The underlying message of the Dec. 10 Pre-K Now national conference broadcast – in the case of an obstacle, move it or climb over it.
Nearly one hundred pre-k advocates gathered at the Legislative Office Building to be part of the national broadcast, sponsored locally by the CT Early Childhood Alliance, CAEYC and the Graustein Memorial Fund. The 90-minute broadcast featured stories of hope and accomplishment from all over the country, including Illinois, Wisconsin and North Carolina.
In Illinois, advocates were introduced to the “Community Connections Preschool Model,” developed by Illinois Action for Children. The model connects low-income, at-risk children in home-based child care with state-funded, classroom-based preschool programming. It was designed to help support working families, the home-based child care providers and child care centers, by building on the strengths of all three components. Four days a week, 3 and 4-year-olds are transported to a half-day center-based preschool program from home-based child care. On day five, the preschool teachers visit the home-based programs, and bring books and toys with them and discuss early learning activities with the home-based provider. Parents and home-based providers are invited to visit the preschool once a month.
Currently, 360 children from home-based care are attending nine centers in low-income communities in metropolitan Chicago. The program is funded through Illinois’ universal preschool program “Preschool for All.” There is no reduction in the child care assistance payments to the family child care provider when a child takes part in “Preschool for All.”
“There is no financial disincentive to participate,” said J. Lee Kreader, director of child care and early education research connections at the National Center for Children in Poverty. The child is still cared for five or more hours a day with the home-based provider, since the preschool meets half-day.
In Eau Claire, Wisconsin, childcare programs, Head Start and schools collaborate and every child has the opportunity to be in a classroom with a degree-certified teacher. “Eau Claire 4 Tomorrow,” which is made possible through existing funding from the Department of Public Instruction, is a voluntary 4-year-old kindergarten program that garners no additional charge to participating early learning programs. “EC4T” encourages partnerships between the Eau Claire school district and existing early learning programs. The program gives all children access to quality, enhanced learning opportunities, guaranteed instruction from bachelor's or advanced-degree teachers, increased family activities and increased opportunities for parents to take part in training and education.
Childcare center providers are also included in workshops, which makes them feel more professional. Listening sessions are held to allow the public the chance to express their views and community collaboration coaches network, share information, provide input and promote collaboration within the state and regional early childhood infrastructure to support statewide planning and implementation of a comprehensive early childhood system in Wisconsin.
Linda Smith, executive director of the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, says collaboration helps to ensure that children and their families are getting what they need.
“We really need to keep our eye on the child,” said Smith. Failure to collaborate, she said, is a disservice to a community.
The final stop was Raleigh, North Carolina, for a lesson in professional development. All pre-k and kindergarten teachers are required to hold a “Birth through Kindergarten (B-K) license, regardless of whether it is a public or nonpublic classroom, private childcare center or Head Start program.
The Teacher License Review Unit was designed to help new teachers through mentoring and evaluation following the end of four years in college. The new teacher is assigned a full-time mentor and receives support and evaluation. The mentor helps the teacher develop an Individual Growth Plan, based on a needs assessment. The teacher moves through the different steps toward “SP 2” licensing.
Dr. Valora Washington, president of the Community Advocates for Young Learners, said students will perform better because their teachers are more effective.
“They are committed, engaged professionals,” she said. “It’s a step up in a career, not just a job.”
During a short break in the conference, Hartford participants sat in on a panel discussion on the quality rating and improvement system and workforce development with Jessica Sager of “All Our Kin,” Carlota Schechter of the Department of Higher Education, and Judy Goldfarb of the Hartford Area Child Care Collaborative.
“The piece [of the broadcast] we saw did a great job outlining professional development challenges,” said Schechter. “The teacher is probably one of the most important components in quality education.”
Following the local discussion, the group re-joined the broadcast, where a discussion ensued about what a pre-k agenda will look like under the Obama administration and the 111th Congress (the president-elect has pledged $10 billion for early childhood education and during debates, counted ECE as one of his top priorities) and how advocates can influence the early childhood agenda. Finally, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell was honored for investments made in Pennsylvania, despite tough economic times.
A resource guide is available for topics that were discussed in the Webcast: http://www.preknow.com/documents/2008_Pre-K_Now_conference_resources.pdf
A Webcast is also available at www.preknow.com in Quick Time, Windows Media Player, and RealPlayer formats.