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Archive for the ‘Higher Education’ Category

Massachusetts is a leader in educational excellence, but not for all its students.

As a new report – “There Is No Excellence Without Equity: A Path Forward for Education in Massachusetts” — from the Massachusetts Education Equity Partnership (MEEP) explains, “for a long time now, our state’s high overall rankings have masked deep inequities in student learning experiences and outcomes.”

Strategies for Children is a MEEP member.

The disparities the report cites were bad before Covid hit, and many have been aggravated by the pandemic.

“In parts of Boston and cities like Chelsea, Brockton, and Springfield, where infection and death rates were highest, the pandemic inflicted new levels of trauma and anxiety on families already facing significant adversity,” the report says.

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For the past two months, I have had the great opportunity to be a summer intern with Strategies for Children (SFC) through the Early Childhood Policy and Leadership certificate program at Boston College’s Institute of Early Childhood Policy. From the first staff meetings with Amy, Titus, Marisa, Nery, Marge, and Jenna, I have felt welcomed as a member of the team.

During these staff conversations, the team has often discussed how advocacy work is relationship-based. And being included in various meetings since the start of the internship has helped me to see these relationships in practice. The meetings with partners and collaborators are imbued with the feeling of “we:” the goal is shared, the work is shared, and the information is shared. If one person or organization does not know information or feels that someone else may be a more helpful resource, Strategies staff connect people with one another, with organizations, and with resources. Sharing time, information and resource, during meetings and in follow-up emails highlights Strategies’ culture of connection and respect.

The projects I have participated in also reflect this sense of teamwork and shared goals. One project involved collaborating with a team of community partners in Haverhill, Mass., to design a family survey to help inform early childhood partners about families’ early education program and resource needs and to be a tool that Haverhill could use annually. Each meeting with the community partners gave me more insight into how to create and administer a survey. Additionally, I was able to attend a recent Boston Opportunity Agenda Birth-to-Eight Data Committee meeting where surveys were discussed. The themes at the meeting echoed ideas that the community partners had recommended: keep the survey short, have the intended audience test the survey, and have paper and digital options.

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Play is important for children.

However, what’s missing from this important idea, a new report says, is a clear understanding of how play can be an effective learning strategy in early childhood settings – and how best to share this concept with the public.

The report – “The Role of Play in Designing Effective Early Learning Environments and Systems” – explores “questions and debates” about play by drawing on interviews with experts and stakeholders. 

The report is the capstone project of Yael Schick, a Saul Zaentz Fellow and recent graduate of the Ed. M in Education Leadership, Organizations, and Entrepreneurship program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Strategies for Children served as the host site for Yael and offered project guidance.

Guiding questions for this project include:

• What is play, and what makes an early childhood program “play-based?”

• Why does play remain a divisive issue? What are the misunderstandings and misconceptions about play-based pedagogy?

• How do we ensure that all children have the opportunity to learn through play? And,

• How must we communicate with policymakers, practitioners, and parents about the effects of play in young children’s learning and development?

While there are no set definitions of play or play-based learning, there is a great deal of useful research on these topics. Among the findings:

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We’re continuing to highlight our Advocacy Network participants, and we’re excited about all the work they’re doing in the field and across the state. For past blogs click here and here.

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Kelly Marion first came to the Gladys Allen Brigham Community Center when she was 11 years old. Her father had just passed away. He had been the victim of a violent crime. And Marion’s mother wanted Marion and her siblings to stay engaged with the community – and the world.

Today, Marion is the CEO of the community center, where she has worked for over 30 years. The center currently serves 2,500 families in and around the Western Massachusetts city of Pittsfield, in Berkshire County. 

“The majority of our families are socio-economically challenged,” Marion says. “We have a lot of single-parent households and grandparents raising their grandchildren.”

The center has a number of programs that support children, all the way from birth to age 13, including child care programs and an array of programming for middle and high school students. Once they’re old enough, many of these children are hired as center staff.

Thanks to her work, Marion is a seasoned advocate. So for her, joining Strategies for Children’s Advocacy Network was a chance to connect with other early educators from across the state — and share a vital message. 

“I don’t think people see how important early childhood education is, and how important high-quality early education is,” Marion says. 

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Amy O’Leary at the Massachusetts State House in 2011

We’re thrilled to wish Amy O’Leary a happy 20th anniversary! She started working at Strategies for Children on June 24, 2002.

We sat down with O’Leary to talk about this milestone.

“I have to say how grateful I am to have been at Strategies for Children for the last 20 years,” O’Leary says. “I would have never imagined that I would have this kind of job.”

O’Leary’s work with young children started at Skidmore College where she earned a degree in psychology and early education.

“I didn’t do a traditional K-12 education major,” O’Leary recalls, “because I was very interested in understanding why children did what they did, and how they sat in the context of family and community.” 

O’Leary’s campus job as a financial aid student was working as a classroom assistant at the Skidmore Early Childhood Center, a laboratory school affiliated with Skidmore’s Education Department, where she also did her student-teaching. 

“It was such an important part of my college experience to have that world where I could go three times a week, whether it was to my campus job or [for] student teaching, and develop relationships with families.”

“I don’t think I realized how wonderful the program was, and how it prepared me for my next job as a preschool teacher in Boston.”

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State House

Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children

The state budget process for fiscal year 2023 is entering its final stages. A six-member conference committee of legislators is meeting now to negotiate differences between the House and Senate budget proposals. For early education and care, there is $344 million at stake

That is the difference between House and Senate proposals, including $250 million for Commonwealth Cares for Children (C3) Stabilization Grants in the Senate proposal as well as $70 million in rates in the House proposal, which includes $10 million for grants to early education and care providers for costs associated with personal childcare. 

Click this link to email the conference committee today, and ask them to advocate for early education and care in the conference committee budget. Specifically, this email says:

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Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children

“Within every challenge lies vast opportunity,” David Jordan, president of the Seven Hills Foundation & Affiliates, writes in a new CommonWealth magazine article.

The challenge Jordan is referring to is the shortage of early education and care staff members.

The opportunity to address this shortage, he says, is to set up an apprenticeship program.

Jordan explains, “The path to becoming a credentialed Child Development Associate, which enables one to become a preschool teacher and, with additional training, a lead teacher, is difficult and costly.”

And asking budding early educators to leave work and then go to school at the end of the day ignores the fact that many are parents who need to get home to their own children.

As Jordan explains, an apprenticeship program would address this problem:

“An on-the-job – we call it ‘learn while you earn’ – training program coupled with virtual classroom education form the core of an apprenticeship program that is a vital way to encourage retention and promotion in the child care workforce. Onsite mentoring provides the professional support for the apprentice’s adaptation of classroom learning to practice.”

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This is a guest blog post by Anne Douglass, professor of Early Care and Education at UMass Boston and the founding executive director of the Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation.

Anne Douglass

Anne Douglass

Early educators are smart, kind, engaging, and supportive and dedicated.

Here at UMass Boston, we also know that early educators are entrepreneurial leaders. That’s why our programs provide an education that boosts their leadership, creativity, and innovation – all to create a better early learning experience for children.

Examples of early educators’ entrepreneurship abound. Last month, the Cape Cod Times featured a front page story about Nature Preschool Explorers, a nature-based preschool at the Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary in Barnstable. The four-year-old school was touted as an example of the wave of educational programs focused on the outdoors that are popping up across the country.

The school was cofounded by Diana Stinson, an alum of UMass Boston’s Post-Master’s Leadership Certificate in Early Education Research, Policy, and Practice (PMC) offered by our Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation (Early Ed Leadership Institute). (more…)

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Early education and care providers are in the middle of several crises. There’s the pandemic. There’s the shrinking workforce. And there’s the pandemic-related mental health crisis that’s playing out in children’s lives.

To stabilize and strengthen the field, the Department of Early Education (EEC) is building a new professional infrastructure. These initiatives are part of the strategic action plan, EEC’s guiding vision for 2020-2025.

Earlier this month, EEC’s Advisory Council and its Workforce Council held a joint meeting to discuss a range of workforce issues and solutions.

“We wanted to get some insights on some of the very specific initiatives that are both being conceptualized at the moment as well as [those that] are ready to start launching,” EEC Commissioner Samantha Aigner-Treworgy said in her introduction. The goal is to build “the systems that we need to fuel our growth and recovery.”

The topics on the meeting’s agenda were:

• Status of EEC Workforce

• Launch of a Professional Registry

• Educator Credentialing, and

• EEC Professional Pathways

Here’s a summary of what was discussed. (more…)

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In a recent exhibition, the teachers at Charlestown Nursery School (CNS) shared the important lessons they’ve learned from leaving their building and running their preschool program outdoors in their Boston neighborhood.

The move to the great urban outdoors occurred last fall in the middle of the pandemic. Every morning staff packed supplies into red wagons and pulled the wagons to a local park that served as a classroom. Children arrived in masks and weather appropriate clothing. Being outside helped mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

How did it go?

The teachers say it was the best year ever.
 
Outdoor Exhibition
To heighten their point, they put together the exhibition — “The Qualities of High Quality: Why Reimagining School Matters Now More than Ever” – to engage policymakers in a discussion about access, quality, and how to optimize young children’s learning experiences. (more…)

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