Expert Q+A: Lisa Guerrero, Director at Barshop JCC’s Block and Dreeben School for Young Children

Alamo City Moms Amanda and Lisa Guerrero on screen from JCC Block and Dreeben School

The JCC Block and Dreeben School for Young Children, providing care and education for children ages 6 weeks-4 years old, is the only Jewish NAEYC-accredited program in San Antonio. Our purpose of education at the JCC’s Block and Dreeben School for Young Children is to develop young children’s minds, bodies and emotions, and to produce individuals who are self-directed, lifelong learners.

Amanda:

Hello, ACM friends. Amanda here, I am with our Bloom 2020 Expert Panelists for some Q&A, and we’re with Lisa, a preschool director at the JCC Block and Dreeben School for Young Children, and she’s going to talk to us about all things early childhood education, finding the right fit for your family, and some other questions that you guys submitted to us. We’re so happy to be here with you today, Lisa, thank you for joining me.

Lisa:

Thank you for having me. Hi, I’m Lisa Guerrero. I am the director of the Barshop Jewish Community Center’s Block and Dreeben School for Young Children. But for short, we’ll call it the JCC for the day. So we have an amazing preschool here at the JCC and I am so lucky to be part of it. I’m entering my 30th year of working for the JCC. I don’t even know how that happened but I have loved working with young children and their families for all this time. I have also taught college classes, people who are going to be teachers, and I do a little bit of advocacy work on behalf of young children and their families here in San Antonio. So I’ve been part of the community. I love early childhood. I love young children and their families, and I’m just glad to be here.

Amanda:

We’re so happy you are. Well, let’s just jump right in. Our readers submitted some questions about what things that they are curious about early childhood education and finding good fits. And so the one that comes up all the time, especially in our community conversations group on Facebook is:

What do I look for in a preschool or daycare? What questions should I be asking if I’ve never been through this before?

Lisa:

That’s right. So, you know, all parents are experts in their field, whatever it is that you do for a job or outside of or even in your home—but not always experts in early childhood, parenting and raising young children. We get to come home with babies and then wonder, what do we do with them? First of all, you want to look for high-quality early education, early childhood center, or sometimes they’re called daycare. Sometimes they’re preschool, sometimes they’re family day homes, whatever the name is, it could be private schools, public schools, there are all these different names for all the options, but whatever you’re looking for, it needs to be right for you and your family, and for your child. So first off is go with your gut.

When you’re looking for childcare, you need to go and visit the place, the center and take a tour and look around and ask questions. And as you’re walking through, you want to ask basically the thing that comes to my mind every single time—it’s number one—health and safety. If you don’t have a healthy, safe environment, you can’t really do anything else, right? Are they keeping sick children out of school, and while children are in the program, do they have policies about health and safety? Safety also is not only in the building and the playground, but it’s also the ratios—how many children per adult. Unfortunately, our state has very poor child-staff ratio numbers. So basically the state says that one teacher can be with 12 two-year-olds by herself. That would be for anybody.

Imagine trying to say 12 kids, you know, with one person. So you want to look for ratios that are much lower. With our two-year-olds, we have a one-to-five ratio. We have 10 children in the room and two teachers at all times, you want to look for good child-staff ratios. Are the children happy? Are they playing? We know they’re not going to be happy all the time. And we know that children cry or get upset and they’re going to fight or yell or whatever, but we want to make sure that for the most part, the children seem happy and cheerful and are actively engaged. Are the staff talking to the children? Are they getting to their level? Are they being respectful and mindful of the children, are they more focused on the children or on each other?

You want staff that are looking at and talking to children and interacting with the children. What are the staff’s background and what is their expertise? How much training do they get here? And then also in the school, the director, and then administration—are they available to answer questions? Are they there to be partners with you? Because, as I see it, we are partners for parents. I’m not only here for the children, but I’m also here for the parents because parent education is a big part of my job, helping them understand what’s typical behavior. It’s okay for kids to do this or to do that. So I’m helping parents understand what’s typical, helping parents understand, if they have concerns, where can they go knowing the community and knowing the resources in the community, can they direct you to those? So, there are lots of things.

One of the main things if you’re looking for high quality, you would look for a school that is in NAEYC accredited, and the letters are in a NAEYC the national association for the education of young children. And that stands for the highest score quality early childhood programs. You can find usually two centers that are accredited. And if you go to the NAEYC website and put in your zip code, can list out a listing of centers that are accredited. That means that they’ve met the highest standards and that they focus on this high-quality educational environment. There are 42 accredited centers. In San Antonio, there are over 500 daycare centers. So you want to find one that really meets this highest standard. Other schools can be really great schools, but it does mean that somebody has taken the initiative to really try to reach the highest standard. Are they active? Are they stimulating? Are they engaging? Are the children being asked questions and being encouraged to have letters and numbers and experiences using the five senses? All of those things are important in finding them a good preschool.

Amanda:

That’s so great. And I love how you point out that your preschool or your daycare, whatever title they have. It’s not just a place to drop your kid off for socialization, but it’s part, it should be part of your parenting tribe. They should be a resource and a valuable piece of your parenting as well as your kid’s development. I just think that’s such a good reminder that you should be able to ask questions and you should be able to understand what’s going on.

Lisa:

When you look at it, we’re all in this together for your child. And so, while you love your child more than anybody else in the whole wide world, your preschool, your teachers should also love and care for your child, pretty close, as much as you do and we’re all here to help everybody help this child grow to their fullest potential. That’s truly the goal of this. Everybody that goes into early childhood education, they’re generally good people. Everybody has to go through all the background checks and everybody has to go through all the first aid and CPR for the most part, you know, all that stuff. That’s just a given or it should be but it’s that little step, extra step. How do you feel when you walk in—most people will get a gut feeling. And I always tell people when I do tours, you know, take a look at a couple of schools so that you feel good about your choice. That it feels like a home that you can leave your child in. It’s going to be hard the first day. It’s not easy to leave your child anywhere but you can do it. And if you feel comfortable, if you trust this place in the school and the people, it makes it much easier.

Amanda:

That’s such a good point. You have to find what works best for your family. ‘Cause even family personalities with different programs, you’ve got to find a good match, but you just brought up something else that comes up often that I’m excited to ask you about, because I know this is something that every single parent, and if you’re not one of these parents, you’re very lucky—every single parent goes through.

What are some tried and true methods for school drop-off?

I know for me, I was a drop and go like, “See you later, we’ll be back after lunch.” What are some things we can do, especially for ourselves, but also for our children to help that transition to a preschool or a daycare?

Lisa:

Well, it’s really hard to drop off your child, especially if they’re nervous or anxious, they’re going to cry. They’re going to be upset. They’re going to cling to you and hold on. And what can you do? Because that’s the worst feeling as a parent to have your child screaming and grabbing for you and somebody kind of pulling them off of you. So, talk about it, prepare your child, read books about it. Talk about how they’re big kids down. They get to go to preschool. It’s exciting. It’s wonderful to experience. You’ll have so much fun. I wish I could go with you. So talking about it, being excited, smiling, even if you’re nervous about it. And if you feel like you’re going to cry during that moment, go in, visit the school, take your child by a drive by the school weekends or the evening.

That’s great because when they see it more often than they’ll start to get familiar with it. Buy a new lunch box or a backpack, something that makes it feel like special. You get to take this to school and you can use it to go to school. So it’s a really big deal. Just again, emphasizing that big kids get to do this. They’re trying not to be nervous. If you sound like you’re nervous or scared or afraid of this, then your child’s going to feel that. And they’re going to feel the same way. So even if you’re about to cry—and it’s okay if you cry—hold it together too. Drop them off and then walk out or walk to the car to cry, it’s okay. I’ve hugged many a parent, many moms, and even dads in my office after they’ve dropped off their children.

It’s just, it’s one of those emotional things. And when I drop my baby off for the first time in the infant room, I was having a really hard. So I know how hard it is. I remember going to my office and crying for a few minutes and then you breathe and you realize, I think she’s in a really great place. She’s going to be totally fine and you can do this. So if you show signs of fear, they’re going to be a little nervous too. So we’ve got to fake it ’til we make it. And it really is a good thing for young children to be around other children. They truly learn so much and it’s such a benefit for them to get to go to a really great preschool.

Amanda:

We’re not meant to do it alone. We need our children to have other adults in their lives and other kids in their lives and experiences without us that help them grow. Sometimes we have questions or we see moms talking about getting a daily paper from my kid’s teacher, but there’s not enough information on it—or I get all this information and I don’t know what to do with it. Like how much did they eat? How many diapers did we go through today? Was there anything I need to know about?

How much communication should a parent expect daily or weekly from their child’s class? And is that dependent on age?

Lisa:

It does depend on age. It also depends on state mandates. The state does say that we have to tell parents of infants and toddlers as far as diaper changes and food bottles, that kind of stuff. So whether it’s on the sheet of paper or whether it’s in an app, more schools today are going to these apps. We have one as well, that sends daily reports with daily information. It also sends photographs and videos, and it’s so great at doing so throughout the day. So you don’t want your teachers spending all their time, focusing on this app, right? Focus on the children. So generally teachers do these things during that time and they send these out kind of during nap time or at the end of the day. But you should expect some, at least weekly information about what’s happening in the classroom, a weekly newsletter, information about what the theme of the day is, and what the children are interested in.

You should know about special events and with COVID right now, I mean, everything’s crazy and up in the air, we’re not doing a lot of special events. We’re not doing a lot of inviting parents in, but that is something that in general times you do, you should be invited into the school. You should be able to feel free to go in anytime you want and volunteer and be part of the school, because again, we are a community, we are part of this partnership and we’re all in this together, truly. So looking for information, it’s okay to be nervous and want lots of information. It’s not okay to expect that they’re going to call you right then or expect that your child’s teacher can stop everything they’re doing to talk to you, right? Because if you really want to focus on children, you don’t want them taking lots of phone calls.

We’re all lining up for it. So that’s why the apps have been really popular. The papers are popular—there’s lots of different ways to do it. Some schools just do phone calls every single day. Some schools do text messages or emails every day. It just really depends on the school. But ask if you’re not getting information, ask for what you want. Some of these apps send out developmental-like stages, or this is the work, or this is the educational curricula link or whatever it is. And to some parents it doesn’t matter, that’s okay too, but some parents want it. Some parents don’t, we can’t be all things to all people, right? So we try to send a little bit of everything. But developmental checklists are important for us as teachers because it shows us that children are on the right track. And if they’re starting to show a red flag or a sign of some sort of developmental delay, catch that early, because often those things can be corrected quickly. So we would point those things out to you and ask you to follow up with your pediatrician. We are not doctors who can diagnose, but we do know what’s typical behavior and what’s not so typical or kind of questionable.

Amanda:

You spend so much time with the kids and you get to know them on a whole different level and playing field than the parents know them. And I think, again, that’s part of that tribe and that village and that community is keeping our kids healthy and happy and stuff.

Lisa:

Absolutely.

Amanda:

Lisa, thank you so much for your time and your obvious love of kids, and for the work that you do at the JCC Block and Dreeben School and for being with us this morning. And we hope to speak with you again soon. For our audience, be sure to get in touch and schedule your tour and go see the amazing facility and teachers and the things that they have for the kids over there. Thank you again, Lisa. We appreciate you.

Lisa:

Of course. Thank you for having me. Thank you, Amanda. And thank you, moms and dads and everybody out there working on behalf of children.

Amanda
A fifth-generation San Antonionian - who happened to spend her formative years in Austin - Amanda loves the SAT from the confetti in her hair to the bluebonnets under her feet. Never one to miss a reason to host a party or decorate for a theme, Amanda revels in the 'mas Fiesta' attitude of the city. She's mom to Vivi (2012) aka #HurricaneVivi, Mac (2020) and wife to Francois, whom she met at Texas A&M (FTAC '05). She has a Masters in Early Childhood Education and a Doctorate in Making it Up As She Goes - which means she's a sometimes-fun-mom. You can find her on Instagram . She loves confetti, croissants, and a cold Ranch Water. Favorite Restaurant: Piatti's Favorite Landmark: Johnson Street footbridge in King William Favorite San Antonio Tradition: Fiesta Medals

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