For the last 18 years, Cristina Sardinas has run Bright Futures, a daycare in West Kendall. Until COVID-19 hit, she and eleven other teachers cared for 72 kids ranging from 1 to 7 years old.
But now, only three teachers come to work each day to work with 18 kids who must social distance. She keeps the place spotless and sanitary, but is never sure whether that’s enough.
“My concern is trying to stay informed,” Sardinas says. “There is a lot of misinformation out there, and that is scary.”
Back in March, South Florida schools superintendents ordered classrooms closed, but daycares around Florida remained open. Authorities believed they were needed to care for the children of essential workers.
Some daycares, like Bright Futures, closed for a while and then reopened. Those who run these places have had not only smaller enrollments and less money coming in, but they also had to enforce social distancing on a difficult group and reassure concerned parents.
“Enrollment went down drastically and that this is a problem in the Kendall area,” Sardinas states.
Bright Futures Preschool and Learning Center was founded in 2002 by Sardinas, who has been in the childcare field for 28 years. She attended Florida Atlantic University and earned a bachelor’s degree in education, then continued to Nova Southeastern University for a master’s degree in early childhood education.
The daycare has programs for kids through first grade and even offers extra-curricular activities such as karate and ballet.
Unfortunately, the daycare’s reality changed when COVID-19 hit Miami. Sardinas said she made the decision to close on March 19 when parents weren’t asking for child care.
This affected the daycare financially. Sardinas had to take out a Small Business Administration loan of about $43,000 to reopen. That money and stimulus checks from the government allowed her employees to continue receiving their salaries.
“If it wasn’t for the loan, I probably wouldn’t have been able to open,” Sardinas says. “I appreciate the government for doing that.”
Bright Futures reopened on Monday, April 27 after Sardinas received calls from parents asking for childcare.
Parents and employees are required to wear masks and also have their temperature taken before entering the school. Parents must bring their own pens to sign their kids, whom the director escorts to class. The children’s temperature is also taken upon arrival, but a mask is not required at the moment.
The kids have one teacher per classroom with a maximum of 9 children. “Prior to COVID-19, at the beginning and at the end of the day, we could combine classrooms for the kids to play together, but we cannot do that any longer,” Sardinas says. “They stay in one classroom all day and do not mix.”
Sardinas has taken initiative to help kids feel more comfortable by “advising parents to talk with them about masks,” and the kids have “ adapted pretty well,” she says. The masks used by teachers have some of the kids’ favorite characters on them.
The school disinfects four times per day, and teachers are with the kids at all times to prevent them from sharing food. They also cook meals on-site.
Sardinas says she’s developed a close relationship with her students’ families, adding, “The parents know me personally and we communicate a lot.”
Angie Gabriel has been taking her children Aaden, age 10, and Sophie, age 4, to Bright Futures for 8 years. Gabriel works at a law firm and was one of the first parents to drop off kids on Monday, April 27. She states that she “doesn’t feel as anxious about leaving them there especially when I see the precautions they’re taking.”
Coralia Vaca has been taking her son, Mateo Ortiz, age 3, to Bright Futures for 3 months and recently let her son return to school last week. She is an essential worker in banking. Vaca has introduced Mateo to face masks and states, “We call them ninjas,” she says. “He knows every time we leave the house we do ninjas.”
Sardinas is concerned about the future. The fear of this new virus infecting children is prominent in her mind.
She says that “two and three-year-olds will not like to have anything on their face,” and that it will be “ difficult to implement as a teacher, [but I am] doing everything in my power to keep them as safe as possible.”
“It is scary,” she adds, “but I’m trying to take it one day at a time.”