FORT PIERCE, Fla. — As students head back to school in St. Lucie County, many child care facilities will also open the doors to 4-year-olds entering the state's voluntary prekindergarten program.
Carol Hilson has been the director of the Community United Methodist preschool in Fort Pierce for 32 years.
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On Monday, their VPK program begins as St. Lucie school students also return to school. However, her lesson plan for the 4-year-old students will look a little different this year.
"We do take the time, especially with our VPK, our 4-year-old children, to show them the proper way to wear a mask because they're going to go into the public school system eventually," Hilson said.
However, the Florida Department of Education has not authorized a virtual option for VPK programs.
The early learning coalition of St. Lucie County believes the classroom experience is vital in the growth of young children.
"It's very important that the language they hear here is rich and helps them in the process. We try to touch on everything with children," Hilson said.
The state is currently drafting a plan they say is innovative and flexible for VPK, which is expected to be released as early as next week.
St. Lucie County Public Schools is looking for more teachers, but confident they have enough staff in place to start the new school year.
"This is a mandate from the governor's office. If you do not open your school brick and mortar, you will not receive funding," Hilson.
She is also a school board member and describes the district's reopening plan as extensive, especially with in-classroom instruction.
"Forty-eight percent are going into school and 52 (percent) are staying home. The numbers keep shifting," Hilson said.
The school district is offering students three learning options:
- Traditional in-classroom instruction
- MySchool Online, a distance learning model in which students will follow a real-time bell schedule with live teachers
- Mosaic Digital Academy
They are taking extra precautions to keep students and staff members safe, including requiring everyone to wear a face-covering in schools, urging people to practice social distancing whenever possible, offering frequent hand washing breaks and limiting visitors into schools.