ESA Program During Pandemic

April 21, 2020

A Change in Pace

Before the pandemic, almost everything at TEL HI was done communally. Whether it was staff gathering for an important meeting, seniors eating lunch in our dining room, or preschoolers chasing each other in the play area, every process, activity, and program involved people interacting with others, and the Elementary School Academy (ESA) for K-5 students was surely no different.

Still, although running ESA can be an enjoyably communal process, it can also be a frantic one. To explain, the program’s daily routine looks roughly like the following: first, the ESA staff walk over to the elementary schools to pick up the students. Then, they organize what is almost always a hyper-energetic group of kids so that they can safely walk them back through the crowded North Beach neighborhood to TEL HI. Following, they manage to find a way to arrange and seat the dozens of kids to their tables for snack time and finally, proceed with their after-school programs, which already comes with its own unique set of challenges.

Now, it feels like all that energy, community, and what felt like controlled chaos, suddenly vanished as these days, all that can be heard are a few voices faintly echoing from the ASA office. If you’re at TEL HI, you’ll surely feel the change in pace.

Since the pandemic, ESA adjusted its operations and is working with the City to provide emergency child and youth care for frontline emergency workers and vulnerable families. More specifically, the staff currently cares for a handful of kids, while abiding by social distancing guidelines like wearing masks, staying safely distanced, and constantly wiping down tables, chairs and anything they touch before moving to the next activity.

Two ESA students participate in cookie decorating activity; photo was taken March 23, 2020

Still, Michael Lee, ESA’s Program Manager, wanted to ensure students continue learning in their program. So, he started integrating the online learning site, Khan Academy, into their program to supplement the loss of in-person classes. Particularly, he advocates for courses like Pixar in a Box, a look into how animators at Pixar do their jobs so that learning can stay fun and interesting. Still, the staff tries to keep a balance between virtual and hands-on activities. For example, they’re planning an activity where the kids wear and paint over gloves and wash off the paint to properly learn how to wash their hands.

For the 100 or so families whose children are no longer on-site, the staff is still providing support, albeit remotely. More specifically, the staff calls each family on a weekly basis, assess and document their needs, and provides relevant resources to help them with homework and minimize the issues related to distance learning – all the while making sure that each family knows that ESA has not forgotten them.

ESA Program Manager, Michael Lee, looks through his list of parents to call for support during pandemic

So, things feel slower now. What was once a routine described as fast-paced, communal, and sometimes frantic is now one that looks and feels oddly calm and isolated. Regardless, until the Shelter in Place order is lifted, ESA will continue to provide emergency childcare and remains committed to the community. If you or someone you know is interested in finding a safe place for your child during these times, please reach out to Michael at

In the meantime, stay healthy, safe, and TEL HI STRONG everyone! We’ll see you soon.

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