New Era Enrichment Academy tackling pandemic in two languages

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By JACOB MARROCCO

New Era Enrichment Academy in Johnston has had to adjust to the coronavirus pandemic like other schools, but past practices and current protocols have made it a bit easier.

Director Amy Nesmith told the Sun Rise last week that New Era – a Spanish-language immersion preschool founded six years ago – was using Environmental Protection Agency-registered products even before COVID-19 made its way to the Ocean State.

The school is licensed for 55 students spread across five classrooms, with 12 teachers and instructors working at the academy. Nesmith said New Era has changed its pickup and drop-off procedures, though. Parents release their kids to Nesmith or a supervisor, and a COVID-19 screening is performed.

Temperatures are taken and students are kept in “stable groups” and don’t switch classrooms.

“They don’t combine with other classrooms,” Nesmith said. “Even their outside times are separate and when they go outside, everything is disinfected after they use it. The same thing inside, everything is disinfected multiple times a day.”

Nesmith said that New Era was initially intended only to cater to children 6 weeks old through preschool. However, a school-age classroom has been opened this year because of additional need caused by the pandemic. Those courses go up to age 12.

She said there are no issues getting the younger students to conform to COVID-19 protocols, mostly because the little children don’t need to worry about wearing and fussing with masks.

“They’re with the same kids every day so they don’t have to socially distance,” Nesmith said. “The teachers wear masks all day, so for the kids it was kind of business as usual – other than the fact that they are more aware of their hand washing procedures and making sure that if they touch their mouth, we’re washing their hands. So for the kids it was kind of just like, ‘Oh, yeah, the teachers have a mask on.’ Most of them adjusted really well to it.”

Nesmith, who has worked at New Era for four years, said the academy has “formulated a base of families” and that environment has allowed the school to embrace new challenges. The key to its expansion, she said, is continuing to “expand upon what we knew worked.”

“I think it’s just a better environment every day because we’re always looking to grow, to change, we take that feedback,” Nesmith said. “I think it makes a huge difference from where we were and now we’ve learned and we’ve grown and we love the families that we have.”

Nesmith said that bilingual learning makes younger students better multitaskers and problem solvers going forward in life, and that it reduces their risk of getting Alzheimer’s “because it’s keeping the brain fresh.”

For the older kids, it provides them simultaneously with a supplemental Spanish education and the ability to interact with other students in person rather than over a Zoom call.

“I would say the gift of a bilingual education and bilingualism is something that has lasting effects throughout your child’s life,” Nesmith said. “It’s also allowing us to do an individualized program for them that allows them to do their distance learning as well as interact with peers safely … They’re actually getting to play with other kids, go outside, enjoy the playground and learn and grow and really promote their social emotional growth.”

Not to mention, Nesmith said bilingual learning is simply fun for all ages.

“It’s done in a way that most of the kids don’t even realize that that’s what they’re doing,” Nesmith said. “It’s natural to them, so they pick it up so quickly and it’s incorporated into every aspect of their day. So it’s not like a set lesson, it’s just they’re learning as they play and as they grow.”

For more information, call New Era Enrichment Academy at 401-349-3397.

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