Dartmouth’s youngest get back to preschool

Mar 15, 2021

Young children are said to be sponges — and Dartmouth’s preschoolers are no exception.

Some of the town’s youngest citizens are adapting well to post-pandemic rules, according to Smith Mills Preschool and Kindergarten Director Gwen Arruda.

After being shut nearly a year, the school reopened on Feb. 22 for a small group of just 20 kids, with new dropoff and pickup procedures along with health checks, mask-wearing and social distancing rules in place.

“The children are adjusting so well,” Arruda said. “It’s incredible.”

The school serves families with children aged two through six.

After being shut for nearly a year, Arruda said they wanted to start small this spring.

“We’re hoping to be back fully by the fall, based on health and safety guidelines,” she noted.

Parents now drop off their kids at the door instead of coming inside, and the kids get their temperature checked every day before they come in.

Just one of the school’s three classrooms is currently in use, with separate sections for older and younger kids and a variety of classroom changes, including new seating arrangements at long tables.

“We use hula hoops to create space, we use tape on the floor, cute little feet stickers,” said Arruda. “Our children do wear masks, and they’ve been wonderful with that.” 

The kids get mask breaks for water, snacktimes and lunch as well, she added.

With the limited number of children — the director said that the school is licensed for 60 students, although they usually see fewer — and less than half the normal staff, it has been a bit of an adjustment.

“Like every program, we’re struggling a bit,” Arruda noted. 

But the community came together to help as well. 

Donations from the Dartmouth Rotary Club, Fire District No. 3, Big Value Outlet, and Celia’s Boutique went towards art boxes for the children.

Rather than sharing crayons, markers, scissors and play dough — and potentially spreading germs — the kids now have their own supplies in their own box.

Arruda said that the parents are happy to have their kids back at preschool.

“Parents were very excited that we were reopening,” she said.

So far, Arruda has been at the preschool for seven years. She said that her goal is to give children a positive early learning experience so they enjoy coming to school.

“I want children to want to come to school, have fun so they’re learning but they don’t realize that they’re learning,” she explained. “They see the world through different lenses than we do, they’re just sponges.”

“It’s nice to have the children in the building, it’s nice to hear them laughing and playing and excited to come in,” she added. “That’s the part that’s really nice!”