Six weeks have passed since The New Century School closed its physical campus to students and ceased normal operations, along with the rest of Maryland and most of the country. As extraordinary as that then seemed, TNCS faculty and administration met the upheaval head on, rolling out TNCS Virtual School within just a few days. TNCS students have been able to actively continue their education, despite these formidable circumstances. In terms of innovation and swift implementation, what TNCS has accomplished is unparalleled—TNCS was among the first if not the first to get online school up and running in Maryland.
But that’s not the only remarkable feat TNCS pulled off. “In mid March, we quickly moved to get approval from the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) to be an official Essential Personnel Child Care (EPCC) site in less than 48 hours,” explained TNCS Co-Founder/Co-Executive Director Roberta Faux. “We have an amazing staff who are practicing extensive preventive measures to care for children so their parents can continue to work the frontlines of this crisis.” Some TNCS families have come to Baltimore to work temporarily at Johns Hopkins hospital, for example, to complete a residency, but have no family or support system to rely on to take care of their kids in a medical crisis like this.
All of these “heroes helping heroes” deserve special recognition and gratitude.
EPCC at TNCS
Jatiya Richardson, a very familiar face at TNCS, having been an assistant teacher for the last 2 years, became the EPCC Director by stepping up to offer her services. “I felt it was needed, and I love taking care of kids. It was a no-brainer—when Head of Lower School Alicia Danyali mentioned that this might be happening, I knew that I wanted to be there to help. It’s in me.”
EPCC at TNCS currently comprises 12 children ages 2 to 5, whose parents are all health care workers, and 5 teachers. In addition to Ms. Richardson, Yurisan Gonzalez, Sara Espinoza, Yanely Poso, and Yanet Pina Gonzalez make up the group of care providers. The TNCS campus is closed to all with the exception of EPCC staff and students.
“In terms of compliance, we are doing everything we can to make sure that health is the top priority for everybody in this building,” said Ms. Richardson. Each person who enters the building goes through a rigorous process designed to adhere to the ever-changing guidelines issued by the MSDE that includes strict hygiene measures and donning the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). Additional measures include daily temperature checks and frequent handwashing and sanitizing.
They have also created a special cleaning station for the facilities staff to clean their tools and any supplies they have to bring in from outside.
So that’s the operational part, but what about the children? How does TNCS EPCC keep them happily occupied under such stringent new regulations? The staff has adapted to provide physical activity, arts and crafts, and good old story time, despite their environmental limitations. “We’re not able to go into the other building, so we transformed the multipurpose room into the gym,” said Ms. Richardson. “We brought over the Imagination Playground and some of the mats and completely sanitized them. We do imaginary play and play hide and seek. We also do a lot of painting.” Ms. Richardson even taught herself Google classroom so that the children could participate in the Montessori activities ongoing in TNCS Virtual School.
As for how the children are handling their new circumstances, Ms. Richardson says, “It can be rough, because we can’t mix them. It can be draining, but we just have to stick with it for everyone’s health.”
The kids for the most part understand a very little bit—they know about social distancing, for example, from talking about it at home and from books I read to them here. And they know that they don’t want to catch the coronavirus! They never ask questions, like, ‘Oh, teacher, why are you wearing a mask?’. I’m surprised by that—I’ve been waiting for them to ask about it, but no one has. They seem to have adjusted very easily. They don’t really get why the other kids aren’t here, though. They do ask about when their other friends are going to come to school, and it’s hard for them to grasp that this is an emergency campus, not school. But, otherwise they’ve been great—having fun, enjoying themselves. I think that has a lot to do with their age; they are very quick to adapt.
“The EPCC staff have been truly amazing and are providing lovely care amid daily temperature checks and while wearing a mask,” said Ms. Faux.
When life returns to quasi normalcy, Ms. Richardson and her EPCC staff will reenter TNCS preprimary and primary classrooms as assistant teachers as well as before and after care teachers in some cases. Ms. Richardson is Song Laoshi’s dedicated assistant teacher and is eager to resume learning Mandarin Chinese right alongside her students. Currently, she can converse briefly in Mandarin as well as count pretty high. We’ve certainly been counting on her and the other heroes at TNCS EPCC.
On a message from April 23rd on their website, MSDE expressed their gratitude for EPCC sites like TNCS: “MSDE wishes to extend its sincere thanks to our state’s child care providers, who have responded to the COVID-19 crisis by delivering exceptional care to the children of health care providers, police, fire and rescue personnel, and so many other first responders and essential personnel.”
Read more about Enhanced Guidelines for Child Care Facilities to Prevent The Spread of COVID-19 and the critical steps involved here.