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Staff shortages & supply chain problems even affect Illinois' youngest students

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A pre-pandemic preschool class at Summerdale Early Childhood Center in Rockford

Teacher shortages and supply chain issues are making a challenging school year even tougher for Illinois’ youngest students.

Preschool enrollment in Rockford is still a little down since the pandemic. But Kimberly Nelson, the executive director of early childhood for Rockford Public Schools, says nationwide school staff shortages hurt enrollment too.

“I do have two classrooms that I have not been able to open," she said, "because I do not have a teacher in those classrooms.”

Several classrooms in the early childhood program have long-term substitutes, and they’ve had to cut down class sizes.

Nelson says staff is working hard to meet students where they’re at. But she says cycling through subs and paraprofessionals is tough on young students who need consistent, caring adults to learn.

Remote school for early childhood students was hard last year, but strong family engagement was at least a silver lining.

She says the district gave parents of preschoolers at-home learning kits, which helped supplement remote lessons a lot. Parents requested them again this year but, due to supply chain issues, learning kits that were supposed to get to Rockford for the start of the school year still haven’t arrived.

Nelson says getting young students into the swing of school after being at home so long has taken a bit longer than usual in some cases. The first weeks focus on getting students acclimated to school life anyway, but now it often means they have to tell teachers, “‘Hey, it's okay if it takes you longer than the first six weeks of school to develop these routines and social-emotional and get your classroom community built, because it may that may need to happen.’”

The bus driver shortage has hit them too. She says some students have had to delay starting school since they don’t have a ride. Attendance is sporadic for other kids whose parents can only get them to school two or three days a week.