The Impact of the Pandemic on Academic Support for Preschoolers: Key Takeaways from a New Jersey District-Level Survey

Milagros Nores & Erin Harmeyer

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In March 2020, most preschool programs physically closed at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. For state-funded preschool programs, guidance differed in terms of what programs were required to provide to students. While some states mandated the provision of remote learning, others did not, and still others opted to provide alternative types of supports and resources to families (Friedman-Krauss et al., 2021). This brief reports on the responses of district leaders in one state that offers state-funded preschool (New Jersey) on how they supported preschool learning at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools in New Jersey were closed to in-person instruction beginning March 18, 2020, and stayed closed for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year, requiring preschool programs to adapt instruction accordingly. The results highlight that while many children had access to or were encouraged to engage in activities like reading and music, participation rates varied critically, and the types of supports provided ranged in type, frequency, and duration. In addition, while close to two-thirds of districts provided professional development for teachers, much of this was centered on how to use the technology needed to reach children and families, rather than in developmentally appropriate practices or instructional strategies that could be used in the online environment. In addition, daily communication with children was absent in almost half of the districts, which means that remote learning occurred through a strong dependence on parents. While most districts rolled into the 2020-21 school year with more experience and preparation, looking back at the end of the 2019-20 school year provides an opportunity to reflect on lessons learned, on gaps in the opportunities provided, and on critical aspects to address moving forward.