School 2020- Chat with Cresthill Academy Founder Christina Dorando

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Portrait of Christina Dorando by Mac Hartshorn

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 hobokenuptown@cresthillacademy.com.  For Hoboken Downtown enrollment inquiries, please contact our director Ms. Ana at 201-793-8943, or hobokendowntown@cresthillacademy.com

Pandemic Parenting- The Dad Edition

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Advice from Certified Parenting Expert Sarah Ahmed

Connection: our Greatest Currency–Helping Fathers to Connect through Love and Presence, not Fear.

As the global pandemic of 2020 has unfolded over the last five months, many fathers have come to me in states of anxiety and despair. They have now found themselves juggling the demands of
working from home and taking on new responsibilities parenting and supporting their homebound children and families.

The family dynamic has undoubtedly undergone a significant overhaul. As we near the end of Summer and venture into the unknowns of returning to school this Fall, many fathers are still feeling the burden. The overwhelm of ensuring not only the physical well-being of their children but also the mental and emotional well-being seems to be pressing. 

While, like many of you, I don’t have ALL the answers. I do know it is paramount that we lean into our inner knowing and trust that we know our families best, and we must connect with what
resonates as truth for us.

One of the ways that I support fathers is to help them understand that the most significant thing you can do for your family is become the very BEST version of you! This will help you the receive the highest level of abundance, connection, love, and joy that’s available to you.

Connect with how you genuinely feel and what resonates as truth and use that as your guide when making decisions so you can create a life you truly love and that your children, in turn, will love as well.
It’s critical to know what we stand for and to step into alignment with those beliefs. Our children will follow our lead. So, if we are overwhelmed, exhausted, and confused, then they, in turn, will act and respond to that energy, and that’s where the disconnect and chaos begins. 

Connecting to our children is NOT about hugging, buying them things, or saying, I love you, This is just one aspect of connection. Connection is so much more. It is attuning to who it is they are so that we can shift our awareness to meet their genuine needs better.
The reality is this: most of us don’t connect to what our children truly need. We only connect with them based on OUR needs. Connecting with our children requires casting aside our plans and timelines and simply attuning with what our children need. I remind the parent’s that a child’s
need is always lurking beneath the behavior. Once you are willing to look beneath the surface behavior, you will see the need. And that is where connection lies. No phones, no emails, and no distractions. One of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves and our children is the ability to be present and immerse ourselves in the here and now. I always say
quality over quantity. Suppose all you have is one hour a day to fully connect with your children then give them 100% of you during that time. That presence is where true connection unfolds.
Play is childre’s work, so engaging in child-directed play, be it building Legos, drawing or painting, making a Tik Tok video together, taking a bike ride, walking outside, or cooking a simple meal together. The activities that your children love will help you uncover their true essence and needs. Engage with full attention and patience and notice how much more compliant or calm your children will be from being surrounded by your care and love.  

Our children are giving us plenty of opportunities to practice our patience with them. But as valuable as it is, learning how to be patient with ourselves is just as important. Especially when you are a conscious parent, who tries so hard to be your best, you tend to judge yourself quite harshly every time you are not your best. But having self-compassion and acknowledging that
change takes time and can’t always get it right will nourish your physical and emotional health.
Sure there are moments of frustration and struggle, but we have the key to switch our perspective, our response, our love. Parenting is a life-long journey that needs support to navigate the highs and lows of that moment or season. Email me for a free discovery session tosee how I can support your journey to Conscious Parenting. 

To learn more:

Sarah Ahmed ccc-slp
Speech Therapist and Conscious Parenting Consultant

Hydrangea Mania

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I am mad for hydrangeas. Any kind. Obsessed. When I was in New Zealand a few years ago I saw varieties that blew my mind.

When the girls were young we stayed opposite a house in Bay Head, NJ that was being torn down. I spoke to the construction crew, gave them a bottle of wine and they let me dig up a huge hydrangea bush that was about 25 years old. I drove my baby back to Hoboken early the next morning and could be seen at 7 am digging a hole for my new “child”. It’s ok- neighbors think I’m a little nuts anyway.

Depending on the variety of hydrangea there are different times of year that they need to be trimmed. I just never got mine right. Last year I left mine alone and as a result of the neglect this summer it has bloomed outrageously. I cannot count how many bloom heads have appeared.

The heartbreaking part? I moved from our home just as they began to bloom this summer. As a final act I dug up half the plant and took it with me!

I love to dry the bloom heads- those big fluffy snowball blossoms unique to hydrangeas. They preserve with little to no effort and keep their color, fading gracefully, giving me flowers around the house in the winter months. Whether you snip a few from friends or purchase them at a local farmer’s market, they will provide months of beauty.

If you are interested in growing your own, here are some tips to take care of these beauties.