Alexander City’s two Head Start preschool centers have closed alongside Alex City Schools, with preschool lessons also going virtual through Thanksgiving. In lieu of geometry lessons via Google Meet, it’s “identify the shape of the cereal box.”

Head Start, which receives federal as well as Lake Martin Area United Way funding, provides early childhood education and other programs to children in low-income families. Alex City runs two Head Start centers at Cooper Recreation Center and V. Robinson Head Start Center on Tallapoosa Street. Both followed Alex City Schools in going virtual Monday due to a recent rise in COVID-19 cases.

As preschool students cannot be depended upon to tune into video calls themselves, remote instruction requires a bit more parental involvement. Parents have the choice between remote instruction led by that center’s teachers or helping kids complete activities in their own time. Head Start centers post the activities on their Facebook pages each day for parents to follow.

“Our teachers call the parents at least twice a week to make sure the children are doing the activities,” regional Head Start Office director Dillie Mitchell said. “We also make contact with our parents so parents can express their needs.”

Virtual activities are taught by Misty Adams Giddens, coach and mentor at the Head Start office in Dadeville which serves Tallapoosa County and Chambers County. Giddens has 20 years of classroom experience and started leading remote instruction in August.

In videos sent by parents, children identify shapes, list rhyming words and hold drawings to the camera to “show Miss Misty.”

“I have really enjoyed it and parents have too,” Giddens said. “Working with them has been amazing — it’s just been awesome for me. The only challenge I have is I can’t be hands on, face to face.”

One thing that’s clear from the videos is the lessons would be impossible without parental involvement. However, where virtual learning might present a major childcare issue — working parents are unable to watch their kids, let alone have time to educate them — many of Head Starts’ families lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic, Mitchell said.

“We have a lot of parents that are not working,” she said. “(Childcare) didn’t create much of a problem.”

Mitchell said she’s been impressed by parents’ stepping up to the challenge.

“Our parents have just been so involved,” Mitchell said. “It’s a team effort between the parents and the teacher.”

Head Start is providing bagged lunch pickup this week from its V. Robinson Center location so families can continue to receive free meals during the shutdown. The program has also announced it will start sending art supplies to families to aid in remote instruction.

“A lot of children do not have art supplies at home,” Mitchell said.