This is a guest blog by Strategies for Children intern Jenna Nguyen. Jenna is a master’s student in the Human Development and Education program at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and a Zaentz Fellow.
It has been an absolute pleasure and honor to be a Strategies for Children intern. Strategies has not only reinvigorated my passion for expanding equitable early education and care, but also opened my eyes to the urgency of this work at both the national and local levels. In order to create a coordinated, early childhood system that ensures access to quality programs for all children and families, we must be willing to address the huge disparities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, the fragility of the child care ecosystem, the provider shortages, the need for pay parity, and the need to provide more supports to educators and families.
The common threads that connect my current internship with my academic and professional work are that I have an enduring investment in advancing equity in early childhood systems, thinking about ways to build and sustain relationships across the early childhood community (which the 9:30 Call does so well!), empowering and elevating family and educator voices, and in making information more accessible and engaging.
Before moving to Massachusetts, I lived in California and worked at SRI Education as an early childhood technical assistance provider and education research associate. A significant part of my work involved partnering with and supporting states as they developed high-quality early intervention and preschool special education systems to improve outcomes for children who have disabilities and their families. I wholeheartedly believe that there is no social justice without disability justice; and there can be no diversity, equity, and inclusion without the voices from the communities that research and policy are trying to impact. That’s why family engagement, relationship-building, and collaboration are so important to me. I also provided technical assistance to states through their Preschool Development Grants Birth through Five (PDG B-5) to enhance or expand their mixed delivery systems, collect data for community needs assessments, and develop materials to help strengthen community partnerships.
As part of my internship, I worked with Marisa Fear, Strategies’ associate director of Research and Policy, to help Salem Public Schools with their initial preschool expansion effort. We conducted a preliminary community needs assessment to better understand the early education and care landscape. After gathering information on program capacity, enrollment, and assets of center-based and family child care providers, we presented these data to Salem’s Early Childhood Task Force for strategic planning. We also created flyers and an interactive map of all the programs serving preschool-aged children in the community so that this information could be centralized and accessible for families.
Additionally, I am thrilled to be involved in the planning of a May 2022 film screening and panel discussion of the documentary Starting at Zero: Reimagining Education in America. This event will bring together the voices of state and local elected officials, community leaders, educators, academics, business leaders, philanthropists, and advocates to discuss reimagining high-quality early childhood education and building a comprehensive preschool system in Massachusetts.
After I graduate, I plan to stay in the early childhood field, either returning to work at SRI or pursuing doctoral study.