With the school year just around the corner, teachers are anxious, fearful and upset about the idea of returning to the classroom. In a recent survey conducted by local school PS 321 in which all faculty and staff participated, 87.6% of respondents said that they would prefer to start remotely either for their own safety or for the safety of their colleagues and their families.
Our educators are not expendable. They are our GOLD. SSP reached out to the community asking for volunteers to share their views about NYC schools reopening. We’ve heard from several teachers in NYC and surrounding areas, and they have a LOT to say. All names have been kept anonymous to protect their identities, and each text color represents a different teacher's voice.
When asked about concerns as schools plan on reopening this Fall, here is where our teachers stand:
My concerns are two-fold, both health and safety and educational quality.
Health and Safety. There are many issues that have not been addressed and there are not clear answers as a system nor for individual buildings for how these will be addressed. I am very concerned about the health of those inside the school (all staff and students) as well as what opening schools is going to do to students' families' health and the greater community. Based on what we are seeing with school openings around the country and the world, putting people together in a school building is going to increase the spread of Covid and more people are going to get very sick. I am also concerned about what this will do to the front line workers in hospitals who have already been through hell.
There are also very granular issues around health and safety that are not clearly addressed. There has been lots of talk about proper ventilation and whenever I ask that question at my children's school, the school where I work or DOE forums, the question is either ignored or answered without details about what has been checked and what will be done. The best answer I got was that windows can be opened but air conditioners can not be used. In both my and my children's school, the buildings are very old and windows only open a few inches. I'm not sure how that will provide proper ventilation. Furthermore, the school where I work is covered in scaffolding and a fine mesh cover. We haven't been able to open our windows for a year because the dust from the construction is dangerous to breathe. So I'm not sure if we will be able to open our windows when school starts. If we do, that's an awful trade off (construction dust or Covid) and the mesh around the building does ot allow for air exchange.
My other main concern about safety is reporting cases and testing. In March, cases were not reported and school remained open after people were symptomatic. So, there was a period between the onset of symptoms and the reporting of tests to close a school. This means that the virus was probably floating around for days. The DOE's new plan to shut down classes or schools only AFTER a positive case will create this same situation. If someone is showing symptoms, they have the OPTION to get tested or not (problem #1). Then, if they do get tested, the building remains open until the test comes back. This can take anywhere from 2-14 days, depending on the lab. In the meantime, the virus can be floating around that classroom and every single person that teacher and students have contact with. Also, is a 24 hour closure enough for a full investigation? Who is doing the investigating and what is the criteria for the investigation? How and when will ALL members of the community be informed of the results? In March, people in both my school and my children's school tested positive and we did not find out until long after the fact. Should we have been in quarantine at that time? Should we have told others that we had had contact with to warn them? Yes, but we did not know until months later.
Finally, the day to day in-school plans for health and safety- hand washing (no sinks in classrooms), mask wearing, temperature checks and social distancing are going to be very hard to enforce and each school and possibly each classroom will likely have a different interpretation of what these mandates will look like. Who is monitoring and enforcing these? School staff who have not had any training? Or will the DOE send in monitors on a regular basis to ensure that these mandates are being followed as they outlined?
Educational Quality. Whether a family choses remote learning or hybrid, 60-100% of instruction will be done remotely on-line. The DOE had since March to offer professional development to teachers and school staff and find ways to improve the quality of remote instruction. We all know (teachers too) that it was not ideal, but teachers flipped their entire profession in a matter of days with no support, professional development and we used our own materials in our homes and our own technology. We learned a lot and if we were given the time and resources this summer and during our normal planning in June or during weekly staff meetings since March, we could have greatly improved instruction for children. The DOE could have used this time to reach out to the students they are calling "vulnerable" to find out what specifically families need and make a plan to get it to them. This could have been communicated to schools who could make granular plans to better support all families.
Additionally, the hybrid model offers a very inconsistent delivery of teaching and learning. Research shows that children learn best when they get repeated opportunities to practice new learning with support within 24 hours of learning that material. If they are in school every other day or in some cases only once a week, they will not get these opportunities to solidify new learning. It simply isn't educationally sound. If they are working remotely each day with the same teacher for each subject (or in elementary school the same teacher all day), their instruction will be consistent.
Finally, when (not if) school closures happen, this is another case when instruction will become inconsistent. Teachers will be scrambling, often finding out at home that school or their class will be closed and they will be home without teaching materials for possibly 2 weeks. This is not how quality instruction happens. This is constant scrambling and readjustment without a coherent through line of clear outcomes for the class and individual children.
My main concern is that the decision to reopen schools as a hybrid model is extremely flawed. I am concerned that our Governor and Mayor are more concerned with federal approval, or making the public believe they tried everything in their power to get kids back to brick-and-mortar schools. They are willing to risk everyone for a faint possibility that we could, at best, trudge through.
The safety of our kids and educators is my main concern.
The safety and well being of children and teachers who are being put on the front line everyday are my main concern. They have not been actively involved in the decision making process when deciding if they are comfortable doing their job with so little information and so few safety guidelines being implemented (overhauling the ventilation systems in all these old school buildings for instance). Teachers should be consulted by the school districts they work in (along with families) in the decision making process when it directly affects them. For young children especially they need consistency to thrive and be successful. Going to school only 1-3 days a week will not ensure that. Teachers will spend a lot of time cleaning and managing children struggling to wear their masks, hand sanitizing, hand washing, social distancing - that little learning will actually take place. Social distancing is difficult to achieve when teaching.
My concerns are twofold. Firstly, health and safety. I don't feel that the plan as proposed is adequate. Without a frequent on-site testing (with rapid results) for staff and students, it will be difficult to curb outbreaks. Moreover, no time has been allotted to familiarize teachers and other staff members with safety protocols. Secondly, in-person learning will be drastically different from what it has been in the past (shortened day, "instructional" lunch, limited peer-to-peer interaction/socializing, potentially high levels of stress among staff). While remote learning was a flop for many families, it could be improved if schools were given the necessary time and resources.
There are so many concerns about reopening this fall that I don't even think I can write them all. I am concerned about the health and safety of the students and staff. I don't see how we are going to keep everyone (including teachers) wearing masks all day. I am concerned about the students who believe that they can't get it or that it is a hoax and will not follow the rules when they aren't going to be watched. I am concerned about the children riding on the bus and sitting close together and sharing air and then coming into my classroom. I'm concerned about being in a room with students I don't know and I don't know their family. I am worried that since I won't be able to see my student's faces, I won't be able to read their expressions and know if they understand me. I am concerned that since my students won't see my face they won't really get to know me. I'm worried that the schools won't be cleaned. I am concerned about what will happen when a student or staff member tests positive. My list can go on forever...there are so many layers and levels of fear about going back to the classroom.
The department of education has set out certain guidelines that they want schools to follow. Here are their thoughts on those guidelines and how realistic they are:
Not at all realistic. I keep calling them ideas not plans. Plans are granular with specific moment to moment, case by case details. The DOE guidelines are sweeping mandates that are just being left up to each school to create plans. Those in the school who are making the plans are not receiving training or guidance. Furthermore, I'm not sure how the hybrid learning plan will come to be. The DOE is expecting 20% of the teachers to apply to work remotely because of health conditions. Is it the plan for these teachers to provide remote instruction? This does not even seem efficient educationally or monetarily. If about 40% of children are in person in school each day, 80% of teachers will be teaching the minority of children each day while 20% are teaching 60% of children who are working remotely (and this does not even include the families that are choosing 100% remote as we do not yet know that number).
There is no consideration given to how very different every building is. In order to make school buildings safe, there are major adjustments that need to be made. Many elementary schools have kids at shared tables, those need to have plexiglass dividers on them. I meet with my school's planning committee and deciphering a staggered arrival and dismissal is very complicated, let alone the path of student traffic during those times. We have railroad classrooms for most of the classrooms in our building, that means in order for one class or group to access the bathroom or hallway - for any number of reasons- would have to pass through another's. So would the teachers. As of last week, what I heard from my colleague that visited my school, there have been no directions on how to implement building adjustments. And, as a 20-year veteran teacher at the DOE, this does not surprise me in the least.
The plans are not realistic. They are saying schools will be able to make all of these changes to keep our kids safe, but that is not going to happen. Schools are educational institutions, not trained health clinics. They cannot keep our kids safe despite their absolute best efforts.
I do not think the DOE guidelines are attainable for all students and their families. There are too many unknown variables (transportation issues, cross contamination going from school to home, etc) at work to completely keep students and staff safe.
The safety guidelines might be possible, but only with more planning time and more money for additional staff (both teaching and custodial). The instructional piece continues to leave teachers and administrators with more questions than answers. For example, at each grade level there will be three groups of kids learning each day (the in-person cohort, the at-home cohort, and the all remote cohort). Teaching those three groups is the job of three separate teachers. Schools still don't know who will be responsible for each group and how staffing will work. In reality, the DOE would need to nearly double the teaching staff (at least at the elementary school level) to make this work. In the end, it seems likely that classroom teachers will be expected to simultaneously teach their in-person and at-home cohorts resulting in inferior instruction for all.
I have only skimmed through the guidelines because they make my head spin. I don't know how it is possible for schools to be able to adhere to the guidelines set out by the CDC. It is not realistic nor feasible.
We asked how teachers feel about returning to the classroom as it pertains to their own family dynamic and safety:
I do not feel safe. Our children should not be a part of this science experiment to see if this will work or not.
Teachers are not babysitters. I understand that childcare is not a luxury that everyone can afford, however a teacher should not be asked to risk their life in order to provide that service. Remote learning should be the only option right now.
Our family has decided for 100% remote learning for the fall. I just don't feel reassured that my children will stay safe at school and I don't think the education they will get will be better with hybrid and there will be no socialization. It breaks my heart to think of them sitting alone in a desk all day, unable to really be with their friends. It's not developmentally appropriate for them to sit in one seat in one room all day long, including lunch.
As a teacher, I am terrified. There is no clarity around how we will be protected for so many reasons (some outlined above). Also, what happens when another teacher is sick? Will the kids from his/her class get split into other classes when there are no subs, further spreading illness around the school? What happens when a child comes to school sick? It happens all the time. What happens when DOE provided hand sanitizer, soap and masks are depleted? It will happen. I am also worried as 2 of us have asthma and I don't want to bring the virus home to my family. This terrifies me more than anything.
I do not worry about my kids' safety because I do not have a choice. I must send my 3-year old and 5-year old to school whenever possible. Yet, I am being asked to report to school five days a week - when I have no care for my boys on the days they are expected to be remote. My husband must work. My boys attend different elementary schools because my 3-year old didn't get into my school's pre-K. How are we expected to provide extra care for our kids? We don't know their schedules, we don't know if they can match so that we can seek out hiring help at home part-time. In my opinion, I should be entitled to a remote learning center/child care for my boys, but there is no word about this at all. I am left to my own devices here.
Many other professions can work from home as an option yet teachers do not have that privilege. Hard choices are being made by many families as to how to homeschool their children and work at the same time. It’s a shame that teachers are forced into choosing between career or family with the hybrid learning plan. Districts are losing talented teachers because they can’t come back due to child care, or fear of contracting Covid, or possibly infecting someone else with this virus unintentionally.
I'm scared. COVID is still very new and we don't know enough yet about how it is transmitted, how to treat it, or what long term effects on health it may have to make me feel comfortable working in a school or sending my children to one.
I'm worried about the amount of contacts our family of 5 will have each day. For the past 5 months my family has been very careful about limiting our interactions and now I feel like everything we have done may be for nothing.
We all want to know, are schools in a position to operate safely this Fall? Here are their responses:
I don't think it's possible for schools to operate safely. Kids will be eating in the classroom with other students and the teacher which isn't ideal. Many kids will not be able to keep their mask on all day thus exposing the other students and the teacher.
Yes it is possible - but the bureaucracy, as usual, has made this totally impossible. Now we are expected to open in exactly a month from today, and it is in the hands of educators, administrators, School Leadership Teams, and districts to figure out how this can be done with following guidelines and keeping our students and staff safe. None of us have faith that testing and tracing will be provided in an effective way. It is inevitable, as we can see across the country with schools opening, that COVID-19 will arrive at many of our schools. Families and staff do not isolate, many families are now socializing (even if distant) with certain people so exposure can occur outside of school and during weekends.
I don't think it will be possible for schools to operate safely until we have a better testing plan, viable therapeutics, a vaccine, or, at the very least, suppression of the virus nationally.
No. I think in order for us to operate safely we would need to have more funding and I don't see that happening.
Their ideal situation for September:
Full remote learning until January.
My ideal situation cannot happen, and I am ok with that. My top priority is that we keep children and educators safe, and that will not happen if we open schools in the fashion the DOE wants.
100% remote for all with training for teachers and outreach to find out what supports families need.
Ideally,I think schools should be all online learning until there is a vaccine to ensure the safety of children, teachers, and staff.
At this stage, we should be delaying the start of school for a few weeks, then begin school with remote learning after that. Schools get their buildings adjusted, and districts get testing and tracing systems for every building and district. Districts can figure out the challenging issue of how to best support all children: General education and Special education. Also, how to make sure there is equity with staff and their altered positions.The conundrum of which teachers teach remotely, or in person could be ironed out. Teachers can train with remote teaching for the first few weeks of September then begin the year remotely. We aren't preparing for the possibility of a lockdown or a fire, we are preparing for how to protect a couple hundred students and staff from a virus that is highly contagious!
My ideal situation is remote learning for most students (including my own incoming kindergartener) and some in-person schooling for high-need populations. In addition, continued access to childcare for the children of essential workers and increased pressure on companies to offer flexible work from home policies for their employees.
100% distance learning. What school districts should have done was put the money that they will be spending on additional staff and other expenses to open towards training and planning for distance learning. If the plan was to be 100% distance learning teachers would be spending the last few weeks of summer planning amazing lessons. Instead, we are spending the last weeks of summer wondering what we will be doing in September.
Our teachers wanted to share these additional thoughts with us:
The mindset here of many educators, politicians and parents is that in-person school is much more valuable learning than remote. It isn't, when we must socially distance and never leave a classroom. It isn't, when many teachers silently feel a range from terrified to concerned. None of us feel confident that we will be safe in our school buildings, so therefore, must practice a high level of restraint, caution, paranoia. Many teachers worked tirelessly to make sure remote school was as valuable as could possibly be - very much on our own without valuable online resources from DOE. If the DOE and NYC had instead placed priority in supporting a rich remote school environment by seeking out what could be the standard resources, platforms, guidelines and expectations - that would have been a better use of time. Other teachers need tech training and practice and support, regardless of hybrid model, that support and reliability should be provided by the DOE. It is very possible to create a very engaging learning environment remotely and this is the safest, without a doubt.
I don’t know how ANY working family is navigating these times- working full time (or at all)and having children to care for simultaneously is not feasible. Either your work or your children suffer (or perhaps both) due to your time constraints and attention being pulled in so many directions. Parents are being asked to do the impossible right now, and there aren’t any right answers.
I want readers to understand how logistically impossible this all is and how hard administrators and teachers are trying to make it work. With school only a month away, there are still so many unanswered questions about safety and learning.
We, teachers, want to be back in school. However, we don't want to be the guinea pigs. When the entire country was shutting down in March (sports, concerts, meetings etc.) and we were still teaching... that was the worst feeling I have ever felt in my life. I felt that I didn't matter, my life didn't matter, my family and my students didn't matter. I couldn't understand why gatherings of large groups were being cancelled but we were putting hundreds of students in a cafeteria. None of it made sense and I found myself hiding in the bathroom crying on several occasions. I am starting to have those feelings again. Especially now that we know more about this virus and how it is spread. I want to go back to normal too, but not at the cost of lives.
Kids will be “behind” if we don’t go back to in person learning... but they will be alive, and so will their teachers.
In this month’s interview, we are highlighting a very special friend to SSP and South Slope business owner, Sonja Neill-Turner, who founded the Brooklyn Sandbox Early Learning Center. Learn about how her personal experience with her son influenced her to open the center, and how children’s unique interests help build and drive the curriculum. Her commitment to childhood education is palpable, and she is an inspiration to all of us who are so very passionate about our children’s early developmental years AND an inspiration to anyone looking to follow their dream and build a small business of their own.
SSP: Can you tell us a little about yourself, and how your life ultimately led you to becoming an entrepreneur in South Slope, founding the Brooklyn Sandbox preschool?
I come from a family of educators. The emphasis was always present growing up. My grandparents were a huge influence on me and they always harked on the equalizing aspects of a good education. It drove my choice in schools I attended and in places that I chose to live. It’s one of the reasons I chose Park Slope. I’ve been a Park Slope resident for over 14 years. The family-centric draw was so appealing. I call it the Mayberry of New York City. And the schools here are strong academically.
Before starting Brooklyn Sandbox, I worked for a large beauty retailer in corporate education. The position was wonderful in that I was able to help shape company culture from leadership to the sales environment. The position commanded a 50% travel schedule which at the time, I loved, but became challenging when the time came for my son, Chase, to head off to kindergarten. It was important to me to be a part of his schooling.
Earlier, in his preschool setting, he flourished but was showing signs of developmental delays in writing and self-regulation. A diagnosis of sensory integration made me reevaluate my ability to be wholly present for him given my travel schedule as he started elementary school. As it turns out, my department was being relocated to San Francisco and since I couldn’t make the move, I negotiated a severance package and began the research to open a preschool. Given my son’s preschool experience, I realized, had it not been for a trained educator, we would not have had the insight to look beyond his behavior. Early intervention was so key to understanding this critical stage in brain development.
So I began to read voraciously, probing the minds of the many therapists that worked with my son so that I could not only learn what I, as his parent, needed to give him, but also how to advocate and support him in his elementary school years. He is the real inspiration behind Brooklyn Sandbox.
SSP: What specifically about early childhood education intrigues you the most and what motivated you to open a school here in South Slope?
The science of learning is what intrigues me most. The brain development in the first five years of life is when it's at its most dynamic. To watch and see how children use investigation and discovery to come to their own conclusion is a marvel I’m so in awe of. I wanted to build a school that not only gave children the developmental frame in which to grow, but also served as a resource for families. I wanted a holistic "soup to nuts “ approach to early education. I feel strongly that family education is tantamount to understanding and supporting the growth of each child. I learned so much from my son’s preschool teachers. I consider myself pretty versed in parenting, but the science of learning was a whole new ballfield.
SSP: What would you say is the core Brooklyn Sandbox philosophy and mission?
I share with all who come into our community that development is at the heart of our teaching philosophy. Of course, the development of the child is central to what we do, but we also support each family holistically. We take the time to understand what’s important to their dynamic, we probe beyond life in the classroom and we ensure a connection that is open so families feel they have the space to build meaningful relationships with their children’s teachers. We often say that a milestone for the child is a milestone for the family. That IS development. We also think of ourselves as a community of lifelong learners. Our teachers form a learning circle and share and push each other into new ways of thinking and reflection in their teaching practice. NO two years are ever the same and they thrive because of it.
SSP: Is there a certain method of teaching that you follow or is it a blend of different techniques?
We are a Reggio Emilia-inspired preschool. Our approach follows that of a play-based model where children are central to the course of study. The teacher works to closely observe and document their interests and wonderings and use those interests to build the curriculum. Children will engage more deeply in what they are interested in. And I will tell you, a two- and three-year old interests are more profound than any preconceived unit of study. For instance, we’ve studied sound - the manipulation of sound to create music, how sound can influence emotion, how sound influences art and the impermanence of sound - all because the children were enthralled with the daily ringing of the church bells at noon. The Reggio approach built upon a solid understanding of child development drives all that we do at Brooklyn Sandbox.
SSP: I understand that nature based play is an integral part of a preschoolers experience at Brooklyn Sandbox. With all of us at home these days, this sounds especially intriguing. Can you elaborate as to why this is so important to you and the school?
Nature is so important for so many reasons. There are many studies that document the benefits of nature-play for children. Most recently I read where the majority of diagnoses of developmental delays are happening in urban environments. It’s clear that our disconnect from nature is influencing our children’s development. In nature, there exists every learning concept that classrooms seek to recreate. Think of it - the life cycle, water cycle, seasons, habitats, weather, food production - the learning is endless. The natural environment is sensorily-rich without any effort on the part of the teacher. We also see the social aspect amplified in a natural environment. Think of how calming nature is for us as adults. It’s the same for children. I’ve seen the most rambunctious of children become keen, quiet observers in nature. It’s a great way to alleviate these anxiety inducing days. I think one of the most compelling reasons for outdoor nature play is the social-emotional learning that takes place. Risk-taking takes a front seat. It’s an aspect that is critical in the self-learning of boundaries and building self-esteem. As parents we tend to work hard to remove any potential harm to children in their environment. But how will children learn to discern what is potentially harmful without that important feedback loop of try, learn, adjust, try again?
And given the present climate and the emphasis on health, nature once again provides an immense benefit. Strengthening the core and improving balance comes not from walking on even surfaces like our apartment floors and city streets but comes from running across undulating grass, climbing uneven hills, jumping from misshapen rock to misshapen rock and climbing knobby tree trunks. Those activities engage and strengthen the core. Having a strong stabilizing core is the start to having a well-adjusted, emotionally-regulated child. This is why nature is important for all of us and especially for our little ones as they struggle to make sense of emotions.
SSP: What does the 2020/2021 school year look like for your preschool at this time?
It’s been quite a roller coaster to say the least. We’ve really seen many families struggle economically, emotionally and physically. We’ve made difficult decisions which at the core, was about having a school to return to once the -stay-at-home orders were lifted. We’re proud to report that we are fully enrolled. We have our families to thank for that. We’ve seen that our hard work throughout the year really bore fruit - our community held fast and supported one another. It was really the most challenging time I've ever had to face as a businessperson - in large and small business. This year we will focus on the social-emotional well being of our children and families as well as augment our all weather nature-based play. Nature is healing so we look forward to spending days in the sun and the rain.
SSP: Do you have any advice or words of encouragement for those of us looking to start up our own small business?
I think any successful small business owner will tell you that you have to have perspective, perseverance and patience. I think the obvious will always hold true of course - you have to be organized, have a strong understanding of your market or industry, and understand people. Running a small business is about problem-solving but also the understanding that you are serving several masters when coming up with the solution. You have to be client-centered in your decision - making those decisions should also serve the business and it’s longevity. I would strongly advise taking an entrepreneurial course. Many area colleges offer them at low cost.
You have to ask yourself the tough questions - what are you willing to sacrifice? Time with family? Income potential? I stay focused on what I’ve gained instead- the flexibility to be there for my son, to build a community of families and to extend the same parent experience I had when navigating those early years. I wouldn’t change a thing. Every obstacle was a chance to learn and grow. And even now, after this unbelievably trying and stormy year, I still see the rainbows.
To learn more about Brooklyn Sandbox, go to http://brooklynsandbox.com/.
During this most difficult time, many of us struggle with how to approach and navigate the topics of race, racism and the current state of affairs in which we live. How do we best encourage our children to ask questions and ensure that we always validate their feelings and thoughts? We did our best to collect resources, to at least provide a starting point for these very sensitive conversations. Please make sure to check out the link to a video at the bottom of the list, posted by an amazing Kindergarten teacher from Brooklyn explaining the Black Lives Matter protest to her students.
If you have read any other helpful articles, please comment and share what they are so we can all learn more.
written by Jen Valu
First and foremost, speaking on behalf of all of your patients and families who love SSP so much, you are literally an extension of our families and we are SO THANKFUL of all of your efforts to stay afloat in this crisis. We would be lost without you. Thank you for your persistence, your insatiable will and determination to fight for what’s right, your ability to conquer what must have felt totally impossible and total and complete transparency throughout this situation as everything unfolded. We have been right there next to you this entire time. And you did all of this while homeschooling your ten year old daughter.
Would you like to tell us how you did it, how you were able to make the impossible possible and get through this without the initial financial support of the government protection payroll program?
Matteo: Going back to transparency, that was a big moment. We firmly believe in transparency and making everybody part of the decision. A lot comes with transparency , it’s a big risk. The day we decided to go public about the situation - we realized we have 2 avenues we could take. One is that we could pretend that nothing was happening, when we saw troubling signs at the end of March. We could have decided to either forget about reality and tell employees “don’t worry about it - we’ve got it, no worries” and tell our patients “no worries, you will have a place to go to while this is happening”, but it was not the reality. We decided to stick to our core values and decided to be transparent. This implicated risks that come with that.
What was the response to the video you posted on social media, in which you were able to share the truths about what was happening at SSP and the financial crisis you were in?
Matteo: The day I put that video on youtube, so that it’s available to everybody - both patients and those who are not patients, searchable for everyone to show the reality of small businesses in this situation - this was the beginning of the lowest moments for us. We honestly didn't know what was going to happen, but we knew we were going to put people first and patients first. We were going to put all of the money left into the people, and when we’re done - we’re done. Meaning that if we failed, if we ran out of money at least we could say we tried our best and did what is right to do. Provide a service to our patients, which we are still responsible for, and provide for the families of our employees who don’t need added stress to this pandemic. When I posted this video, I knew it was very risky to be that transparent. What I was expecting was a storm of emails about questions such as “Why? I need my records, I need a new pediatrician”.
So I decided to put myself on Instagram Live everyday at 6pm to answer questions. I was expecting to be attacked, to be put down….I was expecting people to come on and say “how can you do this, how can you not find a way - you are a pediatrician’s office, you should be fine”, with the assumption that doctors never have financial problems. Instead the opposite happened. We received emails of support, love and concern saying “I can’t sleep at night, we need to find a solution - I need you to be OK”. The 6pm live Instagram started as a way to answer questions, and it ended up being a brainstorming event with the whole community. And the community said “This is what you should do, you should start a gofundme, here are links to financial institutions that were successful with the first round”. It became a moment that changed from me answering questions, to us listening to the community. The community letting us know how we could fix it, sharing their ideas and they wouldn’t allow such a thing to happen. That’s when we realized - all the work we put into building a community from day one, even when we were called crazy from our colleagues and people in the industry - we were not making a huge profit but instead reinvesting in building a community, taking care of our employees with the ability to give employees special rewards, education and benefits and now our community is now coming back and telling us “You are not going anywhere”.
Dr. Cao: You know it would have been much easier for us on a personal level for us just to freeze, to shutter up and freeze the schedule and leave town, but the love that they gave us really motivated us to keep working on going. The dedication on the other side - from the staff and our colleagues who were responsible for giving me a good attitude during all of this. When you walk in and Tara is at the front desk saying “Let’s make this day happen”. A lot of what came from the Gofundme for me is that we had no choice but to continue and be motivated to find a way out of this mess.
Matteo: To be clear, the Gofundme was an idea from the community, they wanted us to do it. When it was first brought up on Instagram one night and I immediately told the community that we feel awkward - we want to work to earn the money to pay our employees, it is our responsibility to pay the employees, not our community - and they did not want to hear that. They simply told us “That's not the way you should think, not in this situation, we want to”.
Dr. Cao: It was very humbling, deciding to do something like that put ourselves in a very vulnerable situation but the love we got and overshot our goals by far...it was really inspiring.
Since then, the SSP community has purchased the team lunches on several occasions to help make it through this rough patch. How has this outpouring of love made you feel?
Dr. Cao: As far as the lunches, there is something to be said about how we all relate to expressing concern and care in food, there is definitely something comforting about that. Before we were in crisis I was always buying lunch on Friday for the staff to show my appreciation and have time to sit together. I actually cooked comfort food- I actually made mac and cheese once, Dr. Acosta also cooked for us, her mother has cooked for us. Having the meals delivered and catered from the families -we think of them in general, but it was nice to know they were thinking of us.
Matteo: I receive at least two requests a week from families wanting to cover our lunches. It's about the gesture, it’s not about lunch, it's about “we are thinking of you, want to take care of you”. What that does is, it reminds us that we know we are supported - which is a huge deal in this situation. A phone call came in from a doctor’s office in Wyoming who found us online, and started following us. They are in the exact same situation but it's a little different for them because they just now realized how important community is.
Dr. Cao: When you set out to build and establish a business it’s not always the focus. For us, it definitely was the focus and reason I stepped away from a job at a bigger, more stable place.
Matteo: The lunches are also a way for us to sit together and just let it out, touch base. At the very beginning, even during this pandemic we tried to keep Friday lunches, even when families weren’t coming to buy lunches because it's an important moment for us. During those first Fridays instead of laughter, gossip, silly jokes…
Dr. Cao: It was pretty gloomy...at that time we were dealing with Carolina’s sick mother and Carolina was stuck, Lorraine was ill, and Denise’s family was ill…
Matteo: And we went from a team of 13 to a team of 5 within 72 hours. Plus, our daughter had no other option but to come to work during this pandemic and figure out her own learning. We didn’t have time, phones were ringing like crazy, patients needed to be seen, we didn’t have time to sit with her and help her.
Is everyone ok now?
Matteo: Lorraine's family is now ok, it has now been a few weeks. Carolina’s mom recovered, it’s a miracle, because statistics would say otherwise. She just came back last week. Unfortunately Denise's brother passed away. It’s so hard for her to focus, and she’s taking a week off. She might take a couple of days off in the future, I mean I can’t even imagine.
How do you think this has changed you, as individuals and as owners of a private practice?
Matteo: It's a great learning moment. First of all, you realize who your supporters are and you learn as a team leader that transparency is everything with the consequences that it brings. That’s how we have always done it, and that solidifies it. That's exactly how we operate and that’s exactly how we go on. As a team leader it reinforces the idea that there is a natural selection. Some situations are too hard for some people and there’s nothing you can do but listen and be supportive of their decisions. We lost a member of the team to this as they couldn't deal with the stress and we had to say goodbye. And that’s absolutely OK. Moving forward having almost been out of the game financially has not changed the idea that we will keep investing in the community, even though we are not out of the gate financially. We will keep investing in the community and in our people, our team. That is still the priority. Profit means nothing to us. Dr. Cao, who is the owner….8 years into it, has never cashed a profit share at the end of the fiscal year. He’s put everything back into the business. Every single year.
Dr. Cao: It’s not about the number, when we first started the practice I didn’t take a paycheck for the first 6 months. Slowly I started getting paid. During the Covid19 crisis I’ve been working sometimes 6 days a week, because newborns need to be accommodated for, since they are discharging early from the hospital and I'm getting half my paycheck while working more than I normally do. It’s definitely not about the money. The reason we work hard is so we maintain our accountability for our clients because people need medical guidance and we can provide our staff with a job to support their families. Kids need to be vaccinated, and there's a sharp decline… The AAP just put out statistics of immunizations in March, April and May. It dipped - it went over a cliff essentially. So, I’m afraid that we’re going to have a second wave of vaccine preventable diseases which is a huge insult to injury at this point.
Matteo: From a business point of view, SSP has always been about giving the best experience possible to everyone. Whether that is a customer or a team member or 3rd party vendor, that is our goal. Now that we’re in this pandemic- even when we were a team of 5, although struggling to do so - we tried to give that same kind of experience. We learned we don’t need a team of two thousand to get things done. I was personally working 4 jobs while trying to save the company from disaster. Things needed to get done. I realized I was in pain while I was doing it, I was on the verge of crying - I had panic attacks while at work, and they manifested physically. And then I had the five people there telling me “You know what we’re going to do? We’re just going to do it”. When I was ready to just give up. That shows that not only what we can achieve with five, but now when we have twelve - we can do even better than what we were doing before.
Although we are clearly not out of the woods yet, you have certainly navigated through what is hopefully the most difficult period. What and who are you most thankful for now and what do you want the SSP community to know?
Matteo: We can promise that they will always know what's up, that if we need a moment because we can’t catch up with things to do, we will let them know. That our goal is to add value to this crazy journey we are all on as parents and that’s why we’re trying to convert our free classes to virtual, and do more zoom events about anything. We are working on a zoom sleep class, because a lot of kids are having problems. And we’re working on contacting a therapist on zoom to help out with the emotional journey that teens and preteens are going through. It’s apparently hitting them harder than a lot of other ages.
Dr Cao: I also want people to know how much they are appreciated, to know they are the fuel for us, to keep moving forward. Moving forward some things may be changing that are beyond our control but that we are trying to make decisions that will enhance their experience. We appreciate everyone’s flexibility - we’ve had to make weekly changes as this evolves weekly, so we deeply appreciate everyone’s flexibility.
We feel humbled and energized by all the support our community has shown during the uncertainty and anxiety COVID19 has brought to our company and lives.
This is our simple way to give back to our community and to say Thank You.
Here's the SSP infant CPR crash course for you to keep. Stay safe.
Your SSP Team :-)
More videos on our Instagram Account
#cpr #cprclass #pediatrician #grateful #community
The healing power of laughter and gratitude cannot be underestimated, especially now. Let’s all remember to say thank you again and again to all of our first responders and health care workers - maybe this means posting words of encouragement on their social media page, or calling someone and telling them how much they are appreciated and loved. And there are plenty of ways we can help folks. The Food Bank of NYC is helping deliver much needed resources to those in need. Let’s do all we can!
For our personal happiness, we must savor those smiles and funny moments, which our children surely provide us with. We reached out to our SSP families to see what you are most thankful for…..and what those new “coworkers” up to while you are trying to work. Get ready to smile.
What are you most thankful for? Here are your responses, in order of popularity!
And very importantly, what are your kids/“coworkers” doing while you are trying to work?
SSP families, thank you so much for contributing to this and helping bring smiles and laughter to all of our readers. We needed that. We’re in this together!!!! Virtual hugs to all of you!
Now that we are all facing many, many days at home with our children, we are put to the task of keeping them busy AND fostering an environment for them to continue to learn while their school doors are shut. For those of us who are also balancing working remotely from home, this is extra challenging! The number one thing that many educators are stressing is to create a routine. Kids love a schedule, and while they might moan when you mention “math time”, they will appreciate knowing what to expect (and will look forward to those snack and play breaks)!
Here are some helpful tips to planning your days ahead:
For a list of all education companies offering free subscriptions due to school closings, click here: https://kidsactivitiesblog.com/135609/list-of-education-companies-offering-free-subscriptions/
Let’s not forget that us adults will miss our time exploring, seeing, and getting out and about. Here are a couple of ideas that will help us keep our sanity and continue to learn and explore from our couch:
From portraits of your child or dog, to dinosaurs and butterflies, to The Very Hungry Caterpillar, FizzlePop Puppet Shop stitches custom felt finger puppets, barrettes, holiday ornaments, magnets, bookmarks, and magic wands that are playful, colorful and fun! Lauren Franklin, a mother of two small children, decided to turn her creative hobby into a business four years ago and started selling these whimsical felt pieces for all of us to enjoy. Let’s learn more about Lauren and her small business in this month’s interview!
SSP: How did FizzlePop Puppets come to be? What led you to starting this new business?
In 2015 when my now 5 year old daughter was a baby, we received some finger puppets as a gift that she adored. Since I always enjoyed crafting and dabbled a (very) little bit in sewing, I decided to create some puppets myself. They were a hit, and I soon began making some for her little friends, even taking requests, like a butterfly or Cinderella, for example. That summer, a friend of mine who runs a local monthly flea market offered me a booth to try my hand at selling to the public, which was an exciting but scary prospect. That's when FizzlePop Puppet Shop was born! I then began making custom birthday favors that matched a party's theme, which is way more personal and sustainable than a goody bag filled with tiny plastic toys that will ultimately get thrown away. I've made cartoon characters, dinosaurs, or female superheroes for parties! The puppets were exciting to me for many reasons, but perhaps one of the most compelling was the way it encouraged dramatic and imaginative play with manipulation of actual objects (and not screens!). We never take an airplane or car ride without finger puppets! It wasn't long before I started participating in other craft collectives and markets in Westchester and Brooklyn. I also have items in a store in northern California. In addition to the puppets, I now make barrettes, ornaments, magnets, magic wands, book marks, Easter egg treat holders (instead of plastic eggs!), and all sorts of custom orders from dog felt portraits to obscure ornaments (Post Malone's face, Gizmo wearing a Santa hat...) Everything is hand stitched by me!
SSP: Can you tell us a little about the creative process that goes into each piece?
I absolutely love the art of making something meaningful out of nothing but felt and thread. I particularly enjoy custom order requests for dogs because I usually sit with a photo of the subject for a while and do a fair amount of thinking about how to tackle it. It's like a puzzle. The magic for me is in the transition from the idea in my head to the actual finished object. There's no real blueprint, and each project is different. It's extremely satisfying. More generally, I just love the colorful and whimsical aspect of it all! Simply put, I draw inspiration from things I or my kids enjoy or find humorous.
SSP: How do you balance your work and being a mother of two small children?
That's the trickiest part! It took me almost a year and a half just to create a website. I joke that everything FizzlePop is mostly completed when my children are napping. I'm not sure I even have found balance! I've spent way too many late nights sewing because I didn't want to stop working on an item. I am, however, extremely lucky to have an amazing and supportive husband who encourages me, and the nature of being able to create in my own home is to my benefit as well.
SSP: What piece are you most proud of, and why?
That's a tough question. I once made a felt portrait based on a picture of a couple who were cheek to cheek and slurping some Udon from a bowl. I was thrilled with how it came out, and so were they! I recently made a 13 inch felt nutcracker for a Christmas tree skirt that was very sweet. Of course, my Sgt. Pepper's Beatles puppet set has always been one of my favorites.
SSP: I must say, I'm a huge fan of the Rock and Roll inspired collection and the Post Malone is absolutely hilarious....what was the recipient's response when they received this?
I think the recipient's response was happy shock! I wish I had been a fly on the wall for that reveal. Hand stitching all of those face tattoos was a fun challenge to say the least!
SSP: Where can we find your creations, and how do we contact you for a custom piece?
You can follow me on Instagram @fizzlepoppuppets where I post new pieces or info about upcoming markets. You can also browse around on my website at Fizzlepoppuppetshop.com . While you can't purchase through the website yet, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with items you are interested in, and I accept Venmo for orders or cash and cards at markets.
SP: Do you have any words of advice to other moms and dads who are interested in turning their creative hobbies into a business?
Take the leap! Go ahead and try it, and you'll likely surprise yourself. Also, start out slowly, and take on only what you feel you can handle given the many other responsibilities you undoubtedly have to tend to. I suppose above all, it has to bring you joy.
It's a new year, and for many of us a resolution will be to take better care of ourselves. For some moms, this may mean seeking therapy as a means to a healthier 2020. Meredith Carlisle, a licensed Clinical Social Worker with over a decade of experience and a mom of two young boys, has just opened up her own practice in Manhattan to help support moms during difficult transitions in their lives. Through supporting your personal growth and self-awareness, Meredith can help empower you to take that next step. Let's learn more about her and her new practice in this month's interview!
SSP: Can you please tell our South Slope Pediatrics families about the range of services it is that you provide as a licensed clinical social worker?
My focus is women’s mental health across the life span, with a speciality in maternal mental health and the transition to motherhood. I work to support women during significant life changes, but especially women experiencing distress or symptoms of anxiety or depression during pregnancy and postpartum (aka postpartum depression). I provide individual and group therapy where I support women to increase concrete coping skills while also processing all the changes they’re facing.
SSP: We'd love to learn a little bit more about you, and how your experiences led you to this new exciting venture. How did you get here?
I’ve been a clinical social worker for a decade and have learned so much during that time! My background working with kids really taught me the importance of supporting the whole family and how taking care of kids actually means helping parents take care of themselves. I loved designing and running parent groups more than I expected and was surprised how it supported my work with my child clients. Once I became a mom and experienced first hand all the challenges moms face during this delicate time I felt even more committed to helping moms as a route to supporting the whole family. I feel so privileged to work with moms during this unique time in their lives.
SSP: What made you decide to open up your own practice?
Opening a practice is something I’ve always hoped to do since getting my masters in social work and I am so grateful for the opportunity to grow as a therapist and - now - as a business owner. I also work at an amazing organization called The Motherhood Center, where the work I do with moms is short term (6 weeks). My private practice work compliments that by providing the opportunity for me to support women and moms for a longer stretch of time.
SSP: If you had a mission statement, or a philosophy central to your practice, what would that be?
Central to my practice is a concept based in a model of therapy called dialectical behavioral therapy: the idea of integrating both acceptance and change into our daily lives. More broadly, it’s the idea of finding balance between (which doesn’t mean 50/50 most of the time) all the competing demands, feelings, and expectations of our busy lives.
SSP: Many of the maternal mental health services would be of particularly of interest to our families - challenges with pregnancy, postpartum and miscarriage. One challenge listed is rather universal to most moms - the loss of identity in motherhood. Can you tell us how you address that?
New motherhood is a time of enormous transformation in a woman’s identity, sense of self, and relationships. Often times women think this transition is supposed to be either natural or instantaneous, but the reality is that it's something that happens over a much longer period of time than expected. I work with women to grieve the tangible and intangible losses that come with new motherhood which makes space for the newness each of us face.
SSP: What are your ultimate goals when you are helping a client?
My goals are always what a client brings into therapy as their priority, but I also aim to help them feel comfortable and supported while arriving at more awareness and acceptance of themselves. Ideally, through our collaboration, my clients also feel more equipped to manage the difficulties and stresses of daily life and parenting in NYC.
SSP: When do you recommend someone to come speak to you, when is the right time?
Anytime is the right time. Starting therapy is a big step, and it can be daunting for women who already have a lot of demands on their time. However, if you’re finding that you haven’t been feeling like your usual self for more than a few weeks it might be time to speak with someone.
To learn more, you can contact Meredith at email@example.com.
Alas, it’s holiday time in NYC! And it’s so cliche but it came faster than ever this year! At SSP we tried to scour and search for some of the best things to do with our families, most are very local and others are closeby in the neighboring boroughs. Do you know of something amazing we might have missed? Please comment on FB and share your ideas with us!
Through 12/17 at SSP: First and foremost, one of the most important things we can do with our children is GIVE BACK. The holiday season is a perfect time to teach children about the importance of giving back to those in need. Come by SSP with new toys and books for our annual Toy Drive. This year we are collaborating with Woodhull Medical Center, a Brooklyn based hospital. This is an initiative helped our own Dr. Cao and his family during his childhood. Do you have clothing? We are also collecting for the LGTB homeless youth in collaboration with the ALI Forney Center! (Mint condition clothing only please).
Nightly in Dyker Heights: If you haven’t seen already, some of the most incredible Christmas light displays can be seen in the Dyker Heights section of Brooklyn, aka “Dyker Lights.” Over 100,000 people flock to this area every year to see the most over-the-top Christmas decorations. A sure way to get into the holiday spirit!!!
Brooklyn Nutcracker at King’s Theater: A re-imagined holiday classic, The Brooklyn Nutcracker fuses ballet, hip-hop and a myriad of world dance genres to create a new tradition for today’s audience. New York’s only culturally inclusive production, The Brooklyn Nutcracker transforms familiar Nutcracker characters and scenes to represent the diverse traditions and vibrant culture of melting pot Brooklyn. From the landscape of the old Dutch Brooklyn to the iconic Flatbush Avenue, the production is fresh and full of virtuosity and celebrates the borough we call home.
Angelina Ballerina Holiday Show at Vital Theatre in SOHO (Select Saturdays only): The Very Merry Holiday Musical! Angelina and her friends are planning an absolutely positively spectacular holiday dance pageant; the best in all of Mouseland! When a mix-up prevents the pageant from going on, Angelina and her friends must use their creativity to save the show. By working together, Angelina, Alice, Gracie, AZ, Marco, and Angelina’s little sister, Polly, discover the true spirit of the holidays. It's not about things you receive, but the holiday cheer you share. With dancing, singing and festivities, this heart-warming musical is perfect for everyone's holiday season!
Light up MetroTech on 12/4 in East Flatbush: This old-fashioned Dutch Christmas celebration at NYC’s oldest house will start with a traditional concert by colonial balladeer Linda Russell at 1 PM. There will be a visit from the original Santa Claus, who arrives on horseback at 2:30 PM. In the Dutch tradition, visitors can feed the horse carrots and hay. Learn about how Sinterklaas evolved into the tradition of St. Nicholas while enjoying crafts, music, snacks, and decorating the tree for the tree lighting at the end of the day. Children are invited to sign the Red Book with St. Nicholas. $7 for general admission (ages 11+) and $4 for child tickets (ages 3-10).
Dumbo Tree Lighting on 12/5: The 15th annual tree lighting event includes “Carols, Calypso, and Cocoa” in addition to the tree lighting and another opportunity to meet Santa Claus on Thursday, December 5th in the Pearl Street Triangle. Calypso music will be performed by Brooklyn-based steel drum band Jah Pan and caroling by PS307 and Dock Street Middle school choirs and more. Hot cocoa and sweet treats as well animated videos projected onto the Manhattan Bridge! The tree will be lit at 6 PM sharp.
Christmas Tree Lighting 12/7 at Greenwood Park: Festivities start at 4pm, tree lighting approximately at 6pm. Take photos with Santa, make a handmade wreath! Take pictures with some of your favorite holiday characters!! We will have special snacks on sale along with our regular menu + hot chocolate to warm you up for the lighting of our beautiful 33’+ Balsam Fir.
Lighting of the Menorah, Starting 12/22 at Grand Army Plaza: Live music, hot latkes, and a 60-foot boom lift await you at the lighting of the largest Menorah in Brooklyn. Special gifts are given out to every child.
Holiday Train Show at the NY Botanical Garden in the Bronx: While there are other holiday train displays in and near NYC, none compare to the NYBG's annual show, which celebrates its 28th anniversary this year. More than 25 model trains (yes, including Thomas the Tank Engine) go whizzing by approximately 150 NYC landmarks meticulously made out of acorns, twigs, bark, berries, and leaves. This year's edition showcases Central Park, with new replicas of its iconic architectural features including Belvedere Castle, the Dairy, and more. Also making their debut this year are One World Trade Center and the historic Battery Maritime Building, along with two classic Staten Island Ferry boats.
Brooklyn Holiday Bazaar, Sundays in December in Gowanus : More than 60 makers will help shoppers usher in the holiday season at this special weekend market at 452 and 501 Union Street in Gowanus, Brooklyn. The curated market will feature food and drink vendors, a live DJ, photo booth, kids’ crafts and more. But while you’re having all that fun, don’t forget to shop from the selection of local and indie makers.
LuminoCity Festival through 1/5 at Randall’s Island: Twelve acres of radiant art will take over Randalls Island with three fairy-tale themes: Winter Fantasy, Wild Adventure and Sweet Dream. You can wander through the colorful LED arches of the Donut Tunnel and get lost in the snow-covered trees of the Frosted Forest for an electrifying experience that is the epitome of merry and bright. Be sure to explore the children’s printmaking workshop (various dates, walk-ins available; $29) and other activities, then refuel with snacks from Nathan’s Famous, Baked in Color and other eateries.