Bill talks with AJN Preschool Director Amy Castino about the joys and challenges of operating the school during the pandemic.

Amy Castino, A Joyful Noise Preschool Director

Bill: Hi friends, my name is Bill Evertsberg and I’m one of the ministers at Kenilworth Union Church, and this is Doogie, my assistant minister. As you can see I have this wonderful guest with me today. This is Amy Castino, who is director of A Joyful Noise Preschool program.

Thank you for spending a few moments talking to me this morning, Amy. How long have you been at Kenilworth Union as our director?

Amy: Well we’re in March, so I’m finishing up my ninth year.

Bill: Oh my goodness, I can’t believe that. How did you come upon this career choice?

Amy: You know what, it’s been kind of a natural path for me. I have always gravitated towards kids and so teaching kind of was the right direction for me.

Bill: Great. Where else have you worked?

Amy: So right out of college, I worked in public schools. I used to be a Title I teacher, which is a support staff person for lower level learners, and then from there I taught kindergarten, and then I moved up to fourth and fifth grade, and then I came back down to kindergarten, and that’s when I found that I really love the littles. They’re very special.

Bill: The younger the kids are, the happier you are.

Amy: Exactly. Very much so.

Bill: So how did we find you at Kenilworth Union?

Amy: Actually, my former mother-in-law worked here for a number of years, and so when I left my public school, I was kind of just debating on my next path, and she said “come up here, check this out, I think you’ll be a natural fit,” and I fell in love.

Bill: You are a natural and this is a natural fit.  Tell us about your family.

Amy: I have a four year-old son Bennett, who is absolutely the love of my life, he keeps me on my toes. He’s in preschool here three days a week which is amazing.

Bill: Great, he’s a customer too.

Amy: Seriously.

Bill: Does he get a discount?

Amy: Well, no. And we live with my boyfriend James, who also has a son named Ben who’s 14, so we have Ben and Bennett.

Bill: 14 and 4. Bless your hearts.

Amy: We’re busy. Nine days ago we adopted a puppy, a lab mix named Mr. Lahey, and we also have a cat.

Bill: Tell us the meaning of the name.

Amy: It’s goofy. It’s just a show that James really loves and one character’s Randy, and one is Lahey, and so it just kinda—they went together! But we’re one big, busy, happy family.

Bill: Yeah, it sounds like it. Amy, I’ll speak for the rest of my staff. We love Amy because of her joie de vivre and her irrepressible spirit, but it’s been a tough year, right? Tell us how this year has gone.

Amy: It’s definitely in all my years of teaching has been my most challenging. There’s been some really amazing moments and there has been some really difficult moments. First and foremost, my biggest concern when all of this hit was how do we not only keep our teachers, our community, our kiddos safe, but also stay true to who we are? And that has probably been the biggest challenge. We’re a place that loves kids and really loves to watch them grow and foster that growth and it was really important to me, with all the other stipulations, to make sure that we keep true to who we are.

Bill: Great. And have you been successful?

Amy: I think so.

Bill: Prejudice aside.

Amy: Yeah, I’m a little prejudiced, but yes we have—I think we have. The kids haven’t skipped a beat, and that’s the most important.

Bill: Was there a time when you did any remote learning during this year?

Amy: You know, we did. We did a week after Christmas break and we will be doing a week after Spring Break. And that’s just more of a safety to allow families time to quarantine or get a test or do what they need to do to be comfortable to come back.

Bill: Great. What’s it look like going forward? Are you encouraged by developments in vaccines and in families and so forth?

Amy: Yes. Honestly, I’m really excited. I think good things to come. As I said it’s been difficult, but the amazing things that have come out of it is something that I’m hoping to hold to. We do chapel every Friday here, historically, in this chapel. This is my place every Friday with our preschool 3s and our JK, and that was something that was a concern for us all to be together.

So what did we do? We did a quick pivot and we held it in the Memorial Garden this year. And the kids loved it. We loved it. So they still got the importance and the core of what we do, but just in a different format. And so those are the things that I’m hoping to hold onto going forward.

Bill: Did you suspend chapel when the weather got too cold? You’re not doing it now?

Amy: We’re not doing it right now, but we—because of the big snow, you know, and the mud—but before that, we did it up until Christmas Break. It’s pretty amazing. The weather was gorgeous though, we lucked out. And they’re out there and they’re on their yoga mats so they’re six feet apart, but you know what I mean it’s the things that we notice, that we know feel as different, but they love it, and that’s important.

Bill: Katie Lancaster is our Joyful Noise chaplain, right? You have your own chaplain. That’s pretty impressive.

Amy, you’re an integral part of the senior staff here at Kenilworth Union. We love you; Katie, and Christine, Lisa, John, and I, you’re part of that team and we’re so grateful for you for the last nine years and the last three as the big boss.

So God bless you and your parents and your children and your new puppy, and Bennett the four year-old. God bless you all.