Author Archive

What Does Meaningful Support for Teachers Look Like?

Posted on: February 1st, 2022 by Kristen Miller

Written by: Christy S. Renjilian

Support. Meaningful support.

What does it look like for you?

In 2022, it’s an absolute necessity. For me, for you, for everyone in your life, particularly those who are caregivers, nurturers, and teachers.

Meaningful support lets you know you are seen and valued.

It aligns with your needs. Specific needs, because there is no one size fits all. 

When things are hard and the struggle is real, that’s when you need it most.

Don’t know how to start providing meaningful support? Well, step one is to listen.  

And listen deep. 

When it comes to educators, it’s not offering them a gift card or telling them to practice ‘self-care.’ It’s listening to them and recognizing that teachers are emotionally and physically exhausted—like many others.  

How are teachers feeling right now?

Many teachers are on the verge of burnout. 

Before the pandemic, researchers estimated that one out of six American teachers was likely to leave the profession. But new survey data from the nonprofit RAND Corporation suggests that now one out of four teachers is considering quitting after this school year.

They are deeply worried about their students and doing everything they can to meet their needs. And many are working in environments with enormous pressure and impossibly high expectations. 

Teachers hear about it from every angle, too. 

Students are frustrated, trying to juggle it all and cross the finish line of yet another out of sorts school year. 

Parents are worried, and many are expressing their fear in the form of anger in local social media groups, at board meetings, or in parent-teacher conferences. 

Administrators and state officials are often consumed by standardized test scores and have lost sight of the fact that there hasn’t been a ‘normal’ school year for three years. They are failing to remember that if you don’t address the student’s emotional and mental wellbeing, serving the whole child, research tells us that they will struggle academically.  

And teachers are feeling it all. And leaving the profession at a record pace. Brand new teachers and long-time teachers. 

With a lack of meaningful support, there will be an ongoing staffing crisis. 

Nationally, the ratio of hires to job openings in the education sector has reached new lows as the 2021-22 school year started. The statistic currently stands at 0.57 hires for every open position.

We’ve all heard countless stories about the substitute shortage. Classroom upon classroom without a teacher or substitute to fill the role. So overstretched teachers and support staff are expected to fill in these spots. More work with fewer people.  

Some teachers are demoralized—they believe they are unable to perform their work to the high standard they have. It goes beyond burnout.

What is a reasonable expectation for our teachers and students?

Look, it’s reasonable to expect teachers to do their best to address the needs of their students. To support them as the experts they are and allow them to nurture the whole child. 

It’s not reasonable to expect the current third graders to be at the same level—academically, emotionally, or socially, as the third graders of the 2018-2019 school year, the last ‘normal’ year.  

Let’s encourage teachers to focus on developing meaningful relationships with each of their students, discerning what they need, and aligning their curriculum to meet those needs. 

For students, it’s reasonable to expect them to be open to learning, to engage emotionally, socially, and mentally throughout the day. 

And it’s reasonable to expect both students and teachers to do the best they can given the circumstances. But this doesn’t mean that students or teachers have to be perfect. 

We need to remind ourselves that ALL teachers and ALL students have been impacted by COVID. And that we are in the third year of an ‘adjusted’ school year. And it’s compounding, year after year. 

As the adults in the system, we need to take a deep breath, pause, and be reasonable.

How do we turn care and compassion into meaningful, actionable support for teachers?

You’ve already started. Pausing to ask genuine questions—of yourself and the teachers in your life—is the first step. They are the experts in educating and guiding students, and they know what they need to do their jobs. 

As a community, we can pause, ask questions, listen to the answers, and work together to implement their suggestions.

And if you want to go beyond that, we can truly express compassion for the education community. Here are a few more ideas to consider:

  • As parents of school-aged children, we can remember we are equally responsible for supporting and educating our children—and then follow through to do our part. It’s seemingly mundane things, like regular bedtimes, monitoring homework completion, and attending parent-teacher conferences, that truly make a difference.
  • As a community, we can celebrate progress. Let’s not compare grades or performance with those of a pre-COVID era. Understanding that each child, each teacher is doing his best and celebrating him for it. 
  • As administrators, school boards, state officials, and parents, let’s focus on the most important things. The health and well-being of the teachers and children. Both physical and mental.  
  • And let’s work together to give teachers the power, time, support, and freedom to do what they love to do: teach. And encourage and support a “whole child” philosophy of education, with brain breaks, mindfulness activities, and check-ins.  
  • Let’s protect planning time and breaks. If you can’t even go to the bathroom during the school day, it’s highly unlikely that you are going to feel valued as a person.
  • And when all else fails, do not start new initiatives. This isn’t the time to develop a new grading system and online platform for parents. 

Most importantly, let’s collectively agree that it is unrealistic to hold teachers and students to the same pre-COVID expectations and standards. And let’s start meaningful conversations to change the dialogue of what success looks like.

Because empty, exhausted, and stressed teachers cannot meet the needs of their students.  

Reach out to a teacher and let her know you care

Think back to your own education. A smaller version of yourself in a classroom, learning and growing right before your own eyes. What do you see?

Chances are good you see your favorite educator. Maybe a best friend from first grade, too, but definitely your beloved teacher.

“Everyone who remembers his own education remembers teachers, not methods and techniques. The teacher is the heart of the educational system.” 

— Sidney Hook

We remember people, not things, practices, or techniques.

So let’s support the people at the heart of education—the teachers

Today’s challenge? Reach out to a teacher in your life, let her know you care. And listen. Wherever the conversation goes, just follow. If she wants to vent, great. Or if he wants to change the subject completely? Let him.

As families and community members, it’s up to us to advocate for teachers. 

So the next time you find yourself being critical of an educator, the school, or education in general, take a deep breath and pause.

Because maybe, just maybe, you’ll remember the challenge they are facing right now. And instead, tap into compassion, genuine care, and gratitude for all that they’ve done. 

Additional Reading:

A Closer Look at the State of Public Education in 2021

Self Compassion vs. Self Care, A Leader’s Guide

About Community Connections for Children, Inc.

Community Connections for Children, Inc. (CCC) is a nonprofit centered in the heart of Pennsylvania. They serve childcare providers and low-income families ‒ the ones that have been impacted the most by the pandemic. 

For you and your business, CCC helps keep childcare options open for your employees ‒ saving missed work hours and lowering on-the-job stress levels. They work with early childhood education programs and home-based providers to improve the quality of care, ensuring that all children enter school ready to be successful.

Christy Renjilian serves as its Executive Director.

To learn more, visit

Tribute to Gretchen

Posted on: January 24th, 2022 by Kristen Miller

Eleven years ago, a new face appeared at our CCC staff meeting!  When Gretchen was introduced as the new Administrative Assistant and gave us a smile and a few comments, we could tell what a kind and gentle person she was.  As we all had passing conversations with her through the years, she was always polite, genuinely interested in what we were talking about, and would share a spark of her humor from time to time.  Among her responsibilities as Administrative Assistant, one gave time back to the STARS staff by creating, mailing certificates and letters to providers for which the STARS Specialists were profoundly grateful!   

All of our CCC Team have warm memories of Gretchen and honor a life well-lived. 

Gretchen had a beautiful spirit, great sense of humor and was truly a special lady.  She will be missed.  – Carol 

Gretchen was a calm, quiet presence at CCC. She always had a smile and a kind word.  I will miss hearing her and Steph talk as I walked by their office or was at the copier.  We will all miss her compassion and dedication. – Christy 

Gretchen was my Best Friend 

We always joked that we were the Golden Girls of CCC 

So Gretchen, Thank you for being my friend 
Your heart was true, you were my pal and my confidant 

I’m not ashamed to say 

I love you and I miss you more than I can fathom 

So Gretchen, Thank you for being my friend 

  • Stephanie 

Gretchen and I would commiserate most mornings about the traffic from the York Split to York.  We both would shrug, shake our heads and say, “Could you believe how fast people were going or what did you do while you sat still on the Rt. 83 parking lot today?”   It felt good to know someone else had the same experiences!   Gretchen, you are missed.   – Sally 

Gretchen started at CCC over 11 years ago, and quickly became a part of our family. 

I will always remember my conversations with Gretchen, about our families, our dogs, our shared experiences. 

And her kindness, thoughtfulness, and her smile. 

CCC will not be the same without her, I will not be the same without her. But we are all better for knowing her. 

Until we meet again Gretchen, you will be missed. 

  • Erica 

Waitlist Update!

Posted on: January 11th, 2022 by Kristen Miller

ELRC Region 9 (Cumberland, Dauphin, Lebanon and Perry Counties) currently does not have a waiting list.

ELRC Region 10 (Adams, Lancaster and York Counties) currently does not have a waiting list.

Eleven Things I’m Thankful For in 2021

Posted on: November 23rd, 2021 by Kristen Miller

And a New Perspective and Meaning of Gratitude

Gratitude. It’s talked about and referenced a lot this time of year. 

But it isn’t simply ‘being thankful.’ Or ‘counting your blessings.’

Gratitude is both a mindset and an action

It’s knowing that what you have and who you are is enough. 

It’s the belief that no matter what comes, there is always something to be thankful for, even though it might be hard to identify at first. 

It’s foundational to how we treat ourselves and each other.  

As an action, gratitude is how we give of our time, treasure, and talents to help others

Because we know in our core that when we help others, we are enriched.  

And November is often a time for reflection, for exploring and expanding your gratitude if you’re in a space that allows it. To gather your thoughts, ideas, and favorite people. 

It’s also a reminder of things coming to an end. As the last of the beautiful leaves fall from the trees and the days get shorter. As the fall season ends. 

And as such, it has me reflecting on the things I’m thankful for this year. 

  1. My Family

Like you, it’s been a hard year (okay, 20 months and counting!) for me and my family.  Several deaths, multiple hospitalizations, health concerns not related to COVID, and so much time apart. 

Last Thanksgiving, my immediate family – my husband, two adult children, and me – made the hard decision not to gather in York. We each celebrated in a separate state.  

Maybe your holiday looked different last year, too.

And it was hard. We had a goal in mind, to all be together for Christmas, and we were able to do that – wearing masks and being extra careful. But I remember how I felt, so lonely and disconnected, even though we video chatted and did our best to celebrate together. And even though sweet friends surprised me by dropping off a delicious Thanksgiving day meal. 

This year we will gather for Thanksgiving in person, and I am so grateful. 

  1. My Colleagues

Community Connections for Children, Inc.’s (CCC) staff is exceptional. They transitioned so quickly and smoothly to working remotely. And immediately stepped up to support each other, the families and providers we serve, and the businesses that rely on child care for their workforce.  

The CCC team not only maintained its “normal” level of excellence and continued their “regular” jobs, but they also processed four rounds of CARES funding and are currently dispersing ARPA funds. That’s approximately $30 million new funds administered by CCC this past year. 

It’s remarkable the joy and light they bring to their careers, their passions. And I’m honored to work with them each and every day. With all we’ve been through the past two years, I’m more thankful than ever for the amazing people at CCC. 

  1. Childcare Providers

I’ve known for many, many years that the US economy rests on the shoulders of the child care industry. And it’s heartening to see the rest of the country recognize it now as well.

I’m beyond thankful for the childcare providers in our communities, in our region, and across the country. Hard-working, compassionate business owners and professionals in a profession that is woefully underfunded and often disrespected.  

You probably know child care teachers are required to follow PA Department of Education standards (aligned with K-12 standards) and many have teaching certificates. But did you know that on average they are paid $10.79 per hour?

And these professionals kept going even when the K-12 systems closed for COVID prevention. They secured waivers and re-opened (or never closed) and continued to meet the needs of children and families. They not only educate but provide critical social interactions for children.  

Many programs that served school-age children became “de facto schools” assisting children with their online learning, opened full days when schools (or even just a particular classroom) closed due to quarantine procedures.  

I am so thankful for the child care providers who kept going, through unbelievably difficult times. They deserve all of our respect as well as a lot more pay.

  1. The Regional Business Community

This year, I’m encouraged to see the regional business community support our neighbors.

They stepped up to support the nonprofit community, including the United Way and Give Local York. CCC is so thankful to everyone who made a donation, awarded a grant to support our programs, or supported our fellow agencies. 

This region is very generous and invested, and it has made a huge difference to so many.

  1. The Ability To Shop Local

Speaking of community, I truly enjoy supporting and shopping local. And I’m so thankful for the small business owners, entrepreneurs, and retail associates who show up day in and day out to provide local options.

Some of my favorite spots are the various farmer’s markets because there is nothing like purchasing fresh produce in the same place it was harvested. And my favorite local restaurants, the gems that are well known in our communities. An example? Mexitaly. And Viet Thai Cafe.

I’m thankful for the many diners, bakeries, and local coffee shops –  our area is full of great ones. 

As for shopping and gifts this year, I’m also thankful for experiences, things to do together, and ways to support talented individuals. You’ll see me at the various craft fairs and holiday bazaars like Christmas in Loganville.

  1. Quirky, Unexpected Things

It may sound odd, but I’m super thankful for quirky and unexpected things that make my day better. Like discovering there are pockets in pants. Or ten dollars left in the pocket of last year’s winter coat. Or another driver, smiling and waving you on at the four-way stop.

I’m thankful for my Sirius radio on long trips, too. The ability to be transported to a different decade or listen to a favorite artist’s channel. To hear the first notes of a song, especially one I haven’t heard in a long time, and instantly be transported back to those memories.  

I’m also thankful for Libby and the ability to listen to books as I drive. And the two amazing people I know that work at OverDrive who make Libby possible.

  1. A Beautiful Fall Day

This year I’ve been super thankful for beautiful fall days. The blue sky, the changing leaves, the Autumn smells. Fall is my favorite season. Just being out in nature, breathing deep, makes me thankful and calmer.   

Cherishing the sounds of children’s excitement while they trick or treat. And the show the gorgeous yellow maple tree right across the street puts on each and every year.

Every year, from the time I was a young child living in Rochester NY, I would go apple picking. We carried the tradition on with my kids. And every year we visit a local orchard. Nothing tastes better than an apple right off the tree.            

  1. Parents and Caregivers 

This has been a challenging year for families to determine what is in their child’s best interest. It’s my belief that all families want the best for their children. Sometimes it’s just hard to know what that is, especially when there are so many conflicting opinions.  

I’m thankful for the families that are in the trenches, who are doing their best to weed through all the noise and anger. We will never all agree, we never have. But I am thankful for those who have been able to disagree without being disrespectful. 

To all the parents and caregivers, I see you working so hard for your families and I’m thankful for you.  

  1. The Goodness of Humanity

Despite the turmoil of the past year, people are good.  

Looking out for our neighbors, especially those that are elderly or have health issues.  

Random acts of kindness. 

Just last week someone walked up to me in a store and handed me a coupon they couldn’t use.  All they asked was, ‘pay it forward.’  And I did.  

This year, I’m thankful for the goodness in humanity.

  1. My Close Friends

This summer was the 20th anniversary of moving to York, Pennsylvania. I have lived here longer than anywhere else.  

I know I still can’t answer the question, ‘Where are you from?,’ with ‘York’ 😉. But it’s become home.  

And I’m so thankful for my circle of friends. Those who were a part of raising my children, lovingly referred to (at least by me) as the “Mom’s Group.” We became friends when our young children met in preschool and remain friends to this day (those kids are turning 24 this year!).

And I’m thankful for my work friends—ones who I’ve worked with for a long time They’ve been my biggest cheerleaders, confidants, and supporters throughout my career.  Next month I will be celebrating 10 years at CCC. And I am so thankful to the Board, staff, and our partners.

And I am thankful for those relationships I have formed through my volunteer work, with people that have similar passions and a commitment to improving our community.

  1. Uplifting Mentors

These are the people who inspire us, who challenge us. 

I’m so thankful for one of my early bosses. She was a strong, independent woman, who was on the cutting edge of so many things.

One of the things she said at a Women’s Leadership Conference in Chicago back in the 1980s was, “if no one is following, you’re not leading.” 

It’s advice I’ve tried to live by throughout my career.  

I’m also thankful for those I went through the York Federal Fellows program with, inspirational nonprofit leaders that are serving our community. Although our program officially ended in 2018, we continue to meet regularly to support one another.  

It can sometimes be lonely as a leader, and it’s wonderful to know they are there for me.

How do you reach for thankfulness in a hard year?

If you’re in a hard season, like most of us, look to the simple things you can be thankful for. 

Despite the tensions in our schools and media, every day I smile as my first-grade neighbor rushes to the bus stop, passing by my home with his mom and grandma in tow.  

And relish in the fact that our staff surprised a coworker who recently had surgery by dropping off a gift and well wishes. 

It’s remembering that even on hard days at work, I have an amazing team who believes in me and our mission, and is here to cheer me on when I need it. 

It’s a deep knowing that despite all the medical issues faced by family members this year, the endless separations (we are in 14 different states— with no more than two households in any one of those states!) that we’re always and in all ways there for each other.  

It’s by leaning into shared traditions, love, joy, and thankfulness that I find strength for handling the hard times. 

In this season of thanksgiving – a season all too often skipped over in the rush to get to the season of giving (and getting) – I hope you find moments to stop, reflect, and be thankful.

About Community Connections for Children, Inc.

Community Connections for Children, Inc. (CCC) is a nonprofit centered in the heart of Pennsylvania. They serve childcare providers and low-income families ‒ the ones that have been impacted the most by the pandemic. 

For you and your business, CCC helps keep childcare options open for your employees ‒ saving missed work hours and lowering on-the-job stress levels. They work with early childhood education programs and home-based providers to improve the quality of care, ensuring that all children enter school ready to be successful.

Christy Renjilian serves as its Executive Director.

To learn more, visit

A Closer Look at Generational Differences in the Workplace

Posted on: November 15th, 2021 by Kristen Miller

And What Employers Can Do About Burnout and Fatigue

The American workforce is exhausted, discouraged, anxious, and overwhelmed. It’s clear. Maybe you’re even feeling that way. And certainly, you know a handful of people who have expressed those emotions this fall. 

Headline after headline captures those sentiments.

And yet…

Your people are still showing up.

Your people still care about their jobs and do their best.

And they continue to make a difference for those they serve.

But when more than 750,000 people die from COVID in your country in a year and a half, it’s going to impact your team; and their mental health. 

Let’s take a look at how generational differences are impacting the workplace dynamic; along with a few strategies to reduce burnout and fatigue. 

What are the generations that make up the workforce?

To understand the generational differences, it’s important to understand the language and terms that define the generations.

Baby Boomers usually refer to the post-World War II generation, born between 1946 and 1964. Generation-X, or Gen-X, represents people born between 1965 and 1980. Generation-Y, most often referred to as Millennials, we born between the years of 1981–1997. And anyone born between 1997 and 2012 is considered a member of Gen-Z.

And it’s important to respect all generations. No one generation makes a better worker than the other.

Each person, each employee you thought well enough of to hire is a gift to your organization. And is a critical component of your ability to meet your goals and mission. The more perspectives, experiences, and knowledge your team has, the better.

Generational differences when it comes to mental health in the workplace

People are isolated, stressed, and overwhelmed. The toxic nature of our individualistic culture has worn on individuals, impacted their relationships with friends, family, and coworkers, and led to a sense of going from one crisis to another. 

Whether it’s human-inflicted, such as community violence, school shootings, and racism, or natural disasters and COVID, it seems that collectively we can’t catch a break

And think about it. Generation Z has never known a time without a crisis. They were very young on 9/11, have always known about school shootings – and have always practiced drills in the same way previous generations had fire drills. It’s the generation that knows war (sometimes several at once), and the -isms (racism, sexism, ageism, to list a few). They are committed to their values, both at work and at home, more than any previous generation.

And managers and leaders, typically in the Boomer and Gen X generations, have different experiences and worldviews. For many workers in these generations, they were encouraged not to bring their personal life into the workplace. 

Over the years, each generation has sought out more meaningful, impactful connections with their colleagues and better alignment of their work with their values. 

Even in television and the movies, philosophies of the 1980s and 1990s were predominately chasing the dollar at all costs. Today, people want more of a work-life balance and a positive work environment. 

What can employers do about burnout and fatigue?

As employers, we need to be mindful of our teams, their demands and constraints, and well-being. Each team member is a whole person, experiencing great joy and deep despair within our workspace and outside of it. 

So, what are you doing to reduce burnout and fatigue? Here are some great first steps. 

1. Start by holding space with each employee. 

When was the last time you spoke with your employees—individually. Taken one step further, when have you asked a question within that conversation and simply listened. With no intention of fixing, explaining, or course-correcting? Or, if you have a large team, have you trained direct supervisors to have these types of conversations?

Make time for true connection and conversation. Create a culture of checking-in. It will have a direct impact on your organization’s culture.

According to a Workforce Institute survey, 32 percent of respondents claimed they yearned for better communication—both sooner and more transparently—from their employers, which is a primary regret for more than one-third of executive leaders.

Being able to hold space for each complete, vulnerable human on your team. With their challenges, unique worldviews, stressors, and busy calendar.

If you want your staff to feel connected, to you, your organization, and its mission, reach out and create positive engagement and opportunities.

2. Gather small groups for inclusive conversations.

Organizational growth and change can be slow. The statement “we’ve always done it that way” is great historical information. But it doesn’t have to define how your organization does things moving forward. 

Being willing to adapt is essential. It was before the pandemic, and it’s even more so now. 

As a leader, your job is to think several steps ahead. To think, if I do “x” then what is “y”, and then what might/will happen next. It’s your job to plan for the future, and during the past 20 months, to plan for an unknown and ever-changing future. To write those plans in pencil, and be willing to change frequently.

And you make better decisions when you involve others. Particularly the people who are actually doing the work. 

So start by gathering small, informal groups of people. And ask questions. A few examples might be… How can we inject more connection into the workplace? How could we attract (or retain!) talented people? Are there ways we could be more flexible? Or what do you think would make you more efficient, effective, and invested in your job?

The point is, have more inclusive conversations with your team, implement the ideas that they give you, and you’ll see a shift in their engagement and confidence in the workplace.

3. Offer meaningful benefits and incentives.

Employees want to be seen and understood. And one way to do that is to offer meaningful benefits and incentives. 

At Community Connections for Children, Inc., that looks like:

  • Reduced hours one week a month, what CCC calls rotation weeks. For that week, team members work 30 hours instead of 40 hours, leaving a half-hour early Monday through Thursday and having Friday off.
  • Trusting employees to be professional and to perform at a high level of excellence while working remotely.
  • Generous paid time off (PTO).
  • Regular and sincere encouragement from management staff to utilize their time off.
  • A meaningful commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and real, impactful systems change.

Recently, a friend shared with me her company offered a free night at the movies, gifting each team member movie passes they could share with their friends or family.

Your team will tell you what matters to them. Listen in the conversations you’re having, and look for opportunities to show your respect for your employees as people, outside of them just being a worker for your company. 

Valuing Each Employee Within Your Organization

In The Surprising Power of Simply Asking Coworkers How They’re Doing, author Karyn Twaronite, global diversity and inclusiveness officer, suggested that “when people feel like they belong at work, they are more productive, motivated, engaged and 3.5 times more likely to contribute to their fullest potential.” 

As leaders, we need to remember that when people leave our organization, it’s most likely that they did so because of the culture, management, and leaders. As hard as it may be to do, it’s essential that leaders self-reflect and evaluate the culture of their organization. 

CCC has been successful because of our culture. The team is empowered, engaged, and self-motivated. And during COVID, they were both flexible and resilient. 

It’s a culture of inclusion and respect. We regularly have meetings and check-ins to support and engage with one another. We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and various “holidays” such as Oreo day. And we receive regular feedback through a variety of formats, including anonymous surveys and work of month that, “CCC is the best place I’ve ever worked” and “when I started here I thought it was too good to be true, but it’s really an amazing group of people who really care about each other and those we serve.” 

And if you are getting feedback from your team or those that are leaving, pay attention. 

People who know they are valued, respected, appreciated, and fairly compensated are individuals who remain in their position. And they are part of a team that brings positivity to the customers and clients the organization serves.

Something we’ve seen first-hand. For the past ten years, an average of two people per year leave CCC to accept employment somewhere else. Statistics that are unheard of in the nonprofit industry, and something we’re incredibly proud of.

“Alone, we can do so little; together we can do so much.” 

– Helen Keller

About Community Connections for Children, Inc.

Community Connections for Children, Inc. (CCC) is a nonprofit centered in the heart of Pennsylvania. They serve childcare providers and low-income families ‒ the ones that have been impacted the most by the pandemic. 

For you and your business, CCC helps keep childcare options open for your employees ‒ saving missed work hours and lowering on-the-job stress levels. They work with early childhood education programs and home-based providers to improve the quality of care, ensuring that all children enter school ready to be successful.

CCC works with many local businesses’ HR departments to help their employees find childcare. They also encourage businesses to support the child care industry through the Educational Improvement Tax Credit, direct financial support, partnering with local Early Childhood Educators to contract for slots or expand their programs, and providing scholarships/ tuition assistance as part of their benefits package.

Christy Renjilian serves as its Executive Director.

To learn more, visit

How Do ARPA Stabilization Grants Help Child Care Providers in Pennsylvania?

Posted on: November 8th, 2021 by Kristen Miller

Plus, 4 Best Practices to Consider When Applying

Written by: Christy S. Renjilian

You know that the economy has taken a hit in the last year and a half. How could it not? With shutdowns, stock market fluctuations, supply chain implications. 

But did you know there is a crisis in the childcare industry? 

The funding model isn’t stainable, and it’s at a breaking point. 

The impact on children, families, educators, and businesses is huge.

For educators, the business model is built on low wages. Families can’t afford the true cost of care, and most can’t even afford the tuition that is currently being charged. 

And costs are lowered by paying workers lower rates. The average salary for a child care teacher is $10.79. 

$10.79. Yes, you read that right. For all their talent and compassion, as well as their advanced degrees, that is the average pay rate. Hard to believe, right? 

These educators are responsible for young children’s well-being, for their learning, social development, language, and motor skills; they lead their classrooms as well as playtime, safety measures, and emotional support. And they are masters, masters at organizing art projects, preparing snack time and mealtime, potty training, field trip outings, and cleaning and sanitizing throughout each day. Add to that positive parent interaction and peer and management communication. And reliability. That’s at the top of the list.

Let’s agree that they have a big job.

And the wage problem hurts every part of the business model. 

Educators are no longer willing to accept that pay rate. And can you blame them? It’s not a sustainable wage, and they need more to better support their own families. 

Businesses are struggling to recruit, hire, and retain workers. 

Families face both economic and educational challenges. People can’t work if they don’t have child care. They also know that the quality of the care the children receive greatly impacts their child’s ability to be successful in school and life. They want to pay for high-quality care because they know it’s important, but they also know the cost can be high.

And for our children, our youth, this crisis could influence their long-term success. It is the early years, the ones before kindergarten, that are the most critical period of brain development.

“The highest rate of return in early childhood development comes from investing as early as possible, from birth through age five, in disadvantaged families. Skills beget skills in a complementary and dynamic way. Efforts should focus on the first years for the greatest efficiency and effectiveness.”

—James J. Heckman

How ARPA Stabilization Grants can help make quality child care more affordable

The American Rescue Plan Act, passed by President Biden earlier this year, included federal grant money for each state to administer to assist early childhood education. These Stabilization Grants are to help programs with expenses related to COVID including personal protective equipment, cleaning, health & safety practices, personnel costs, rent/mortgage, facilities maintenance, equipment and supplies, and mental health support for employees, children, and families.

To be eligible to apply, providers must be Department of Human Services (DHS) Certified, as of 3/11/2021, and be open, or have submitted a plan to OCDEL to reopen. The provider must be operating on a regular or provisional  DHS Certificate of Compliance.

To apply, visit

The money is being invested in this way in order to keep the child care industry in business. To support their efforts to respond to the COVID pandemic, the staffing crisis, and increased costs. 

The providers have flexibility, within set guidelines, to spend the money in a way to address their critical needs. Funds will be paid out over a period of six months.

So, if you’re eligible and would like to apply, Community Connections for Children, Inc. encourages you to do so. Here are a few things to consider. 

Four best practices to consider when applying for ARPA funds.

When considering this grant opportunity, approach it as you do anything in your business, thoughtfully and strategically. And think about the long game, how you might spend the funds so that you can sustain the investment once ARPA funds have run out.  

Think through the question, How can I utilize ARPA funds to cover existing expenses in a way  that will further stretch and save my other revenue sources? Other revenue sources could include Child Care Works, along with parent fees and tuition.

It’s important for both center and home-based programs to list out their needs and their wants; and once you know the amount you will receive through the ARPA grant, begin to prioritize needs. If there is money left over, then consider the wants.

To help you craft a plan, consider these best practices:

  1. For a center provider, allocating a significant portion of your ARPA funds to personnel costs may be a wise investment. Personnel costs are the largest portion of a program’s budget. Funds can be used for salary increases, stipends, benefits, tuition reimbursement, etc.
  1. If there are building issues that have always been put on the “back burner”, now might be the time to address them. Particularly if they relate to the safety of the children and staff, such as improvements to the HVAC system, air purifiers, etc.
  1. For home-based providers, who often don’t pay themselves much at all, now is the time to invest in yourself as a small business owner and professional educator. Funds can be used to enhance your benefits package and business acumen with things like tuition assistance.
  1. Funds can also be utilized to make improvements to your home to better serve the children and families who receive care there.

For more information, visit to better understand and comply with the grant.

What is Community Connections for Children role in the distribution of funds?

CCC is responsible for assisting providers in utilizing the online portal to apply for ARPA grants. Our STARS Quality Coaches are able to assist providers. In addition to CCC’s guidance, keep in mind that PA Keys has support available too.

CCC also reviews and approves the applications for the seven counties we serve in ERLC 9 and 10, including Dauphin, Cumberland, Perry, Lebanon, York, Adams, and Lancaster. In ERLC 8, CCC assists with the approval process.

To date, approximately 55% of providers have submitted their applications and been approved. CCC has paid out over $14.5 million 

Please note, CCC will be issuing payments every other week as providers submit their applications and are approved. Approved providers will receive six payments (one each month starting with their first payment), and CCC will manage and implement this payment cycle.

What does success look like for the grant program?

The pandemic has had a profound impact on the childcare industry, with the added stress and pressures of working with children and parents. The tensions over masks, quarantining, vaccines, etc. have greatly impacted the morale of the workforce. An industry that never stopped working. Because as we have seen, if parents don’t have child care, they can’t work either. When schools shut down, most child care programs remained open.

If more centers close due to the staffing crisis, if more children are on waiting lists as a result of these closures, more and more people will be forced to leave the workforce.  

A successful Stabilization Grant program would help child care programs remain open.

With a large number of child care programs operating at reduced enrollment due solely to the staffing crisis, it’s my hope that ARPA funds are used to help increase salaries and provide benefits to assist with hiring and retention.

For true, long-term success, my hope is that ARPA funding leads to systemic changes in how we structure the child care industry and how much public and private funding is available to families to help them pay for child care.

As a region, we’re cautiously optimistic. More and more people are understanding that the economic systems of our communities rest on the backs of the child care industry. 

And they are taking steps to better support their child care centers. But we have more work to do for sustainable change.

Continued Reading

CCC: A Little Love for Early Childhood Education Workers

Heckman: Invest in Early Childhood Development: Reduce Deficits Strengthen the Economy 

About Community Connections for Children, Inc.

Community Connections for Children, Inc. (CCC) is a nonprofit centered in the heart of Pennsylvania. They serve childcare providers and low-income families ‒ the ones that have been impacted the most by the pandemic. 

For you and your business, CCC helps keep childcare options open for your employees ‒ saving missed work hours and lowering on-the-job stress levels. They work with early childhood education programs and home-based providers to improve the quality of care, ensuring that all children enter school ready to be successful.

CCC works with many local businesses’ HR departments to help their employees find childcare. They also encourage businesses to support the child care industry through the Educational Improvement Tax Credit, direct financial support, partnering with local Early Childhood Educators to contract for slots or expand their programs, and providing scholarships/ tuition assistance as part of their benefits package.

Christy Renjilian serves as its Executive Director.

To learn more, visit

Self Compassion vs. Self Care, A Leader’s Blueprint

Posted on: September 28th, 2021 by Kristen Miller

Self Compassion vs. Self Care, A Leader’s Guide

Plus, How to Strive for Resilient Leadership in a Modern World

Written By: Christy S. Renjilian

Did you know that September is National Self Care Awareness Month? 

Established in 2017 by Evolve to Live (link at bottom), it was created to help people build a self-care habit and pursue a connected life. 

And if you’re like me, it’s a great reminder… to pursue a connected life by building a self-care habit. It’s not a static thing, self-care. It continues to evolve and grow, just like you.

With the Olympics wrapping up, football season underway, and school back in session, it seems as though we as a society are competing while doing so-called self-care. What starts as a day off from work to shop turns into a late-night, arms draped with shopping bags. And a feeling of shame knowing you’ve blown your budget.

Take one look at social media and you’ll see a myriad of images capturing just that. Cue the white, fluffy bathrobe with crisp green cucumber slices over one’s eyes, in what we’ve come to know as a typical spa-like setting. It’s kind of crazy that the American culture of winning and expectations has us comparing and competing while attempting to do self-care. As if that’s an actual thing. 

And this competitive nature tends to permeate your internal boundaries, your work, or your family cultures. It can be so toxic. So today, let’s take a few minutes to redefine self-care, taking a look at self-compassion and setting the tone for resilient leadership in your life.

What is Self-Compassion?

I heard the phrase “self-compassion” at a resilient leadership training. The distinction was made that for many of us, particularly us women in helping professions, we struggle with caring for ourselves. It may seem “selfish,” as if putting ourselves and our needs ahead of others and caring for ourselves as much as we care for others, is somehow indulgent and selfish.  

Self-compassion is giving yourself the same benefit of the doubt, the same grace, the same internal messages and dialogues that you would give another person. It’s about remembering that the messages you tell yourself are powerful. And being mindful of those messages is worth the work, physically, mentally, and emotionally. 

And it’s something you know you want to start doing more of, but how?

Here are three ways to build your self-compassion:

  1. Change the tapes in your head and your internal beliefs, those feelings and thoughts you have about yourself. If they are overly critical, based on past mistakes, or aren’t something you would say out loud to someone else, write them down and throw them away. Spend some time coming up with new things you’d like to start saying to yourself. Affirmations and reminders of your gifts, talents, and successes. Reminders that you are enough, exactly as you are. 
  1. Cut yourself some slack, you don’t always have to be on–to be doing, creating, leading, performing, achieving, making, etc. Take time to just breathe, sit, reflect, ponder, relax, rejuvenate. When you do get back to doing, you will be able to do your work even better than before.
  1. Take one small step, try to be 1% closer to what your intentions and goals are each day. Many of us, myself included, try to make a myriad of changes in one giant leap. It’s unrealistic and typically not sustainable to permanently change our behaviors and habits overnight.  Forward progress, no matter how seemingly small, is an accomplishment. Let’s aim for 1% that sticks around. And celebrate it.

Now you have a few things to try as you work to be more compassionate to yourself. Next, we’ll dive into self-care and explore how we can create a more aligned habit.

What is Self-Care?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, self-care is the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.

My interpretation? Self-care is not about self-indulgence, it’s about self-preservation. 

And while the act of self-care takes on many forms, from a manicure and pedicure routine at a local salon to reading a spiritual book each morning; from traveling to a new place to making time to talk to family or friends. At the core of self-care is you – and the things that will bring you a bit of happiness, a bit of relaxation.

You’ve come to realize that you’re not that great at it. In fact, you encourage those you love to practice self-care, but when it comes down to it, you’re lousy at practicing self-care – or for that matter, even self-compassion.

Well, we have that in common. I’m committed to encouraging and reinforcing for my team at Community Connections for Children and for my friends and families that self-care, self-compassion, and work-life balance are critical to our overall health and success. To take time to just be, to do nothing, and to recharge their batteries. 

But to do that myself? Now, that is a challenge. And in this season, I’m working hard to change that. It starts by acknowledging the type of leader I am, that you are, externally, and then aligning that same dedication and intentional internally. 

What is Resilient Leadership?

Resilient leadership means that you understand that you are human. That you can’t meet the needs of your staff and those you serve if you have not nurtured yourself. 

It means that you are willing to be vulnerable, honest, and authentic with yourself and those around you. To admit your mistakes, admit when you don’t know something, admit that your team does (and if fact should) know how to do their jobs better than you do.

Resilient leaders understand that crises are also opportunities. That as a leader your mindset and ability to remain positive and calm will have a direct impact on your team.

Resilient leaders understand that you need to slow down, to pause, and think before you speak and act. Especially in a moment of high stress, change, and uncertainty.

Resilient leaders understand that relationships, effective and open communication, compassion, and trust are the most important predictors and indicators of the health and success of their organization. Research tells us that people leave their job not because they don’t like the tasks, but because of unhealthy relationships and toxic environments.

And it’s something I strive to do, to embody resilient leadership. While expanding my understanding of self-care and self-compassion, just like you. And when I think of people who embody those traits, a few exceptional human beings come to mind… Oprah Winfrey, Nelson Mandela, and Brené Brown.

An Example of Self-Care, Self Compassion, and Resilient Leadership

Perhaps the best example of resilient leadership is the very one who has led us through the pandemic, Dr. Fauci. Each day, he would keep getting up, facing the next unknown with the COVID pandemic, responding to the politicization of COVID, and trying to move the needle in the right direction a little each day. Even as the public grew wearier and wearier, he led with compassion and grace.

And while you certainly hope you don’t need to lead your people through the thickest of it, you can learn from his approach. His calm manner, his consistent message, and his compassion. 

As you work on your own self-compassion, as you develop a self-care habit that is more aligned with where you are now, and where you want to be, you’ll grow as a leader. It’s okay for it to be a transition, to show yourself a different type of care, to try something new and fail. 

“I think that’s the most surprising part about true resilience. Resilience makes you strong, and while you earn the right to your strength, you simultaneously become more tender. While you harness the ability to rise quickly from the ground, you don’t fear the fall as much the next time. Resilience can only come from experience, and God willing, you’re forced to build new foundations.”

– Rachel Hollis

Just think of all you learned over the past two years, the past two decades. And let’s all commit to being more tender, with ourselves and with each other.

Continued Reading:

Center for Resilient Children: Resilient Leadership 

Center for Resilient Children: Devereux Resilient Leadership Survey 

Evolve to Live: Self-Care Awareness

About Community Connections for Children, Inc.

Community Connections for Children, Inc. (CCC) is a nonprofit centered in the heart of Pennsylvania. They serve childcare providers and low-income families ‒ the ones that have been impacted the most by the pandemic. 

For you and your business, CCC helps keep childcare options open for your employees ‒ saving missed work hours and lowering on-the-job stress levels. They work with early childhood education programs and home-based providers to improve the quality of care, ensuring that all children enter school ready to be successful.

Christy Renjilian serves as its Executive Director.

To learn more, visit

Five Career and Life Lessons From the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and a Celebration of Team USA’s Female Athletes on the World Stage

Posted on: September 24th, 2021 by Kristen Miller

So, sure, this topic is a little late, but I still think there are lessons we can learn from the athletes of the 2020, now 2021, Summer Olympics in Tokyo. The American spirit was on full display, the best of the best competing for the gold seemed to bring our nation together in a time of pandemic, politics, and uncertainty.

And likely, you were into it too.

There were tears and upsets. Photo finishes and unbelievable world records set. Some of your favorite familiar faces and new ones alike, competing in some events you know well and some new ones you hadn’t seen before.

Even before the games got underway, there were big headlines and controversy surrounding the competition.  One of the biggest draws of the Tokyo Olympics, the talented and charismatic American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson, was banned from competing.

A year delayed, this Olympics seemed to have more hype, more pressure, more eyes on it than ever. Likely you handpicked a few of these superhumans to follow, to support. And you cheered. In fact, you may have stayed up way too late to watch the once-in-four-yearectacle of it all. 

Because you enjoy witnessing top talent, a diverse group of humans who train hard and are at the top of their sport, the peak of their careers. The mere act of watching these competitors ignites your desire to raise the bar of your own performance.

“Surround yourself with the dreamers and the doers, the believers and thinkers, but most of all, surround yourself with those who see the greatness within you, even when you don’t see it yourself.”

– Edmund Lee

But what can we take away from these games? 

Here are five lessons you can learn from and apply to your everyday life, both personally and professionally.

  1. You’re Worth More Than Other People’s Opinions

This year, more than any other, you saw this on display. You witnessed Simone Biles, the greatest gymnast of all time and the face of the 2020 Olympics, prioritize her own mental and physical health. On what some would argue as the biggest stage in the world, she pulled out of the team finals, as well as the individual all-around, vault, floor, and uneven bars. 

“I have to put my pride aside. I have to do what’s right for me and focus on my mental health and not jeopardize my health and well-being. That’s why I decided to take a step back.”

– Simone Biles

With one event left, the balance beam, she decided to compete. And she won bronze.

In speaking of her win, Biles said “it means more than all of the golds because I’ve pushed through so much the last five years and the last week while I’ve even been here.”

Biles is the epitome of grace, humility, and leadership, and she showed us all that elite athletes are human beings first and foremost. She boldly demonstrated her worth, and that it’s way more important than other people’s opinions… 

  1. Greatness Begets Greatness

In the much anticipated men’s 400-meter hurdles, two men broke the world record during the final heat – Karsten Warholm of Norway with the gold and Rai Benjamin of the United States with the silver.

And that’s saying something. Before this summer, the world record stood for over 29 years, more years than the 25-year-old Warholm has been on this planet. 

“I told myself going into the race to remember all the work you have put in. I knew this race was going to be the toughest of my life, but I was ready. Now I need to set myself new goals, I don’t think I’m done yet.”

– Karsten Warholm

It goes to show that speed begets speed, and greatness begets greatness.When you achieve great things, you have the traction to continue to achieve great things. 

  1. Achievement is Best Shared

In the grueling men’s high jump competition, something unheard of happened. With the final two men tied for first-place after hours of competing in the hot sun, locked in what the track world calls a jump-off, Mutaz Essa Barshim paused to ask… “how about two golds?”

And in what was truly an act of sportsmanship, love, and acceptance, good friends Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar and Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy both took home the gold medal.

“He’s one of my best friends. Not only on the track but outside of the track. We’re always together. It’s true spirit, coming here and delivering this message. Appreciate what he’s done, he appreciates what I’ve done. This is amazing. This is beyond sport, this is the message we deliver to the young generation.”

– Mutaz Essa Barshim

The lesson here? Achievement is best shared. When you put in the work, deliver your very best, and build strong relationships along the way, take the time to celebrate the results together.

  1. Regroup and Recenter

The US Women’s soccer team had quite the showing during the 2020 Olympics. These athletes were favored for gold but were knocked out of contention for it after losing in the semifinals to a strong Canadian team. The score? 1-0. 

After their shared grief and disappointment, the team rallied in the game to determine the bronze medal. Win, you get a medal. Lose, well, you go home empty-handed.

The team regrouped, recentered, and did what they set out to do. In fact, team veterans Megan Rapinoe and Carli Llloyd both scored two goals, clinching a 4-3 win along with the bronze medal.

“Hopefully, everyone on this squad and people watching and people that have been in the pool remember that we don’t win championships without the U.S. mentality. That probably has been the biggest takeaway from this tournament, and we need to continue to bring that each and every day. Each and every game. … that, ultimately, is our secret weapon.”

– Carli Lloyd

A strong team bond, the ability to recenter, and the U.S. mentality delivered a medal to these female athletes.

  1. You’re Never Too [Insert Adjective]

You get to insert the adjective here. You’re never too old, too young, too stuck, too small-town, too remote, too anything, really. You get to write your story, you get to try, no matter your adjective.

And while there were many examples of  this through the Olympic games, two of the most riveting were Lydia Jacoby, the 17 year old from Seward, Alaska who won gold in the 100-meter breaststroke. And for the record, there’s only one olympic sized swimming pool in the state.  This is a person with big dreams, huge talent, and seemingly very little resources. She didn’t let that stop her. 

Another phenom, Wisconsin native Molly Seidel, won bronze in the marathon. It was the third marathon race she ever ran.  And she came in third. Third in the world.  She clearly believed in herself and didn’t listen to others who say you need more practice. You need more experience. Who are you to think you can compete with more seasoned runners?  She gave it a shot and come out on the podium.

“I came in today with not a whole lot of expectations. I was hoping to be in the top ten. Just trying to like stick my nose where it didn’t belong and just kind of get after it. I mean, Olympics only happens once every four years, you might as well take your shot.”

– Molly Seidel

Powerful women pursuing their dreams, competing until the end, and believing in themselves. Never letting anyone tell them their too inexperienced or too young. If they can do it, so can you. 

A Celebration of Team USA Female Athletes 

Team USA had a strong showing in Tokyo, leading the medal count and continuing its legacy of greatness. Even in a year of delay, even in two years of pandemic and controversy.

And it was clear, U.S. women dominated. The female athletes won over 58% of the medals secured by the United States – 66 medals to the men’s 41. 

Or, as reported by USA Today, “If U.S. women were their own country, they would have finished fourth in the Olympic medal count, ahead of Great Britain, Japan, Australia, Germany and nearly 200 other countries, and behind only the entire U.S. team, China and the Russian Olympic Committee.”

In fact, the 2004 Olympics in Athens was the last time U.S. men brought home more medals than their female counterparts – 55 medals to the women’s 40. That’s four consecutive Summer Olympics in which the U.S. women came out on top.

As showcased by Time Magazine, “on the final day of competition alone, the U.S. women’s basketball team won a seventh straight gold, the women’s volleyball team took its first-ever gold, and Jennifer Valente won America’s first-ever track cycling gold in the omnium. This flip speaks to the momentum building for women’s sports in the U.S.; the Olympics will only help push this movement forward.”

It’s true, women are more empowered than ever. They are tapping into their authentic strength and intuition, and the results speak volumes. Let’s take time to celebrate our female athletes as we remember they are human beings, beautiful, complicated, whole beings, just like you and me. 

“If you give girls and women the same investment, opportunity and access, their potential, like all people, is unlimited.”

– Billie King

Continued Reading:

TIME: The 9 Most Inspiring and Surprising Things I Saw At The Tokyo Olympics

USA Today: US Women Dominated Medal Count at Tokyo Olympics in Ways They’ve Never Done Before

About Community Connections for Children, Inc.

Community Connections for Children, Inc. (CCC) is a nonprofit centered in the heart of Pennsylvania. They serve childcare providers and low-income families ‒ the ones that have been impacted the most by the pandemic. 

For you and your business, CCC helps keep childcare options open for your employees ‒ saving missed work hours and lowering on-the-job stress levels. They work with early childhood education programs and home-based providers to improve the quality of care, ensuring that all children enter school ready to be successful.

Christy Renjilian serves as its Executive Director.

To learn more, visit

Community Connections for Children (CCC) stands with the Central York School District students and families, as well as the wider community, that are protesting against the misguided decision of the Central York School Board to ban books.

Posted on: September 20th, 2021 by Kristen Miller

As the Early Learning Resource Center for York County, and with our nearly 35 year history of serving York County youngest learners, we are dismayed by leaders who discriminate.  The rationalization of this behavior through comments such as wanting to ensure balance in books and fears of indoctrination are troublesome.  All children and families deserve to be represented in their educational materials and resources.  All children need to be presented with honest, well rounded information about our history, a variety of opinions, and encouraged to think for themselves.  Anything less, is in fact supporting the very indoctrination and imbalance the school board members say they fear and that they say guided their racist actions.

Community Connections for Children supports and serves all the early education, childcare, and school age programs in York County. It is our mission to ensure that children enter school ready to be successful.  We administer Keystone STARS, the quality improvement and rating system for the Commonwealth in 13 counties.  One of the PA standards of high quality programs is that classroom materials and curricular resources are diverse so that all children and families “see themselves” in the classroom.  A critical component of this work is to incorporate in meaningful ways, the rich cultures and contributions of every person and family, to honestly and age appropriately reflect the realities of the history our country, and to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Community Connections for Children, through a grant from the Donley Foundation, has engaged in meaningful in depth DEI reflection and work. This fall we will offer DEI and Cultural Responsiveness workshops and communities of learning and support to ECE and SACC programs. CCC staff were reading one of the books on CYSD’s banned list, “So You Want to Talk About Race”.  A challenging book to be sure, and one I encourage every York Countian to read if they are committed to bringing about meaningful change in our community.

Community Connections for Children encourages ECE, SACC, K-12 systems, school boards, and our entire community to do the hard internal work to ensure that they have a culture of inclusion, respect, equity, and antiracism.  Our families, children, and those we serve deserve no less. 

Christy S. Renjilian

Executive Director

Community Connections for Children

Wondering what fifth-grade students and teachers are thinking and feeling this school year? Check out my latest #blogpost. It’s a reminder that life is about people and caring not politics and conflict.

Posted on: September 16th, 2021 by Kristen Miller

Back to School: A Focus on 5th Grade and Getting Off on the Right Foot

With Real Thoughts From a Fifth Grade Student and Teachers

Written By: Christy S. Renjilian

Ahhh, remember your fifth-grade self? And those feelings you had as you started the school year? Your interests, friends, and what made you, well, you?

You were geared up with whatever the new fad was. Maybe it was a bookbag brand, maybe a shoe, or those metal lunchboxes with the matching thermos. Either way, you were living your best life.

Hopefully, you had a strong, positive influence in fifth grade, too. A teacher or mentor who had a real impact on you. One who opened your eyes and mind, as you absorbed their lessons and really appreciated the space they made for you to grow in.

Kids this age typically start thinking more about abstract ideas, and not just about things they can observe.1 

Today, we’re taking a look at the perspectives of a student entering fifth grade, a first-year fifth-grade teacher, and an experienced fifth-grade teacher, to shed light on how this pivotal time is experienced in each role.

And we’ll finish with some tips to help you get your fifth grader’s school year moving in the right direction. Or, any student, for that matter.

Before we do, I want to tell you about my amazing fifth-grade teacher. He was the first male teacher I ever had – Mr. Lifshitz at Shubert Elementary School in Baldwin, NY (pictured below). He was warm, caring, and committed to every student. 

That was way back when, in 1975-1976, the Bicentennial year. That was a time marked by a lot of celebration of America, lots of red, white, and blue. The abstract idea and concept that stands out for me, learned from Mr. Lifshitz, was equality for the girls in the classroom. 

He named me and my friend, Jill, to the Audio/Video Squad. We were the first girls in school history to be the ones to set up the movie and filmstrip projectors in classrooms. We pushed the big carts around, threaded the machines, and fixed them when they skipped and looped. He also picked, “Free to Be You and Me” for our class play. The TV special had been on the air the year before; it was created by Marlo Thomas and many others to address gender stereotypes. 

Fifth grade is a big year. In some schools, it’s the last year in elementary school. For everyone it’s a year of in-depth learning and maturity, refining one’s ability to think critically.  

Fifth graders no longer learn to read, they read to learn and are growing as independent thinkers. To have a teacher in 1976 recognize that his job was to provide equal opportunities for all his students was an empowering gift. I haven’t been in that school in decades, but if I close my eyes, I can still see his smile, hear his big laugh, and sense the support and acceptance he offered his students. 

My wish for this new school year is that every teacher provides a safe, empowering environment for every student. And that every student and her family is able to receive the gift of care, hard work, and dedication from their teachers. 

This year especially, as we begin a new school year, one filled with things our fifth-grade selves never would have dreamed of, we can begin anew. For ourselves, for our students, and for our children.

To better understand fifth grade today, let’s take a look at a few perspectives. Each helps us wrap our minds around all it takes to make a school year successful.

First, let’s take a look at how a fifth-grade student is viewing the school year.

Q: How are you feeling about starting 5th grade?

A: I feel good and happy.

Q: What do you hope to learn?

A: Algebra and decimals.

Q: What do you hope your teacher is like?

A: Nice. 

Q: What advice would you give your teacher about teaching you and your classmates/friends? 

A: I would tell my teachers to answer questions we have.

In reflecting on these responses, it’s easy to see that our students enjoy learning, have unique interests and hopes, and simply want to be heard.

Next, let’s listen to the perspective of a first-year fifth-grade teacher.

Q: As a first-year teacher how are you feeling about the 2021-2022 school year?

A: I am nervous, terrified, cautious, excited, emotional, and uncertain. 

Q: In one or two words, what mindset is most needed by students this year?


Q: What can we (families, community members, advocates) do to help support teachers?

A: Here are a few things that come to mind:

  • Push for school reform, more funding. 
  • Vaccinate/take care of each other. 
  • Stay home when sick. 
  • Don’t project problems onto students/teachers. 
  • Send in supplies. 
  • Say thank you. 
  • Volunteer at the school. 
  • Read to students at home. 
  • Ask for help. 
  • Show up. 
  • Listen to what we have to say and genuinely do something about it. 

Q: What would you like to say/ask your former 5th-grade teacher?

A: Thank you for allowing me to be an individual and pursue my interests. I am now a teacher because there were people like you that let me try it out when I was younger. I know what you do is hard – what you did was enough and worth it. 

These words may take you back to a time when you were starting a brand new journey, one you worked hard to explore and put time and effort into achieving. It’s pretty special, the human experience, how good people step into leadership roles at pivotal times.

And finally, let’s check in with an experienced fifth-grade teacher.

Q: How are you feeling about the 2021-2022 school year?

A: I am looking forward to a more normal school year. Last year had many challenges. I think this year will as well, but I am hoping the changes will be less daunting for students since they have already experienced most of them.

Q: In one or two words, what mindset is most needed by students?

A: The sooner that students learn to look at their education as a gift and a pathway to a better future, the sooner they will value it. This is a tough concept for younger students, but a savvy teacher can help foster this idea.

Q: What advice would you give to families?

A: As much as possible, allow your child to have ownership of their education. The more you control it, the less they will value it. 

Q: What can we (parents, students, community members, advocates) do to support teachers?

A: Trust them, they are professionals. Keep the lines of communication open. 

Q: As you think back over your career, what advice would you give to a new teacher?

A: I would give the same advice that my cooperating teacher gave me, although it took years for me to understand it. Figure out your philosophy and stick with it. In other words, be true to who you are as an educator. 

Q: Anything else you’d like to share?

A: It is not about clever lessons, it is about people. Specifically, it is about small people who are forming opinions about everything, including themselves. If you help them to feel good about themselves, they will want to learn. Also, never engage in a power struggle with a child because you will lose. What you will lose is much more valuable than whatever the conflict was. You will lose an opportunity to have a relationship with this child. 

Such wisdom, such grace shared. A good reminder for all of us to remember it’s about people. It’s not about politics, shame, or conflict. It’s about being true to yourself, and in turn, modeling that behavior for the next generation.

Now that you’ve heard from a student and a few teachers, you may be wondering how you can help your fifth grader approach his school year. 

If so, here are the top five things a parent or student can do now to set themselves up for success.

1. Gradually get back on a schedule.  

If your child has been staying up late and sleeping in all summer, gradually help him or her get back on a schedule that aligns with the start time of school. Going to bed at a set time is essential. A little change of 10 minutes or so each night is much easier on everyone than a jarring shift a night or two before school starts.

Good-quality sleep helps improve your child’s concentration, memory, and ability to regulate their emotions and behave well. This all helps your child learn well. Getting enough sleep also strengthens your child’s immune system and reduces the risk of infection and illness.2 

2. Read every day.  

Your child should read something they pick and are interested in every day. Summer days. School days. Weekends. If you need help finding something your child likes, go to your library and ask the librarian for their suggestions. Or pay attention to the things they watch or participate in – there’s likely an age-appropriate book on the topic.

Did you know, only 35 percent of fourth-graders are reading at or above grade level?3 

“The ability to read, write, and analyze; the confidence to stand up and demand justice and equality; the qualifications and connections to get your foot in that door and take your seat at that table – all of that starts with education.”

– Michelle Obama

3. Encourage your child to set goals for the year.  

You’ve heard about vision boards and fancy dream catcher things. This isn’t those. Even if your child struggles with school, setting a few, realistic goals will be beneficial. Maybe your student wants to speak up more in class, try a new sport or activity, make some new friends, or be more organized. Let your child take the lead in setting their goals and have him write them down.

“Having goals makes learners aware of their actions, efforts, and even their time management skills. Setting goals obligates them to take action, regardless of the obstacles that may be in place. As such, it can encourage students to develop critical thinking skills, new problem-solving techniques, and a better understanding of how to overcome issues.”

– Julius Zigama

4. Develop a plan to stay informed and connected to the teacher.

In the age of quarantines, closures, and virtual schooling, plan out how you and your student are going to stay informed and connected to their teacher and school. 

Is there an online system for sharing information? If so, make sure you have access and know how to use it. Do you and the teacher prefer email or phone calls?  What time of day is best for you? For the teacher? If they aren’t in agreement, work out a compromise and plan this month. Remember if you change your phone number and/or email address to let the teacher know. Teachers know that all families want to be connected and informed. They just may need some assisstance to do so.

5. Take a deep breath. 

This is going to be another challenging year. Remember that everyone – families, students, teachers, and school personnel- are doing the best they can with changing guidelines, trying to keep every person safe, and meet everyone’s needs.  Patience goes a long way.

Deep breaths all around. For you, as a parent. And for our students, our educators, our school bus drivers, our administrators, and for every person who contributes to your student’s education. 

P-S- In a bit of a full-circle twist, the experienced fifth-grade teacher actually taught (and inspired!) the brand new fifth-grade teacher interviewed for this article. 


1 Developmental Milestones for Typical Fourth and Fifth Graders

2 School-age and Pre-teen Sleep: What to Expect

3 The NCBLA Statistics

About Community Connections for Children, Inc.

Community Connections for Children, Inc. (CCC) is a nonprofit centered in the heart of Pennsylvania. They serve childcare providers and low-income families ‒ the ones that have been impacted the most by the pandemic. 

For you and your business, CCC helps keep childcare options open for your employees ‒ saving missed work hours and lowering on-the-job stress levels. They work with early childhood education programs and home-based providers to improve the quality of care, ensuring that all children enter school ready to be successful.

Christy Renjilian serves as its Executive Director.
To learn more, visit