As more schools across the state return to some form of in-person learning, parents and childcare providers alike might find themselves struggling to explain COVID-19 safety procedures to their younger children and students.
A new children’s book is here to help put things in perspective. How My School Fights a Virus was published by financial services company IFF, which has an office in Detroit and supports many Midwest nonprofits. The story serves as an auxiliary piece for IFF’s Learning Spaces, a free program that aims to improve access to quality early childhood education in Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties.
Author Rick Raleigh, who works for IFF’s real estate consulting team and with Learning Spaces, pens a simple and effective story told from the perspective of a child returning to school during the pandemic. On each page, Raleigh, a Garden City native with plans to move to Detroit, weaves in COVID-19 safety tips including wearing a mask, disinfecting surfaces, and practicing social distancing based on CDC guidelines and the state’s MI Safe Schools Roadmap recommendations. Raleigh’s three children ages 3 to 8 helped him with the book, and the story is brought to life by Detroit-based illustrator Meghan Wardell.
How My School Fights a Virus also shines a light on LaShawn Bridges, a local early childcare provider who IFF has worked with for years. Illustrations of Bridges and her Detroit childcare facility, Blessed Beginnings Learning Center, appear in the story.
Here, Raleigh shares with Hour Detroit how he crafted the story and what he hopes parents and their children take away from it.
Hour Detroit: How did your experiences at IFF help you create this book?
Rick Raleigh: Over my years I’ve had the pleasure of working with many of the early childcare providers in the city, gotten to know many of them personally, and see the struggles that they go through firsthand — from the lack of funding, to trying to retain their teachers, to even coming out of pocket to care for their kids and the kids’ families. And so, you pile a pandemic on top of it and the stress that the early childhood system is under is truly unbearable. So, we know it’ll be a long road to fully rebound but we hope that this book could be a small bright spot along that journey.
How is Detroit represented in the story?
The majority of our work right now is in the city, we’re based here. And so, we wanted it to represent the city as much as we could. When we went over this with the illustrator, Meghan, I think she did a great job. We asked for any opportunity that she had — if there’s going to be a window looking outside, put in the skyline of Detroit — [to include the city]. The street signs, she made them relevant to where [Blessed Beginnings Learning Center is] located in the city. We tried any way we could to tie it back to Detroit, because this is where we’re doing our work and we want it to be representative of the city.
How did IFF connect with LaShawn Bridges?
I worked with LaShawn over the course of six or eight months renovating her center. She’s been tied to IFF for several years now through our Learning Spaces program first as a home provider and now in her center. She was moving from her home where she was serving about 12 kids to a center where she was serving about 60, and that for us and for her was really a huge deal. She finally got that open towards the end of 2019. She was getting it stabilized, ramping up her enrollments, and building out her program, and then COVID hit. So, we thought having Blessed Beginnings be the backdrop for the book is like one small way we could support her as well as other providers as they try to reopen and start to draw those families back in.
The book is available for free on the IFF website. Why was it important to make it easily accessible?
We just wanted to get it out into as many hands as possible and accessible to everybody. The science and research has changed throughout this pandemic so quickly that we thought having something that’s based online [was a good idea], so if something does change, we’re able to update it and refresh it as time goes on, and keep it a current usable document versus a hard copy that goes out of date in three months and is no longer useful.
What do you hope parents and their children take away about COVID-19 safety?
Long-term, I hope the book is forgotten and never needed again as we move past this. But here in the near-term and current circumstances, I hope it’s a tool that parents can use to have a conversation about going back to school with their kids. I know in normal times for me and my kids when we’re going back to school, we’re reading books, like “my first day of preschool, my first day at kindergarten,” so they can kind of start to understand what’s going to be expected of them in terms of social norms. We thought that this book kind of filled that role so that you can have that talk with your kids if they’re anxious about what’s going to happen at school. It’s going to be different this year; it’s not going to be the same as it was before. So, being able to have that conversation and have an idea of what could be expected of you, I think could help to calm some of those fears and anxieties and that’s really the hope and goal behind it.
To read and download How My School Fights a Virus, visit iff.org