Church of the Epiphany – Interview

We are thrilled to feature Jacqueline S. Klein, MS. Ed, head of The Church of Epiphany Day School. Jacqueline and her team work hard to de-stigmatize the idea of a child needing extra support for a period of time in their growth and development, but also understand broaching this topic can be very emotionally charged for some parents.

Tell us about your school, what makes Church of the Epiphany special?
CEDS is an early childhood education hub for learning where parents, teachers, and community members grow and develop alongside the children. Our school prioritizes developing deep connections with families and a space to be vulnerable. We supportively educate parents and caregivers in understanding the wondrous developmental journey of our students.
How has the pandemic affected your school’s approach to behavioral and developmental health?
We knew to expect some developmental delays following the social isolation caused by the pandemic. Once we took the time to observe the extent of and manifestation of those delays, we were able to shift our teaching strategies and provide the extra time, space, and support for everyone to get where they needed to be. Our approach has always been to identify where a child stands within a range of developmental areas and “meet them where they are” through differentiated instruction. To thoroughly address the physical and social emotional needs of our children (which were a direct result of the pandemic) our teaching teams spent extra time in cross-age group meetings, collaborating and sharing expertise so that all teachers were confident and knowledgeable in typical development across all the age groups we work with.
A big part of Clay’s mission is to catch concerns at the earliest onset of symptoms. What steps do you think schools can take to prioritize behavioral health from an early age?
Professional Development in pre-schools should include regular training and revisitation of developmental milestones and age appropriate behavioral expectations. In many cases school administrators assume that teachers know the nuances of what to be looking for and what to pay attention to in a child’s overall development. While this is generally true, staying up to date on current research and keeping your tools sharp is important. There is always new information to absorb and new perspectives to take when observing and working with children. I also believe school’s should be conducting comprehensive intake questionnaires about the child’s home life, family values, and overall identities. Cultivating a community where families feel seen, understood, and respected is critical to building trust. Without trust between the school and the family, the chances of optimally supporting each child is significantly lessened.
We’ve seen that parents routinely turn to their preschool with behavioral health concerns. What are ways parents can feel supported from their preschool?

Regular parent workshops are a must. Not only do we find that parents crave developmental insight and education from experts, they also really benefit from the support and relief that comes with learning in a group setting where everyone is experiencing similar family dynamics. At CEDS we back that up with consistent communications home about what is happening in the classroom and why. Our goal is to give parents insight into the theory and motivation behind everything we do with their children so they can understand the work we engage in with the children and see for themselves how their child is responding to that work.

What are ways preschools can best equip their teachers to intervene early when there are developmental or behavioral concerns?

Compassion, compassion, compassion! First and foremost teachers need to understand and respect the deep vulnerability of being a parent to a young child. No matter how much we try to de-stigmatize the idea of a child needing extra support for a period of time in their growth and development, broaching this topic can be very emotionally charged for some parents. I always remind my teachers that while we have a responsibility to honestly and openly relay our observations, we also have a responsibility to be compassionate and mindful of the impact our words can have on parents. I think of early childhood educators as front line workers, masters of observation with a responsibility to apply our training and understanding of child development to support children and families. So long as they approach each parent conversation with compassion and a collaborative attitude, they should be encouraged to feel heroic in their efforts to help support a child and empowered to clearly communicate their observations to parents. At CEDS we like to use the general approach of, “This is what we are observing in school, what are you observing at home?” This welcomes parents into the observation and inquiry process and helps them to feel like co-pilots instead of passengers.

Once a teacher has done their due diligence in advocating for a child, it’s time to pass the situation along to the next expert in line. Teachers shouldn’t feel the pressure of having difficult conversations with parents on their own. Leadership should take a primary role in communication with parents about referrals or interventions, if necessary, and the school should be ready to follow that up with resources.

How do you believe Clay will help your preschool’s educators, children and families?

Simply having a trusted place for teachers and administrators to recommend as a landing site for parent inquiries and resources is going to be huge. Navigating information on the internet and resources in New York City can be daunting. Building a collaborative parent support network with Clay will offer a one stop shopping experience for high quality expert resources in child development.

To learn more about Church of the Epiphany Day School, visit their website.