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Fellow Gaels Take Similar Journey That Is Connected Through Early Child Care

August 24, 2021

“You can’t go home again” – Thomas Wolfe

With all due respect to this brilliant author, many do but we’ll touch upon this later. The education business is no different than any other industry. Enterprises generally focus on their core competencies – in the case of Dublin Unified School District (DUSD) it is providing educational opportunities for all in a safe environment. But the mission is truly accomplished when partnerships are created that benefit both sides.

This profile is about two Dublin High School (DHS) graduates that are separated in age by six years. While they both attended Frederiksen Elementary School, they would not know each other until they became adults. What links them is that they are currently enrolled college students, and both are employed by Extended Day Child Care Center (EDCC). EDCC operates at all eight elementary school sites in Dublin and at Walnut Grove Elementary School in Pleasanton.

EDCC Site at Cottonwod Creek School K-8. Photo by: Michael Utsumi

Ainsley Muhleman is a 2020 DHS graduate – the first finishing class that was directly impacted by the consequences of COVID-19. As this pandemic continues to evolve and reshape lives, we reached out to gain her perspective as she pursues the next stage of her growth.

Ainsley Muhleman, Dublin High School Class of 2020 Graduate. Photo by: Michael Utsumi

OneDublin.org: As a DHS graduate from the Class of 2020, it is probably safe to assume that you’re still sorting out that abrupt interruption of your senior year. How did you and your peers manage to make the best of your last stretch of high school?

Ainsley Muhleman: “As a DHS graduate from the Class of 2020, I made the best out of the interrupted school year situation by staying in touch with friends and by keeping up with my schoolwork as that was still needed to graduate. During the final months of our senior year, many events such as senior ball, banquet, baccalaureate, senior sunset, and graduation were cancelled, making it feel as if we never ended high school since there was no real formal closure. Though we did have a virtual graduation, it could never be the same as an in person one. We weren’t surrounded by our peers and teachers who we’d connected with over the past year or more, and many of us didn’t even have our families with us. The day of our virtual graduation I remember starting work again at EDCC, cleaning the classroom to get ready for kids after the same abrupt ending due to COVID-19. When I went home that evening after work, I turned on the virtual graduation and watched it by myself at home. My parents were working at the automotive repair shop that we own and my brother was at his restaurant job. I’m sure this wasn’t the case for all Dublin High School graduates, but I wouldn’t be surprised if many were in the same situation. That being said, during the summer of 2020, restrictions became a little lighter and I was able to see my friends after a couple months and we became a bubble. We’d hang out and watch movies in the backyard, go on walks and just spend quality time together as many others did. In the end, because we didn’t get a formal close to high school it feels like I should still be going to Dublin High School to finish my high school career even though it’s already over.”

OneDublin.org: You have now completed your first year in college at Sacramento State University in a virtual setting. Why did you choose this institution and what are your academic and career goals?

Muhleman: “I decided to attend Sacramento State University to further my education because of their Criminal Justice program since it is one of the best. At the start of my education at Sacramento, I already had six units (2 classes) done for my major because of the Dublin High Schools Criminal Justice ROP (Tri-Valley Regional Occupation Program) program which placed me at an advantage for the impacted major and gave me a head start. My academic goals are to get my bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and to double major in a hard science in hopes of furthering my career as a forensic scientist, although I also want to go to law school and pass the bar exam, in order to become an attorney. This will take immense time and effort which I have found with the virtual setting because I do not have to commute to classes, giving me extra time to study and focus on classes. However, I do miss the events and nightlife that schools offer when in person because that’s where you meet and connect with people in the community.”

OneDublin.org: As one that was previously familiar with EDCC, what were the circumstances of gaining your employment and what have you learned from this experience? 

Muhleman: “As a kid I attended EDCC at the Frederiksen Elementary School location and my director was Doris Dannels. Towards the end of my elementary school career, she became the executive director until she retired at the end of 2019. However, towards the end of the 2018-2019 school year she approached me with a job offer at a DUSD meeting where I was presenting data on behalf of the DHS Culinary Arts program. Since I had prior experience with EDCC as a kid, and knew a lot about how the program ran, I decided to follow through with the offer for a summer job and have continued working summers since. Throughout my experience working at EDCC, I have gained a lot more patience and communication skills with children. I have also worked side by side with students who are learning English as their second language, giving me an opportunity to learn some phrases in a new language as well. Though I am not looking for a career in education I admire working alongside students because of how much you can see them blossom, the same way I have grown here during my time as a student and teacher.”

As a student, what may appear to be random or unplanned choices may yield future benefits. As a 2014 DHS graduate, Annette Martinez chose to take an elective course in Early Childhood Development in her senior year. As it turns out, this decision would influence her next seven years as she navigated school and her life. We had a similar opportunity to sit down with Ms. Martinez to discuss life after Dublin High School and what she still plans to accomplish.

Annette Martinez, Dublin High School Class of 2014 Graduate. Photo by: Michael Utsumi

OneDublin.org: You had expressed that during your senior year at DHS, you had the opportunity to take an elective course in Early Childhood Development. Please explain how this made an impact upon you and helped to set a course for where you are presently.

Annette Martinez: “The elective course decision that I had made in high school has made an impact on my life in so many ways. Growing up I always knew I wanted to do something with children and wanted to be an inspiration to others. While taking the early childhood education courses, I found it very interesting and knew it was something that I wanted to pursue in life. So right when I graduated high school, I immediately applied to EDCC where I was first hired as a teacher’s aide. During that time, I had also taken early childhood education classes in college. When I had taken my first one in college, I instantly knew I wanted to be a classroom teacher. Working at EDCC has been really beneficial for me and has taught me so much.”

OneDublin.org: You will now have the ability to continue your studies in support of your career at San Jose State University. Please describe how you are mentally preparing to return to the classroom – even if it’s in a remote setting. 

Martinez: “Since I will be continuing pursuing my passion for teaching at San Jose State University, I feel like it will definitely be an adventure for me since I will be both working and going to school. I actually dropped out of Las Positas for a while when my dad had passed away back in 2018, but then something was telling me to go back to school and I am so happy I did because I ended up getting my Associates Degree. My mindset for graduating at SJSU is to focus and to do my best.”

OneDublin.org: As a former student at Frederiksen Elementary School and client at EDCC, please explain what this work experience and development since 2014 has meant as you continue to build your resume.

Martinez: “As a former student of Frederiksen and client at EDCC, this work experience has definitely pushed me to do a better job in this field. It has taught me so much from responsibilities, accountability, communication, and so much more.” 

After many years at the helm as the Executive Director of EDCC, Doris Dannels and her husband David picked up stakes and relocated to Virginia to be closer to their family. The organization was fortunate to have a capable successor on board that had previously served as a Site Manager at Dublin Elementary School and then functioned as an Assistant Executive Director prior to her elevation. Many new residents to Dublin are often surprised to learn that the City of Dublin was incorporated in 1982. However, the partnership between DUSD and EDCC has been in place for as nearly long, and celebrates 35 years in 2021. We extended an invitation to discuss the past and the future of their organization with current Executive Director, Vanessa Sinclair.

Vanessa Sinclair, Executive Director of EDCC. Photo by: Michael Utsumi

OneDublin.org: Like every enterprise around the globe, the impact of COVID-19 was a gut punch to everyday operations. Please share the immediate approach by EDCC to shelter in place and through when the business could safely reopen. 

Vanessa Sinclair: “EDCC closed the day after the schools closed in March of 2020 thinking all along, initially, that this was going to be a short-term precaution and that we would get to re-open in a week, or two weeks, or a month.  But it wasn’t short term as we all know. We made the decision very quickly that it was very important to keep all 81 staff members employed.  Next to the programs for the children, the EDCC Staff is our biggest investment of time, training, and resources.  We needed to keep our staff and keep them working at home.  So that is where I had to think outside of the box and create work from home job descriptions for both full time and part time employees.  Where they were required to work on lessons, activity development as well as enrichment activities remotely with the children. They also had to meet virtually with their directors to check in, take online training and create activities that we could share with the parents who were now at home with the children, in an effort to help the parents get creative with their kids.

We needed the staff to be ready to re-open at a moment’s notice. This was also the time to focus on all the health and safety precautions that would need to be put in place when we could open. We ordered outdoor sinks for handwashing, special air filtration systems for every building, tons of PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) such as masks, hand sanitizer, digital thermometers, face shields, clipboards, etc. We scheduled additional, in-depth cleaning by our janitorial company to begin as soon as we were given the green light to open.  And, open we did on June 1, 2020 with just a handful of students at each of our 9 sites. Many of our students that returned were children of first responders that had to go back to work and needed childcare. Many other families continued paying to hold a spot at our centers but did not return during the 2020 summer. Normally serving 1085 students, our enrollment back then was only approx. 300 students. But, we kept going and offered a terrific, but modified Summer Day Camp during the 2020 summer never dreaming the schools would not open as usual in August. If I had told my staff that they would be having kids all day and supervising their Distance Learning as soon as the school year opened in August 2020, they would have thought I was crazy.  Bring on the Chromebooks, small groups, social distancing, health screenings and more!”

OneDublin.org: Every school district operates with inter-changing partners/vendors. Yet, the onsite relationship between DUSD and EDCC has recently crossed the 35-year mark. Kindly articulate what this has meant to your organization and to how it has been a mutually beneficial circumstance. 

Sinclair: “EDCC and Dublin Unified have worked together to bring high quality school age childcare for the past 35 years. First opening at Murray Elementary and then progressively opening programs at all the schools over the years, EDCC is an important support for Dublin families nearly as critical as their schools. Parents will tell you, that next to having high quality schools in their neighborhoods, they want licensed, high- quality childcare on their school campuses. EDCC has answered that call and continues to focus on important enrichment curriculum and support of the school curriculum in the before and after-school activities.  EDCC collaborates with the school staff at each site and works hard to keep communication open on a daily basis.  We value our continuous partnership with the district and believe that it is essential in maintaining our programs.”

OneDublin.org: There has not been one service sector that has not been impacted in the last 18 months. It is acutely relevant to both primary and secondary education. Explain the measures and philosophy that EDCC has employed at each site to ensure a healthy and safe environment for both clients and staff.

Sinclair: “Keeping staff and students safe has never been more important than during these past 18 months. Daily health checks in the morning and afternoon are the procedures for both staff and students, appropriate contact tracing and quarantining for the few Covid cases we experienced and having all our employees vaccinated are the major feats we are so proud of. All Staff took the challenge of creating a healthy, safe environment so seriously and it has resulted in more and more children returning to EDCC this summer so that our enrollment now is over 700.  We continue to have the parents do the daily monitoring of symptoms and temperatures with the students, masks for all indoors, and keeping our centers well ventilated and clean.  As we reflect back now, the best decision we made was to keep our staff employed. Many other childcare companies are struggling to find workers now, and having to rebuild their staffs, but EDCC is stable, planning new programs for the fall, and welcoming many new kindergarteners to their first day of school this past week. It’s exciting and we are so grateful that Dublin Unified continues to place their trust in EDCC and supports our school-age childcare philosophy of expanded learning during the before and after-school hours.  We are hopeful for a much better year with full enrollment coming soon.”

In this circumstance, at least two have returned home again. They have come home to serve their younger peers and to help build their future careers during one of the most challenging periods in recent history. OneDublin.org would like to thank Ainsley Muhleman, Annette Martinez, and Vanessa Sinclair for sharing their insights as we continue to navigate these unprecedented times.

This link will connect to a profile on Vanessa Sinclair that was published on the National Afterschool Association website: https://naaweb.org/professional-development/item/1575-stories-that-shape-us-vanessa-sinclair

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