When Ronni McCaffrey became Graland’s head of school in 2008, she quickly realized that the heartbeat of the school and its greatest asset is the school’s faculty and staff. For this reason, during her nine-year tenure at Graland and throughout her doctoral studies, Ms. McCaffrey never stopped exploring the question, “What motivates college graduates to enter the teaching profession, and what are the incentives and disincentives of the profession that impact the longevity of a career in education?” Through her own administrative experiences and thoughtful research, Ms. McCaffrey concluded that “Teachers enter the profession through love: love of kids, love of their subject, love of learning, love of coaching, love of life in schools, and love of their community, to name a few reasons. But what keeps them in our profession? Very simply, it is the ability to successfully do what they came into the profession to do.” With this in mind, Ms. McCaffrey knew that something had to be done about a major disincentive, rising childcare costs that were forcing teachers to leave the profession of teaching children to care for their own. It was this dedication to the field of education and love for Graland’s employees that ultimately led to the founding of the McCaffrey Early Childhood Learning Center, a place where children, particularly those of Graland faculty and staff, “could receive exceptional care in a safe, stimulating environment, close to their parents.”
In the words of former “Head Emerita” Ronni McCaffrey, “The best innovations often are the result of a team of committed people determined to solve a real-time problem.” When it came to the founding of Graland’s ECLC program, the team of innovators committed to solving the childcare problem included Ronni McCaffrey (former head of school), Nan Remington (current head of Lower School), Gail Sonnesyn (former associate head of Lower School), Parthenia Williams (current associate head of Lower School), Johnnie (Romano) Galligan (former program director), and a team of educators who were either expecting or a parent to a young toddler. Thanks to the visionary leadership of these trailblazers, a trial run for a faculty/staff daycare on campus was born for the upcoming 2011-2012 school year.
The Early Years
What some people might not know about the McCaffrey Early Childhood Learning Center is that it started as a pilot program with just five children. In 2011, before the test program launched, several educators spent their summers reorganizing vacant classrooms and scouring garage sales for furniture and toys for the young children who would join campus that fall. Upon their arrival, Ms. Remington shared that the babies and toddlers quickly became “the darlings of campus.” Ms. McCaffrey added that their first “class picture” still sits on her desk to this day.
When the second year of the pilot program was underway during the 2012-2013 school year, Ms. McCaffrey knew it was time to provide a “next step” for the children enrolled. “The success of the two-year pilot program indicated that it met an important need. But, a substantive program expansion required Board of Trustee approval to ensure that it was mission-aligned and financially viable,” Ms. McCaffrey said. So, with a solid business plan in hand, she proposed a permanent establishment of the Graland Early Childhood Learning Center in 2012, consisting of a two-year faculty/staff daycare, a preschool, and two pre-kindergarten classrooms. The proposal was unanimously approved by Graland’s Board of Trustees, contingent on funding. Thanks to the generosity of b. Frank, Scott Reiman, and other donors, the McCaffrey Early Childhood Learning Center officially opened its doors during the 2013-2014 school year.
Upon being asked why they wanted to support Ms. McCaffrey’s vision of continuing the Early Childhood Learning Center on campus, several former board members shared their thoughts:
“When Ronni first approached me about the ECLC program, I was immediately supportive, recognizing it would put Graland in a better position to recruit, retain, and support young teachers in the early stages of their careers in education. I went through all the issues with Ronni that needed to be addressed to get the program in place, but she wasn’t at all discouraged. Her passion has always been to give children the best education and provide the tools for educators to excel in their jobs. As was the case with Ronni, the more difficult and complicated the task only served to motivate her more to get the job done.”
- Bruce Rifkin ’72, Former Chair of Board
“When a visionary and enthusiastic educator understands the importance of engaging and captivating children at an early age to set them on a path of learning and success, it would be hard not to support such a forward-thinking concept. I supported Ronni’s vision because it was thoughtful, carefully considered and knew deep down the Graland community would support the ECLC immediately.”
- Christopher Hunt, Former Chair of Board
“My inspiration for helping with the ECLC stemmed from the fact that there were so many teachers who had young children, and making it easier for them to place them in Preschool was something I thought would go a long way in making their lives better and somewhat easier.”
- Scott Reiman, Former Board Member
Fast forward to 2023, and the McCaffrey Early Childhood Learning Center has expanded to serve children beyond just those of educators. The daycare, Preschool, and Pre-Kindergarten programs reside under the Associate Head of Lower School, Ms. Parthenia Williams, and 14 educators who provide daily exceptional and high-quality care to children and their families. Over the years, the addition of the McCaffrey Early Childhood Learning Center has enriched the school’s program by “setting the stage” for a positive and formative school experience for young children before they enter Kindergarten. This has been achieved through:
- The ECLC’s “play with purpose” approach which was created to help students joyfully adjust to a school environment while gaining foundational skills in math, literacy, and social-emotional awareness.
- Exposure to Graland’s state-of-the-art facilities such as the Gross Motor Room, the Gates Lab, and the Kaytlyn Jornayvaz ’03 Play Space for bike riding, sliding, swinging, and sand and water play.
- Participation in campus community activities such as school assemblies and the buddy program.
“Having the ECLC program on campus has been an incredible benefit for my entire family. Personally, I love being able to see my children on campus throughout the day. Receiving hugs, waves, and ‘hi, mommy!’ yells across campus brings a smile to my face. The daily interactions with their teachers help me feel connected with what they are learning and areas of growth they are working on.”
- Tera Malyszko, Graland Educator/Parent
“The biggest benefit to Graland offering the ECLC on campus is helping to offset the exorbitant cost of childcare that parents face across the country. The endowment that was created and the incredible educators that work with my children day in and day out are beyond a benefit. We are so lucky for the dedication, time, and resources that are put towards ECLC and commitment to educators having their children on campus.”
- Helen Valiant, Graland Educator/Parent
“Our son has developed a genuine love of learning in the ECLC program at Graland. He is so excited to share his ability to identify and write letters, perform simple addition and subtraction, and share the many facts he learns each day about our world. The specials like art, music, PE, and library bring great variety to each day and have helped him develop into a well rounded early learner.”
- Lucy Chused, Graland Parent
“My child benefited greatly from the care and nurturing of wonderful teachers like Ms. Flansburg, Ms. Flannery, and Ms. Barone. They equipped him with the skills, curiosity, and confidence to embark on the rest of his Graland journey. They imparted a love of learning that I can still see to this day as a ‘big kid’ now in the Lower School.”
- Deborah Yim, Graland Parent
Did you know? Graland’s ECLC endowment was established in conjunction with the ASCEND Campaign in 2017, providing funding to the program in perpetuity.