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Screenshot of a report from the Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation at the University of Massachusetts Boston and Networks of Opportunity for Child Wellbeing

 

Faced with the devastation caused by the pandemic, the early childhood community has been asking how it can rebuild and become stronger than ever.

To facilitate this work, the Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation (IEELI) at the University of Massachusetts Boston hosted a series of webinars last summer.

The webinars – “Reinventing Child Care in Massachusetts” – drew more than 700 early childhood professionals and other stakeholders who shared ideas for building an early childhood system that would be:

• high-quality

• accessible to all families

• able to provide professional compensation to educators based on their skill and experience

• able to offer professional and leadership development, and

• active in addressing racial inequities

Once the series was done, IEELI teamed up with Networks of Opportunity for Child Wellbeing (NOW), part of Boston Medical Center’s Vital Village Networks, and the two organizations ran an Action Lab 90 Day Challenge.

The 90 Day Challenge is a tool that Vital Village Networks uses to promote “social connections, cooperative development of social innovations (co-design), team-based iterative learning, and collective actions by using an equity framework.” (more…)

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Rosanna Acosta. Photo courtesy of Rosanna Acosta.

 

My name is Rosanna Acosta. I work in Springfield, Mass., as an early childhood educator in my own home daycare, Little Star Daycare. I have been in the field for four years.

The important part of my work is providing the foundational principles of education for young children in a safe and nurturing environment where they can grow and learn. I encourage parents and families to continue this education at home and to nurture their children to support their growth and development.

As an educator, I am always proud when I see my students grow each and every day. One of my favorite memories is when I went grocery shopping once and was hugged by one of my past students who said how much they’ve missed me. The parents told me that even after leaving my program, their child would talk about me and the things they learned and did. This showed me that my work really has an impact on the lives of my students. Regardless of the time that has passed, their early education experiences stick with them as they get older.

My own education started in the Dominican Republic, where I went to elementary and middle school. My family migrated to the United States, where I earned my GED. In 2020, I decided to go back to school, and now I am continuing my education at Springfield Technical Community College, where I am working on earning my CDA (Child Development Associate) certification as well as an associate degree in Early Education Childhood Development. I am also participating in a professional development program. We meet regularly every two months to discuss new activities and developments. (more…)

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Early education and care has a new local champion, the Massachusetts Business Coalition for Early Childhood Education.

Launched this week by 70 Massachusetts CEOs and business leaders, the coalition is, as its website explains, “responding to overwhelming data and research showing a long-standing child care sector crisis, now being exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The coalition’s goal is to “to make early childhood education more accessible, affordable, and stable for Massachusetts workers, more rewarding for early childhood professionals, and a point of differentiation in attracting and retaining a strong workforce across the Commonwealth.”

Specifically, the coalition will:

• advocate for state and federal government policies and programs to support “the early childhood education needs of the Massachusetts workforce”

• identify opportunities for strategic action and investments in improving access and affordability as well as program quality and stability

• explore best practices for supporting the early education and care needs of employees, and

• acknowledge that communities of color and working women disproportionately face the impact of poor access to child care and low program quality — and support efforts to advance equitable child care solutions (more…)

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Sarah Mills

How do you go from being a preschool teacher to working as a legislative aide in the Massachusetts State House? 

For Sarah Mills, it’s all about loving the work of interacting with young children. 

In elementary and middle school, Mills enjoyed helping out with infants and toddlers who were enrolled in her public school’s preschool program. 

As a Syracuse University college student, Mills got a work-study job at her campus’ early education center. 

And when she came to Boston to attend graduate school at Simmons University, she needed to work full-time, so she found a job at KinderCare in downtown Boston where she spent half her time working with infants and half her time working in the afterschool program. 

“When I was younger, I just loved kids; they were so much fun to hang out with,” Mills recalls. “It’s really exciting being with kids who are ages zero to five because you get to watch them go through so many significant milestones, whether it’s their first steps or their first words. Being with kids at this age is truly joyful.” 

“Another wonderful thing is that you get to know the families. I had a lot of families with first-time babies, and so I had the responsibility of helping to educate them and helping them to feel comfortable, because it’s scary to drop your child off for the first time with people you’ve just met. And I was working before the paid family leave law. So I saw parents who had no choice but to bring children who were six weeks or 12 weeks old to our program.”  (more…)

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House Speaker Robert DeLeo. Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children

 

In my nearly 30 years in and around state government, and currently as the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, I’ve learned that three elements are necessary to move a policy agenda: unassailable data and research; a robust grassroots field operation; and a champion… someone who makes the issue their top priority. For years – since I worked for the Early Education for All Campaign and long before – Strategies for Children has produced great data and organized and energized the field. And for years, Speaker Bob DeLeo has been the champion.

As the Speaker ends an extraordinary career in public service, I’ve been reflecting on his determined and effective leadership in early education and care. It’s an issue that is a perennial priority for the Roundtable and one that has afforded me the opportunity to work closely with DeLeo. Early on, he understood the connection between high quality early education and economic growth. In a seminal speech before the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce in March of 2015, the Speaker noted the innate connection between economic growth and education, calling early childhood “game changing” and urging the business community to take a leadership role in advancing public policy in this area. (more…)

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A few months before the pandemic hit, the University of Massachusetts Boston conducted a survey of the early education and care workforce.

The survey results are a pre-pandemic snapshot of a shaky situation that policymakers can use to understand the toll that the pandemic has taken on providers.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that early care and education is a key piece of infrastructure for the economy,” Anne Douglass, the executive director of UMass Boston’s Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation, says in a blog post. “Parents need early care and education options that are high quality and affordable because when child care isn’t available, parents can’t work.”

The institute released a report on the survey results along with UMass Boston’s Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy and its Center for Social Policy. The survey was commissioned by the Department of Early Education and Care.

One important lesson from the survey, Douglass says, is that “returning to pre-pandemic ways of doing business is not an option.” (more…)

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“What we know from the research on reading – and what was just confirmed by the national Reading for Understanding Initiative – is that kids need more language. They need more knowledge. And they need foundational mechanical skills to be able to read individual words automatically,” Joan Kelley says.

“The problems that are hardest to address later on are the language and knowledge gaps. Kids need high dosages of rich language, which is a 24/7, 365-days-a-year job for families and educators. But no one tells families what their specific role is or how to get this job done.”

So Kelley came up with an app for that.

An alumna of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, Kelley has seen children struggle with reading for years – and so has the rest of the country. As we’ve blogged before, even in Massachusetts, a state known for educational excellence, third grade reading levels have lagged, especially for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. We highlighted this in our 2010 report, “Turning the Page: Refocusing Massachusetts for Reading Success,” which Kelley contributed to.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made educational gaps worse by forcing districts to close schools and erode children’s learning opportunities. A study published by the American Educational Research Association says that students experienced a “COVID slide,” a more stark version of the “summer slide” learning loss that normally occurs when schools let out in June. The study estimates that because COVID-19 “abbreviated the 2019-2020 school year,” students would lose “roughly 63% to 68% of the learning gains in reading,” so only about two-thirds of what they would have learned if the pandemic had not occurred. (more…)

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“The most important part is to have the students become more aware of the profession that they’ve chosen,” Tracey Williams says of teaching Introduction to Early Childhood Education at Cambridge College. Williams, a Boston Public School special education teacher, is one of Cambridge College’s senior professors.

“A lot of my students have early childcare positions and jobs where they get a lot of practice, but they don’t know the theory behind what they’re doing.”

So Williams, who has had a long career in early education and K-12 special education, teaches her students about Jean Piaget, the Swiss psychologist, and Lev Vygotsky, the Russian psychologist, both of whom studied child development as well as about Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and educator.

“We talk about the importance of play. We talk about the history of Head Start, NAEYC and how state standards evolved. We talk about family engagement, inclusion, and working with kids who have disabilities. We talk about how early education started, and we look at the impact of the industrial revolution and John Dewey,” an education reformer. 

“Because we talk so much about the early history of child care, I wanted to bring students forward into the present, so I asked them to research early educators of color.

“At Cambridge College our students are very diverse, and I want them to understand that theory doesn’t just stop. Theories evolve and education evolves, and both spread into new areas of education. Also, we had discussed a lot of people who were not of color, and I wanted them to learn about people who were.” (more…)

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Right after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, early childhood education (ECE) advocates were dealing with the immediate crisis and, simultaneously, talking about what the global health crisis would mean for the future.

“We wanted to create a space for that conversation,” Albert Wat, a senior policy director at the Alliance for Early Success, said on a recent Strategies for Children Zoom call.

“We met almost weekly for four months,” Wat says of the 13 states and eight national organizations who joined the conversation. Strategies for Children, an Alliance grantee, represented Massachusetts. “We didn’t want to limit ourselves to current fiscal and policy constraints.”

Instead the group talked about a “North star,” an untethered vision of what the country could do to rebuild child care.

“We wanted to be bold, but we also wanted to be pragmatic,” Wat said.

The result is “Build Stronger: A Child Care Policy Roadmap for Transforming Our Nation’s Child Care System.” (more…)

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Report screenshot

 

Even before they are born children face systemic inequalities.

A new report digs into this national problem.

“More than half of the 74 million children in the United States are children of color, and they are served by learning systems that are gravely inequitable. The COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the health, economic wellbeing, and education of young children, only exacerbate existing inequalities,” according to the report, “Start with Equity: From the Early Years to the Early Grades.”

Released by The Children’s Equity Project, at Arizona State University, and the Bipartisan Policy Center, the report is, according to its website, “an actionable policy roadmap for states and the federal government—as well as for candidates at all levels of government vying for office—to take meaningful steps to remedy these inequities in early learning and education systems.”

These themes are also explored in a related webinar series. Links to recordings of the first two webinars, which took place earlier this month, are available on the report website. The next two webinars will be on Tuesday, July 28, 2020, and Thursday, August 6, 2020.

The report and webinars draw on two meetings of “more than 70 experts from universities, think tanks and organizations.” These experts focused on three policy areas where inequities persist: (more…)

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