Jones County gets ready for nap time. Liz Bell/EducationNC

A lot has happened since the last edition of Early Bird (thanks for your patience as I took some much needed time off). There are (finally) vaccines on the way for children from 6 months to 5 years old. The state legislature is in full swing and might wrap up the short session soon (updates below). But as we head into the summer months after a challenging few weeks, I encourage you to spend some time with my colleague Katie Dukes’s toolkit on supporting children through grieving. I didn’t know how much I’d need it, and I hope it helps your families, classrooms, and communities as we get through tough things together. A note from Katie on this guide:

The first thing I did when I accepted my job as a policy analyst for EdNC was pitch a project. It was October 2021 and I had just read a research paper about the estimated number of children who had experienced a COVID-19-associated death of a caregiver. It was a lot. As a former teacher, I knew schools could — and would — play a significant role in supporting these students. 

I spent six months researching how many children in North Carolina may be affected by this specific form of grief, how schools and communities are already supporting grieving students, and strategies that can be effectively implemented affordably on the hyperlocal level. The result is EdNC’s toolkit of best practices for supporting students who have experienced the death of a caregiver. I hope you’ll read and share with folks in your community. 

Below, don’t miss research on how early childhood programs have used stabilization grant funding that will run out next year. As always, don’t hesitate to reach out with questions, story ideas, or simply to connect. Take care of yourselves and one another.

Early Bird reads: What we’re writing

EdNC Toolkit: Best practices for supporting students who have experienced the death of a caregiver

“When we began this project, about 4,000 children in North Carolina were grieving the death of a caregiver due to COVID-19,” Katie Dukes reports. “Now that number is probably more than 6,000, based on estimates from leading experts.”

Dukes compiled resources and best practices to create “a toolkit for caregivers, schools, and community groups looking for ways to support grieving children. All of these strategies are low-cost and can be implemented quickly.”

Beaufort Elementary School students learn how to grieve

Alice Cashwell, a beloved music teacher at Beaufort Elementary School, died on April 17, 2022, during spring break.

The school’s leaders spent the weeks leading up to Cashwell’s death to pre-teach elementary students about the process of grieving. When they returned from spring break, teachers had “toolboxes filled with coping strategies,” Dukes writes.

“[Grieving] is a skill that every child will need at some point in time,” said Heather Boston, director of student support services for Carteret County Public Schools.


NC preparing to offer COVID-19 vaccines for young children as early as next week

The state Department of Health and Human Services had preordered 101,200 doses Thursday to send to providers in all 100 counties, so children could start receiving shots as soon as the final go-ahead is given.

Trials found that both vaccines are safe and effective against serious illness that can lead to hospitalization and death. The FDA has said serious illness is a low risk for this age group, but the vaccines would further lower that risk.

Go here to find the closest provider.

Baby formula shortage: What families need to know

Find safe alternatives and resources for finding baby formula amid an ongoing shortage due to supply chain issues and a recall from Abbott Nutrition.

As of June 2, Bloomberg reported that North Carolina still had an 84% out-of-stock rate.

Your take, for goodness sake: EdNC perspectives

Perspective | How to be a summer learning champion

Lisa Finaldi, community engagement leader at the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation, shares the foundation’s updated Summer Learning Toolkit, meant for program leaders, educators, and caregivers to ensure children stay engaged and learning throughout the summer.

Finaldi said ensuring children don’t fall behind is especially important heading into this summer after so much pandemic disruption.

“We know what children need to thrive: a healthy beginning at birth, supported and supportive families and communities, and high-quality learning environments,” Finaldi writes. “Children who read books over the summer can maintain or improve their literacy skills. When elementary school students attend summer learning programs, they can benefit in both reading and math.”

Perspective | 12 lessons in navigating child care from a first-time mom

Lindsay Saunders, marketing and communications director — also at the NC Early Childhood Foundation — became a first-time mom during the pandemic.

It’s a lot to juggle. And it’s exhausting, but we’re adapting,” Saunders writes.

“At the same time, it can be incredibly different based on someone’s race or economic status, and I recognize the privilege I carry as a white woman with a partner, and a two-income household. Those three things stare back at me every time I complain to myself in my head; nevertheless, the first days of having our baby cared for elsewhere felt like someone had ripped my heart out. This little one is growing so fast and I don’t want to miss a moment, but I also want to work. And I’ve learned a lot in the past four months.”

In other early learning news: What I’m reading

Research & Resources: Let's talk stabilization grants

“After all of this, child care is still going to need help. If we return back to the way it was, you are going to have a mass exodus of teachers. They are not going to come back for $10 an hour.” This is a quote from an anonymous early childhood program director from a report by the Child Care Services Association released in April.

CCSA asked providers how they are using federal temporary relief dollars. The report focuses on five case studies of providers (both child care centers and home-based facilities) in the Triangle. Here’s what they found:

  • At the beginning of December, the Division of Child Development and Early Education had approved 3,861 applicants for grants.
  • 72% of them were from child care centers and 28% were from family child care homes. Public pre-K classrooms were not eligible for the grants.
  • 92% of applicants used the funding to address teacher compensation.
  • 79% increased base pay and/or benefits, while 13% gave bonuses to teachers.
  • Despite these bumps in compensation, qualified teachers are still hard to come by.
  • Programs have also used the funds to improve facilities and reduce costs for parents.
  • Programs are concerned about how to move forward once the funds run out, and don’t know how they will sustain compensation bumps without passing the cost to parents.
Liz Bell

Liz Bell is the early childhood reporter for EducationNC.