Meet David Sarpal, TNCS Interim Preschool Director and Life Voyager!

The New Century School is well known for its tight-knit community of special people who work and study here, united by our strong relationships and common interests. David Sarpal, Interim Preschool Director, joined TNCS for the 2020–2021 school year and seamlessly became an integral part of the family. You’ll immediately see why!

EL Camino à TNCS

Mr. Sarpal currently lives in Takoma Park, MD, with his two sons. Milo just turned 17, and Nathan is 11. He most recently worked as an educator in Washington, DC, but his path to TNCS, though a long and intriguing one, seems almost destined. “How I arrived at TNCS really started with my having been a student at an international school once upon a time,” he explained. Indeed, his early life sounds enchanted.

Mr. Sarpal was born in Medellin, Colombia, where his mother is also from. His father is from the state of Punjab in northern India. Later, in Bogotá, he attended an American school called Colegio Nueva Granada. In the early 1980s, when Mr. Sarpal was in his teens, the family relocated to Spain, where he attended the American School of Madrid. From there, he came to the United States to go to boarding school at Northfield Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts.

With such a rich international education experience, it’s no wonder that he would seek out an equally diverse professional career. “Once I begin to work in the field of education, I seemed to have landed in places that attract people from different nations and backgrounds,” he said. For example, in Alexandria, VA, he worked for The Campagna Center, living in a part of Alexandria with a high percentage of immigrants from Latin America, Europe, and Asia. “That seems to be where I am most at home,” he said. “From there, I went on to the Washington International School and then the Whittle School and Studios, hence the pattern that has brought me to TNCS.”

In addition, multinational multilingualism is important to him and is one of the things that stood out to him about TNCS. (By the way, he also has a sister currently living in Malta who speaks Spanish, English, French, Russian, and Darija, an Arabic language spoken in Morocco, where she once lived.) He speaks Spanish and English fluently, and he hopes his sons will, too. “Milo has more of an engineering bent and like to ‘tinker,’ whereas Nathan is more sociable and likely to strike up conversations. He is approaching bilingualism at this point, and I wish he could spend more time in Spain because that is a muscle he definitely needs to utilize.”

Why Early Childhood Education?

Of course, the international flavor is not the only attribute that attracted Mr. Sarpal to TNCS—early childhood education happens to be his forte! He joked, “I have had some background with preschool age children, most notably as a father.” He also was a Montessori student in his early years. But, just as his educational journey meandered a bit, enriching his experience as he went, so did his professional one.

I went to business school only to figure out that I really am an educator by vocation. I seem to be a very curious person, and that’s why I’ve tried many different paths; I learn experientially, and education and learning is the path that has most resonated with me. In business school, I realized I was inspiring fellow business students how to innovate. It turns out that what I like the most about innovation had to do with play and playing in general. I’ve always been fascinated with what happens in the brain with play. As they say, ‘education is play; play is education’. What better way to learn more about play then to understand it from an educator’s perspective?

At the aforementioned Campagna Center, he started out as a marketer, advocating for the organization and successfully fundraising (in the middle of a recession, no less). The administration suggested he stay on as a teacher, to which he mentally responded, “Teach? I didn’t go to business school to teach.” One thing led to another, he says, and that’s exactly what he found himself doing. “It was wonderful, because I could really innovate as a teacher in ways that I couldn’t in a business context, where things can sometimes get ossified and paralyzed. You really need to work hard at freeing people’s thinking,” he explained.

So, off he went to Prince George’s Community College for his credential in Early Childhood Education. “That rounded out my understanding of different kinds of educational institutions in this country,” he said. “The community college experience is invigorating because everybody there wants to learn. Those students are lifelong learners. That was inspiring to see.”

Early Child Literacy

Mr. Sarpal was also inspired by the subject he was pursuing in general.

One thing that really stood out from that experience is how fascinating early childhood literacy is. It ties to the acquisition of language in the child’s mind, and there are so many complex developments that take place when they are are in the process of deciphering and decoding letters on a page, sounding them out, and understanding how letters together make up words, how words together make up sentences. I loved learning about that, and I liked seeing it play out in myriad ways.

Relatedly, he adores children’s books and would like to incorporate routine reading sessions with small groups, as he has done in the past. “Children’s books have a real special place in my heart,” he says, “and I love illustrations. A lot of my friends are artists of children’s books. I love delving into those worlds with young children and having conversations about them.”

Play Is the Beginning of Knowledge

Back to what drew him to early childhood education in the first place, Mr. Sarpal is seeing ways to incorporate more play on the playground and in the classroom without disrupting functional systems. “I’m still forming a mental model of what this program is all about, but there are always opportunities to incorporate more play. I don’t believe in revolutionizing programs but offering incremental and sustained effort to build structures that exist and do away with things that may have had a purpose before but no longer serve. I’m not here to re-engineer the program; I’m here to sustain things and support.”

The Pandemic in the Room

Let’s face it, we can’t really talk about anything without referring to COVID-19. Although the associated adjustments we’ve had to make are not without their inconveniences, Mr. Sarpal sees the bright spots. “Right now we are weighing the imperative to be socially distant, but I think that it’s really a gift that we can be together as a community, we can be close to each other without causing harm.” He says he greatly values the rigor with which the school has applied COVID-19 guidelines. “That might not be where a jobseeker starts looking; however, when a community chooses to abide by guidelines that are so clearly stated and so based in science, it shows the kind of compassion and love of humanity that I am interested in seeing in the world.”

Nevertheless, being together means wearing masks, which could slow some things down. “It takes a longer time to get to know people when you have a mask on, so that has implications down the line on how we do everything. It doesn’t mean that we can’t get to know each other, it just means we are operating daily with incomplete information. Likewise, if we were to be all virtual we would be operating with incomplete information because the screen doesn’t show you how I’m breathing, how I’m being receptive to your questions. That’s just what we’re living through,” he said.

El Camino por Delante

And here we are! How has Mr. Sarpal found TNCS so far? “I was ready for a challenge in my own life,” he began, “even while the time we’re living in is so tumultuous and so full of change all around us. I can’t think of a better community to support and to serve then one like this. I find it to be a very welcoming environment, and the staff has been so kind. There’s a lot of kindness around here.”

The work itself is also a source of enjoyment. “The children are so thirsty to learn,” he says. “This is an age that truly fascinates me and tests me and my ability to truly be supportive and engaging. It also makes me want to be rigorous in applying the science of what we know about childhood development, while at the same time forming amazing human beings. You can see it in children’s eyes, and I’m just so glad to be in an environment where I can nurture that.”

There’s yet another way that Mr. Sarpal belongs particularly here, and that’s his altruism:

I am accessible and informal, and I am ready to have a conversation about your children at any time. Even though I am sort of new to this particular line of work, I have been working with kids for some time, and my goal is to support families in every way that I can. Especially right now, I don’t want to get in your way; I want to simply serve with everything that I can give.

I feel that I can meaningfully support the group and serve the community in a way that would be appreciated.

Well said, indeed, Mr. Sarpal! Bienvenido à TNCS!

TNCS Admissions 2020: The Name of the Game is Flexibility, Authenticity, and Patience!

The New Century School welcomed Suzannah Hopkins to take over as Admissions Director for the 2019–2020 school year . . .  and then the pandemic hit. Despite having only a few months under her belt as TNCS Admissions Director before schools were ordered to close down, Ms. Hopkins has managed to continue her work from her dining room table—including, believe it or not, introducing TNCS to new prospective families!

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But it’s certainly not easy. “It has been a challenge to sell the school, especially since we are wearing even more hats. The common saying among Admissions Directors is,” said Ms. Hopkins, “if we can get them on campus, they’re sold. But I can’t do that! That’s the rub for independent schools right now.”

Making Connections

So how does one showcase a school that can’t operate as a brick-and-mortar enterprise? That’s where TNCS Virtual School comes in to help tell the story. “That’s how people see who we are and what we’re all about,” explained Ms. Hopkins. “I also think that pivoting in our social media is allowing me to direct prospective families to our Facebook page and Immersed to show them virtually since we can’t do it in person. I only have a small window to provide a sense of what the school culture is about, so the social media becomes even more important. I am grateful to our team including Karin Cintron, who did not miss a beat pivoting with me to change our social media focus and creating resource pages on our website such as the new Support for Prospective Parents page.” In addition, the entire brochure package is also now on the website as a pdf.

Other aspects of admissions also needed to be adjusted, such as with the process for prospective students themselves:

We can’t do a shadow visit, so with rising 2nd through 8th graders, I’ll do student and parent interviews, separately or together, but definitely making sure I get to talk to the student. For the younger ones, we’re doing parent interviews, but I’ve been encouraging parents to make sure I have a sighting of the child or even just hear him or her in the background to get a sense of the family dynamic. That part is tricky, though, because kids are so different at home than they are at school, so you’re sort of getting their most comfortable self, and sometimes that can be pretty funny.

Ms. Hopkins says she relies a lot on Zoom these days, as do many of us, and values the ability to be able to connect with people, even if it can’t be in person. “I get so excited to get on a Zoom call and see some new faces,” she said. “Families seem to be feeling the same in terms of enjoying talking to somebody new or outside their own households. I start every call with, ‘How are you doing? How’s it going over at your house?’ Everyone wants to know that someone is thinking about them and feeling a sense of connection. Periodically, I’ll see a child enter the scene, and it’s the same on my end. Anything goes, and it’s all good! The mantra for virtual admissions is flexibility, authenticity, and a whole lot of patience.”

Her efforts to make connections are paying off, and prospective families with students of all ages have been reaching out for information. “Amazingly enough, we’ve gotten signed contracts even though the families don’t get to walk through the halls and hear our students and teachers interacting,” she said. In some ways, this is perhaps not so surprising as parents come to terms with realizing that we have to be ready for whatever the fall is going to look like. Schools in Maryland will not reopen this school year, and options may not be as abundant as they once were.

TNCS on the other hand, moved quickly to get up and running virtually, and has now hit a rhythm with it that seems to work for everyone. I give our faculty and administration a lot of credit for that. With so much uncertainty regarding how schools will reopen, I’m so in awe that we are trying to think of every possible scenario. It’s a whole lot of work to do that and figure out these contingencies. How can we split up this room to maintain smaller groups, for example? Do we have preschool on campus and elementary and middle stay virtual for now? Do we implement A and B days? For now, we’re all in the dark and watching the news together.

Virtual Discover TNCS Events

In addition to operating classrooms virtually, TNCS is offering Virtual Admissions Events. The first took place in April, and a second will take place Wednesday, May 20th from 10:00 am–11:00 am.

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“The fact that we’re doing virtual open houses is awesome,” said Ms. Hopkins. “We basically took the in-person event that I did in January and turned it into a Zoom event with updated slides and additions for virtual school. Josh Birenbaum gave the parent perspective, and we had nine prospective families in attendance.” One advantage to doing the event virtually is that people were able to ask questions via chat. One family is now enrolled, and a few others are “in the funnel,” as they say in admissions speak.

This month’s event will take a slightly different format: The first half will be admissions in general, and the second will be about summer camp.

Summer Camp?

Yes, TNCS Virtual Summer Camp will be a thing! TNCS Aftercare and Summer Camp Director Hannah Brown will handle that portion, with support from Paula Kupersanin and Adriana DuPrau, who are helping to create summer curricula. “It’s been a challenge running our aftercare program from home and preparing for summer camp, under uncertain circumstances,” said Ms. Brown. “But, it has been an opportunity for creative problem-solving, and I’m really proud of what the team has come up with so far.” They are currently working on virtual offerings for K through 8th-grade students. “I think that’s where the demand will be this summer. We’re looking at academic enrichment mornings in math and ELA, and then the afternoons will be geared toward social–emotional learning with specialty camps, like art and physical activity.”

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The actual offerings and the final schedule will be available on the TNCS website soon, thanks to the invaluable work by Karin Cintron to get that and registration up and running. “I’m really excited to get the word out to parents,” said Ms. Brown. “We don’t yet have a sense of how many people will register,” she continued.

Right now it’s really a balancing act for families. We want our students to have a high level of readiness for the fall, but what’s especially important to me is for them to have a sense of connectedness this summer and get some social interaction, even if it is remotely. And we really want the experience to be fun, too, whether it’s an academic enrichment or a specialty camp. Every kid’s threshold for how much virtual interaction they can profit from is different. In that spirit, we’re parsing out the day so families can do as much or as little as they need.

What We’re Grateful For

“It’s such a scary time for admissions. The job of an admissions officer is to get students into a school so there are students to teach. Hearing about schools teetering or even having to close is so sad,” said Ms. Hopkins, but she’s not one to end on anything but a positive note. “I’m so grateful that Co-Executive Directors Roberta Faux and Jennifer Lawner are doing everything they can to make sure we’re thriving. Admissions is challenging, but the fact that we’re still getting interest from families and getting them through the pipeline makes me really happy. People are talking about us, and our name is getting out there.”

Then there’s the fact that the fundamental part of her job is still intact—more or less. “My favorite part of my job is getting to meet families and students, and I don’t get to do that in the same way now. I like to be with people—I like to talk and connect. That’s why I like admissions so much.”

Finally, there’s you, TNCS community. “We have such loyal families who have been really supportive during this time; I think it makes all the difference,” said Ms. Hopkins. “I want to thank our current families, and I also want to thank new families for entrusting their children’s futures to us. I really am so grateful for that.”


Visit Virtual Discover TNCS to register and tell your friends!

TNCS Dean of Students/Head of Lower School Alicia Danyali Presents at AIMS Learning to Lead Conference 2020!

On March 3, 2020, just days before the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, Alicia Danyali, the Dean of Students and Head of the Lower School at The New Century School, presented at an important and now exponentially more relevant conference: The Association of Independent Maryland and DC Schools (AIMS) annual Learning to Lead event, this one on the theme of “Handle the Pressure: Building Social Media Leadership in Our Students.” The impetus behind the conference was this:

Social media continues to transform the educational landscape in our schools, as well as the emotional development of our students. These young people are being asked to grow up faster, and the implications of their decisions now have grand consequences that can affect their social lives, mental health, academic performance and, in some cases, college matriculation and career path. Never before have our young people been faced with such pressure to be perfect … in every way.

Now, with shelter-at-home orders in place across the state, many students are spending even more time online to varying degrees, whether it’s for entertainment or educational purposes. TNCS students, for example, are attending virtual classrooms, which is a wonderful thing (read all about it here). But this often dramatic increase in screen time has some parents wondering, “Are my children practicing safe online habits? What is their level of social media literacy?”

The Social Institute

The 2020 conference was hosted by the Severn School in Severna Park, with Laura Tierney as the keynote speaker. Ms. Tierney founded  The Social Institute, whose mission is to “. . . empower 1 million students nationwide to navigate social media and technology in positive, healthy, and high character ways. As a team of digital natives, we bridge the digital divide between students and adults by offering schools a comprehensive, student-led curriculum and presentations that students respect and embrace.” The Social Institute is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Rather than focusing on the negative aspects of social media, Ms. Tierney “has created a dynamic curriculum that inspires leadership and reinforces smart-decision making through a positive, growth mindset.

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“The audience was about 80% middle and high schoolers, and our focus was to give them tools to be school leaders,” said Ms. Danyali.

Self-Care, Self-Discipline, and Self-Reflection: Three Principles to Guide Your Online Presence

“Ms. Tierney and her group basically talk to students about healthy relationships and what character means as well as how that translates into their everyday lives,” explained Ms. Danyali. Three concepts she focuses on are self-care, self-discipline, and self-reflection. “She emphasizes that how they present themselves on social media can affect them long term, such as when it’s time to apply for college or get a job. Regarding attitude in general, how do you send positive messaging? How do you still remain friends with people that you don’t agree with on social media? All of those things that they’re going to face challenges with.”

After the keynote presentation, the audience broke out into four groups to workshop some of these concepts related to social media. They were given a quiz about their habits and privacy, which Ms. Danyali hopes to replicate for TNCS 7th- and 8th-graders to help them investigate, for example, what their habits are and what habits they might be looking to change, what has benefited them or improved their lifestyle.

WE Schools

One of the benefits of attending a conference like this is networking. During one of the breakout sessions, Ms. Danyali describes connecting with a representative of WESchools, “an innovative series of experiential service-learning programs that engage educators and youth globally to empower them with the skills, knowledge, and motivation to bring positive change in themselves and the world.” Sound like something Ms. Danyali would be interested in? In fact, she plans to partner with them in the near future, possibly for extracurricular activities.

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“Generation Z and How to Forge Accountability”

Ms. Danyali, who has been teaching TNCS elementary and middle school students about social media literacy for years, was an ideal presenter—one of only two, in fact. Her talk was titled “Generation Z and How to Forge Accountability.” Although she has spoken on this topic before, this time, she says, she approached it a bit differently. “I started out asking whether anybody was able to cultivate accountability from somebody else, whether it was a personal or professional relationship. How did that play out?” She got a lot of response, and students shared their school social and emotional learning experiences. She explains, “Where I was going with this is, most of these independent schools, including TNCS, use four or five words to describe what they hold as their Core Values—but how do you actually cultivate those and how do you hold the community accountable for upholding them? How are they represented in your school in a way that contributes to people taking responsibility for their actions?”

For example, one of TNCS’s core values is Service. Ms. Danyali recounts how Ms. Lee’s 2nd- /3rd-grade class assembled hygiene kits to donate to the Baltimore Rescue Mission, an authentic and worthwhile service initiative. But they took it a step further and shared their experience of why they undertook the project and why it was important with the much-younger students in Ms. Mosby’s primary classroom to help establish this concept with them, so they can build on it meaningfully as they grow. That’s how TNCS brings it full circle. “But some educators confessed that they never talk about the actual words,” said Ms. Danyali, “and I think they now see why they should perhaps start doing so, such as by relating the values back to books the students are reading. It can be that simple.”

In some schools, such as the Park School, social and emotional learning even becomes part of the student’s assessment. Although it’s certainly subjective to evaluate someone’s degree of, for example, empathy, Ms. Danyali says that’s how you not only “talk the talk” but also “walk the walk.”

“I wanted my talk to open the door for more conversation, which is how I presented it,” said Ms. Danyali. “This is just planting a seed that maybe resonates with you as relevant or so that you can pick the conversation back up in your school house with your colleagues or with your family at home. I want the conversation to be ongoing.”

Speaking of ongoing, Ms. Danyali will bring many of the valuable insights she gained by attending and presenting at the conference home to inform new initiatives for TNCS students. One example is the One Love foundation, which also focuses on healthy relationships. She wrote 20 words on a chalkboard and asked members of the TNCS 3rd and 4th grades to circle which ones signified a healthy relationship. “We talked about the words,” she said, “but what was striking is that they were able to do it without picking any of the wrong ones.” After this “test drive” of One Love, she will undertake some of these initiatives with the older students as well.

To bring all the various threads in this post back together, in this time of increased socializing via screens, let’s make sure we—and our kids—are being who we want to be, both in real life and on social media.

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TNCS Emergency Personnel Child Care: Heroes Helping Heroes!

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

imagejpeg_4Jatiya 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.

A Spring Break Message to Thank You, TNCS!

A very different Spring Break starts next week amid the shutdown, but students at The New Century School already have 3 full weeks of TNCS Virtual School under their belts and can sit back and enjoy their well-earned time off from academics.

Before they do so, though, students across several divisions—yes, even the preschoolers—took a moment to express their gratitude for all the hard work, forward thinking, and can-do attitudes that went into keeping them productively occupied and maintaining their educational momentum throughout this period of massive adjustment to our new way of life.

These thank-you messages (progressing roughly by division) go out to you, TNCS teachers, staff, faculty, administration, and founders.

And don’t forget these beautiful handmade thank-you paintings and drawings!


Not only has TNCS made all of this possible, but they continue to innovate ways to engage students. Even during Spring Break, TNCS is hosting virtual activities. Staff and assistants are running daily interactive sessions in each grade (pre-primary through 8th) that you can log on to Google classrooms each morning to explore.

There is also a K–8 reading challenge for students to log minutes spent reading (either reading or being read to). The homeroom class with the most time logged gets a prize (TBA), and the top three individual students no matter what homeroom will receive ice cream for their immediate families.

Finally, parents can use some of their volunteer hours, to lead “hangout activities” for their child’s class. Examples include making paper aircraft or painting on cardboard.

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Having technical problems with Google classrooms? View this helpful video for troubleshooting.