For the first time in close to 26 years Jonyce O’Neill did not report to work last Monday or Tuesday or even the next day for that matter.
Like many others in the county as well as the nation, O’Neill’s hiatus from her long time job as Director of the Learning Tree Preschool came at the hands of COVID-19. The decision to officially shut down the school came shortly after Oakdale schools announced their one-month closure. The last day of service was Wednesday, March 18.
“We wanted to be proactive and be supportive of what everyone is trying to do by social distancing and not spreading the germs,” O’Neill said.
It was a decision which was not made easily by the school director, as well as the owners, yet they felt it was important nonetheless. The impact of the closure affected 85 families who utilize their services for early childhood education as well as childcare. A staff of 14 has been laid off until the school re-opens.
“It kills me more than anything,” O’Neill admitted of the closure. “I cried the whole night, the day before we closed. Those aren’t just kids we babysit; that’s my other family. I know those kids. I know those families, they’re my friends.”
Yet not one to be down for long, the day following the closure O’Neill shared she began finding the silver lining during a simple stop at an area drug store.
She shared a story of encountering a grandmother leaving the store looking defeated. The preschool director inquired and quickly learned the grandmother was in search of Tylenol for her granddaughter who suffers from seizures. O’Neill asked the woman to follow her, leading her to the school site, she returned to the woman’s car with an unused bottle from the preschool.
“She’s going to need it more than I’m going to need it,” O’Neill said of her generosity. “I’m not trying to give myself a pat on the back, but if we all stick together like this we’re going to end up better off.”
Acts such as these tend to have become more commonplace as people look for ways to make the best of a bad situation. O’Neill said another blessing is that the facility that houses the school will be re-painted during the closure, freshening up the site for the eventual return.
“I think we’ve gotten so far away from what we’re supposed to do,” she said of her belief and how COVID-19 has perpetuated a shift in humanity. “We’re so used to doing things for ourselves that we’ve forgotten the path of why we were put here.”
As for the reopening date of the popular preschool, O’Neill shared they will follow the curve and make the decision they feel is best for their families, the staff and community.
“There’s no way to know,” she said of the imminent future. “I’ve never ever had to close my school for anything. These are things we’ve never seen before.”