Early childhood education with a difference is the driving passion for Cresthill Academy founder Christina Dorando . Varied, multi-lingual learning, and attention to details like organic fresh foods are just two of the differentiators for this cutting-edge educational facility. Christina built her five-location Cresthill Academy on that energy and drive. These days the educational landscape is shifting and we wanted to get Christina’s help in navigating the change. Christina- thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me today! Back to school is always a frenetic time- this year more than ever- how are you coping?
It is my pleasure to be able to chat! Thank you for taking time to interview me! Well, we make a list! I am a BIG fan of making lists and checking it off as we go: this year, we made a list of all the must-do’s and check things off that list first and the parts of the list that need modifications due to COVID, when then start brain-storming alternative ways to accomplish those goals while respecting the safety of our students, team and families! For example, we have always had Back to School nights in past years, however this year, we are instead doing a Zoom to School Week, where we are inviting families to Zoom in during parts of the week to get a feeling for what their child(ren) are up to during the day.
Of our five locations, our East Hanover location remained open during the entire pandemic as we were certified to be an Essential Frontline Employee Emergency Childcare by the State of New Jersey, so it kind of helped that my team and I worked through the pandemic and had time to refine our processes, practice and solicit feedback and suggestions from our frontline healthcare families who entrusted their children to us during the months of March, April, May, and part of June. So having worked through the pandemic, it also made me and my leadership team more prepared for the new school year!
What strategies does Cresthill have for educating your students this year?
Our commitment to exceptional education is our guiding principle and that is our compass for all that we do. What’s a little different this year is that in previous years, our children had a lot of choices when it came to table toys and center-based activities, however this year as we are trying to minimize crossing germs, we have bucketed our toys so that multiple buckets of toys may be out and played with and once that is done, a different set of toys come out of rotation while the played with toys are cleaned and disinfected. While our children still have choices between activities, however, it is not as “open” as it was pre-COVID.
As school for you, is also a business how have you kept going with all of the issues of staffing, parent concerns, funding?
One day at a time and one issue at a time. Funding, we used a combination of PPP loans, our personal savings and small donations to try to get us through 2020 to early parts of 2021. As for staffing, given the COVID restrictions we have had to hire extra staff while respecting staff that do not feel comfortable coming back to work or do not have care for their school-aged children who are now doing remote learning at home. As for parent concerns, we simply talk and walk through them – we have had parents return and parents decide to wait until further notice. We respect both decisions and the best we can do is present our families with what we are doing to keep our children and staff healthy, and our experiences of what we learned operating as an Emergency Childcare Center during the peak of COVID in March, April, May and early June.
Being a working mum to young children how do you balance the workload yourself?
Pre-COVID, I had an incredible leadership team who helped me with the daily operations. However, post COVID, our leadership team is about half the size and I am wearing multiple hats on top of the many I was wearing before. I am lucky in that I have an amazing husband who is very supportive and thankfully can work from home. During the peak of the pandemic, all of our centers were closed except for East Hanover and my husband took our daughter and lived with my in-laws from May to July. This gave me an opportunity to dedicate 100% of myself to our schools, lenders, staff, families, launch our organic meal kits and at-home curriculum boxes – I basically woke up and worked straight to sleep, wasn’t much of a balance but we had to make it happen because there was no choice of giving up.
Once the schools were able to reopen on 6/15 and I settled my locations as much as I could, my husband and daughter moved July 4th weekend and our daughter now attends our East Hanover location.
We are all looking for ways to deal with adding the role of home-educator to our list of responsibilities- any advice for parents who are trying to manage?
My number one advice is don’t be too hard on yourself and your children. When you find yourself frustrated, think about the root of your frustration – is it work? Is it space? Is it remote learning? First, identify the root of the issue and then work on strategies to resolve that issue. Often I find that we don’t give ourselves enough time to figure out the root of the issue to truly solve the problem.
Please also add in anything you want to promote or mention here please do and I will build a question around it.)
During the pandemic, our culinary team at East Hanover went from feeding over 350 kids a day to just about 20 kids. So in order to keep them employed, we started doing Organic Family Meal Kits that are delivered to families so that they can have a healthy, balanced, yummy AND organic meal during these crazy times! The meal kits were received really well and we have actually decided to keep it going! New menus are uploaded weekly on Friday evenings on https://www.cresthillacademy.com/family-meal-kit. I encourage both Cresthill and non-Cresthill families to give it a try as these are NOT your average school lunches! I personally subscribe and order 2 kits a week, which really reduces my stress of having to cook during the week but know that my family is eating organic and well.
This is a tremendous help- Christina what is the best way to reach out and speak with you or get more information on the programs and services you provide?
Since I am serving now the director of our Hoboken Uptown center, I may be reached at Hoboken Uptown 201-793-8930 email@example.com. For Hoboken Downtown enrollment inquiries, please contact our director Ms. Ana at 201-793-8943, or firstname.lastname@example.org.