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Archive for the ‘Strategies for Children’ Category

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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Federal Reserve photo

Photo: Huong Vu for Strategies for Children

What happens when an early educator and a community leader team up with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston?

Everybody wins.

That’s what occurred when two members of the Boston Fed’s Leaders for Equitable Local Economies (LELE) program saw the damage caused by the pandemic.

“After COVID-19 hit, Marites MacLean and Beth Robbins noticed a worrying trend: Dozens of child care centers were closing across central Massachusetts. And as families lost reliable child care, local businesses increasingly struggled to fill jobs,” a Boston Fed article says.

MacLean is a longtime early educator and one of Strategies for Children’s original 9:30 Call participants. Robbins was helping “jobseekers through a local nonprofit called WORK Inc.” Both women are also residents of Fitchburg, Mass. And the LELE program they participate in supports and strengthens leaders like them who are “taking on the critical work of rebuilding economic systems in Massachusetts’ smaller cities.”

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State House

Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children

The State House is seeing a flurry of activity as the 2021-2022 legislative session winds down.

On Monday the Legislature passed a state budget with major investments in early education and care.

Legislators continue their work this week to finalize an economic development bill that could include additional funding for early education.

Early education and care legislation is still pending, awaiting action in the House.

On July 7, 2022, the Massachusetts Senate took a bold step forward by voting unanimously to pass An Act to expand access to high-quality, affordable early education and care (S.2973). But to become law, it will also need to be approved by the House before the end of this month.

The Common Start Coalition continues to lead advocacy for the bill’s passage. Visit Common Start for the latest advocacy updates. (Strategies for Children serves on the Common Start steering committee). Let your state representative know about the Senate bill, and encourage them to pass a similar bill in the House.

This promising bill provides a strong framework for tackling many of the persistent challenges that the field faced long before the pandemic started.

The bill would put Massachusetts on a path toward establishing a system of affordable and high-quality early education and care for families. The bill also calls for providing more support for early educators.

Senate President Karen Spilka provides details here.

The need is great. As Mark Reilly, the Vice President of Policy & Government Relations at Jumpstart, points out, “Massachusetts is 40th in the nation in state investment in early education and we are pleased to see that the Legislature is poised to drive the state up those rankings.”

Massachusetts can build on the pending investments in the state budget by passing a historic bill that charts a long-term course for bolstering our early education and care system.

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Felicia Billy head shot

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, here, here, and here.

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Felicia Billy was working at a privately owned child care center — and applying for early education jobs at the YMCA of Greater Boston.

What made the Y attractive? 

“The benefits,” Billy says.

This sounds like a personal issue, but Billy is also putting her finger on the fact that so many early educators don’t have the kind of benefits – such as retirement savings plans — that K-12 educators and many other professionals can take for granted.

The Y also offered another perk that other early childhood programs don’t: a career ladder. Billy started as a teacher, became a curriculum coordinator, next she was the assistant early education director, and then she moved into her current position as the early education director.

The Y also allows for Billy’s creativity. 

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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 and here

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Anna Ricci-Mejia is an example of how multifaceted a Bostonian’s life can be. She grew up in Boston’s North End neighborhood. She’s an early educator at the East Boston Social Centers. Her parents immigrated to Boston from Italy. Her husband is from Central America. She speaks English and Italian. And in high school she learned to speak Spanish. 

When Ricci-Mejia heard about Strategies for Children’s Advocacy Network, she was immediately interested. She wanted to speak up for people. In any of her three languages.

“I know a lot of people, especially undocumented immigrants, are afraid to speak up or even get quality childcare for their children. And I always say, it doesn’t matter what your immigration status is. Your kids have to learn, and they have to learn and socialize when they’re young, because if they don’t, it will be harder later on.”

In the classroom, Ricci-Mejia speaks whatever language children in her care respond to, creating the kind of supportive environment she didn’t have as a kid who went straight from her mother’s care into kindergarten. She didn’t speak English. Other kids teased her. But over time she learned this new language. 

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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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State House_SFC

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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”We write today to share the challenges the ECE sector continues to face and to request that Congress rally behind the new Murray-Kaine ECE proposal and invest a minimum of $200 billion in the reconciliation bill to ensure that high-quality early education and care delivered by well-compensated educators is available and affordable for all Massachusetts families.

“The system for providing care and education for our youngest learners was broken even before the pandemic. In order to provide high-quality programming in enriching learning environments, providers need to make costly investments in building infrastructure, classroom materials, and the workforce. Yet, programs cannot squeeze more out of families who are already struggling to afford care and the voucher system does not compensate programs for the true cost of that care.”

“Since March 2020, 1,359 programs in the Commonwealth have closed, representing 17% of all programs in the state and 23,395 slots for children. Data from January of this year reveals that 60% of programs reported reduced enrollment driven primarily through staff shortages, and 69% of programs reported educator openings.”

“At this crucial moment where transformative investment is within reach but uncertain, we request that you ensure that ECE is included in the reconciliation package and that it includes a minimum investment of $200 billion into the early education and care system.”

— A letter to the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation signed by 182 advocacy organizations, business associations, foundations, higher education institutions, school districts, and child care providers from 94 communities across the state, including Strategies for Children, June 10, 2022

To learn more, check out CLASP’s “Impact of Murray-Kaine Child Care & Early Education Proposal” 

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Here’s an update on two of our Advocacy Network participants.

Stay tuned for more Advocacy Network updates in the coming weeks.


Gloria Valentin head shot

Gloria Valentin

Send Gloria Valentin an email that mentions a family challenge you have to deal with, as I did, and the email you receive back will be a small, electronic packet of sunshine and reassurance.

“I have an optimistic personality,” Valentin says. “I want to bring joy in times when everything is so daunting. I have days, trust me, when I’m like, I’m not feeling it today. But I have that energy and that outlook of just being positive and not allowing things I can’t control to take over my life.”

Valentin has been a family child care provider for 22 years, but she talks about her work as if she just started last month, and she’s got a dozen new things she wants to do.

She began her career as an early educator at a center-based program, then opened up her own business. Today, she’s also involved in advocacy, and she has participated in Strategies for Children’s Speakers Bureau and our Advocacy Network

“The time that we spent together each week, was a time for us to find our voices, to practice public speaking, and to move forward as advocates,” Valentin says of her experience in the Advocacy Network, where she drew inspiration from other advocates who spoke about forming relationships with elected officials and following up with them.

“That really stood out for me, making those connections and being proud of the work I do and sharing it. Family child care is a hidden gem. 

“But the work can be isolating, so I want to make connections and let people in government know that we’re here and that our work is so important. We should be included in conversations about quality child care programs and financial accessibility.”

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