Since 1971, Isla Vista Youth Projects has been serving the Isla Vista and Goleta Valley area with childcare and after-school programs. However, the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to adjust their childcare to mitigate health risks, first by moving entirely online, and now opening in a limited capacity. 

The organization’s focus, since its establishment, has been mitigating the effects of poverty, racism and trauma on children through trauma-informed childcare. Despite their efforts, many of these factors have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Isla Vista Youth Projects (IVYP) has two campus sites, one for 3 month olds to 5 year olds and one for a preschool and kindergarten after-school program, both open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Lori Goodman, executive director of IVYP, highlighted her staff’s commitment to the community and expressed gratitude for IVYP’s ongoing work-study partnership with UC Santa Barbara.

“Every opportunity we’ve had to increase our service to the community [my staff] said, ‘Yes.’ We are now distributing meals every day to the community donated by UCSB. That’s a strain on my staff, but yes, they’re going to do it.” she said. “We really rely on our partnership with UCSB and we have hired many UCSB students from work-study. People who really have a passion for social justice and children, it’s a really important and long standing partnership.”

Goodman said most of the children in their program come from low-income backgrounds, and that factors like food insecurity, loneliness and fear of the future were common amongst their participants, adding to the difficulty of childcare during a pandemic.

“Families are struggling with food security, job loss or fear of job loss, or alternatively, they are in essential worker positions that are predominantly lower paid, but they rely on childcare. All of those stressors in the family show up in their children,” Goodman said. 

IVYP has reorganized their operations in response to the stress on the children alongside the changing COVID-19 regulations. After the pandemic was officially declared an international public health emergency in March 2020, IVYP aligned with public school districts by closing their public campuses and offering virtual educational and recreational services online

Fast forward to July and August, IVYP reopened the Children’s Center under reduced hours and with limited capacity following social distancing protocols and limited hours, Goodman said.

“What we did see when they came back from school after not being there for months was two things: both tremendous joy to be back with their friends but also a really high degree of emotional displays — crying, tantrums, fear, separation anxiety. It’s quite a rollercoaster ride,” Goodman said.

She attributed the children’s emotions to the profound life impact the pandemic has had on them. 

“If you are 2 [years old] this has been half of your life. It’s disruptive and so significant. When I talk to older people, seniors or retired people, of course they are impacted, but the profound life impact increases the younger you are,” Goodman said. 

Goodman’s staff has had to adapt to the increased vulnerability in the children and the  COVID-19 guidelines that dictate the ratio of teachers to students. No more than three children can be present per IVYP staff member or volunteer, and each staff member can only mingle with their pod of students. 

“In normal times you can move staff [from classroom to classroom], but we can’t do that anymore,” Goodman said. “The teachers are in their classrooms only. So now we have higher demand for staff even though there are fewer children. It makes managing where people go and how they’re doing their work much more complicated.”

Armando Garcia is a fourth-year theater major at UCSB and recently promoted lead — a title that puts Garcia in charge of a classroom ranging from first to sixth grade at IVYP. Garcia noticed a change in the previously playful nature of childcare operations before the pandemic, as opposed to now. 

“It was much more fun and interactive back then. Now that everything is virtual, it’s not so much an after school program. It’s more so a test for how a virtual elementary school would run,” Garcia said. “The kids still have virtual class, but they are in the class in person with us. We’re not teaching them; the teachers are teaching them on their laptops and we’re just monitoring them.”

Victoria Rivera, a third-year Chicana and Chicano studies major at UCSB and another lead at IVYP, explained that her current role is similar to a proctor. Her duties include passing out lunches, monitoring children in class and while they play during breaks to ensure 6 feet of distance, along with helping teachers whenever they need it. 

During their hybrid learning, students have trifold privacy dividers that they cover in blankets to make more privacy and stay warm from the open-door requirements. 

“They’ve gotten creative with how they interact with one another and how they connect with the campus. They’ve been very resilient,” Rivera said. 

“School is often the calm, predictable place for children that helps them buffer those strong emotions from family trauma, but for all of those months they [were] home with all of those stressors. We fully expected to see it in [their] behavior,” Goodman said.

Goodman emphasized that understanding adverse childhood experiences (ACE), or potential traumatic events in children like violence, neglect or abuse in order to lessen the potential health effects is an important part of IVYP’s childcare framework. 

“The understanding now is that the more [ACE] a person experiences before 18, they have a whole series of greater risk of health defects. This causes toxic stress, stress at such a high level that it literally affects your body. There’s a ton of research now on this, but this is the work that we educate our staff with,” Goodman said. 

Rivera said that children haven’t had school as an escape from their potentially difficult home lives, and many of them have struggled with at-home learning, and being with family members that are experiencing fear of job loss, food insecurity and possible sickness and fatality. 

“Their struggles are coming forward more. Not many of them have enough resources to be able to pay attention to school. Not all students have access to a parent to help them with homework or a computer or internet. Not every one student learns the same and our education system is not built for each individual student. The kids want to learn, they do,” Rivera said. 

Rivera noticed that to escape the frustration surrounding virtual learning and accessibility gaps, the children are becoming more creative in the ways they interact with each other while abiding by COVID-19 guidelines. 

“They have to stay 6 feet apart, so how they play with each other has been different. We had to work around the little play structure that we have for them, so taking turns on the monkey bars and keeping their distance on the swings,” Rivera said. “They sometimes hold sticks up to keep their distance from each other. And someone once used a ball to play tag with their friends.”

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, IVYP has employed creativity and resilience in order to continue offering their services as essential workers for the families that have needed their support.