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!