Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children
Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children

As we wrote last week in Part One of this blog, the Ninth Annual Wheelock Community Dialogue on Early Education and Care called on the field to: unite; develop an agenda; and tell a compelling story that will inspire policymakers — especially the next governor of Massachusetts — to commit to a grand plan for improving the commonwealth’s early education and care system.

Interactive Dialogue Groups

After the keynote speakers, the audience broke into smaller interactive dialogue groups that covered a range of topics, including:

– family engagement

– assessments

– infants and toddlers

– play

– technology in early education

– supporting English language learners

– financing

– universal access, and

– birth-to-8 alignment

The dialogue groups came up with a range of recommendations for improving children’s experiences, including:

– improving communication between preschool programs and kindergarten teachers

– establishing a commission on technology in early education

– including parents in next year’s Community Dialogue

– increasing alignment between the developmental assessments that preschool programs, often use and the content assessments done in public schools

– valuing the home language of English Language learners, and

– creating more professional development opportunities for early education and care providers

Some participants said real change might only come if the state were sued. That’s what happened in New Jersey, and the result is the Abbott preschool program, which provides an early education for low-income children.

The notes from the dialogue groups are being collected by Wheelock officials who will organize them and produce a new public policy action brief that will be circulated widely among stakeholders in Massachusetts, including the new governor, the Legislature, funders, and the statewide early education and care community.

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Cheryl Render Brown, a professor and chair of Wheelock’s department of early childhood education, attended the community dialogue along with some of her students. Brown said the event helped these students see that despite years of hard work by the field, there is still more to do. There’s a need for new approaches and new ideas.

“Right now, early education is a privilege for way too few.”

Brown said she plans to ask her students two follow up questions:

– What did you hear today that you hadn’t heard before?

– Who are you going to connect with?

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Patricia Hnatiuk. Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children
Patricia Hnatiuk. Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children

At the end of the event, organizers honored Patricia Hnatiuk, a long-time champion of early education. Hnatiuk is retiring from teaching in Wheelock’s department of early childhood education.

In 1971, Hnatiuk founded the Palfrey Community Preschool in Watertown. She also spent a decade working as a teacher, co-director and director of the Thorndike Street School in Cambridge, an early education and care program.

“It was a time of great excitement,” Hnatiuk told us.  “We were working on building better quality from the start.”

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This year’s community dialogue dovetails with the upcoming, June 7th, 2014 Gubernatorial Candidates Forum — Early Childhood and Education: Closing the Achievement and Opportunity Gaps.

It’s the perfect time to unite, develop an agenda, and tell a common, compelling story that inspires Massachusetts to make sweeping progress in early education and care.