Early Childhood Education Conference Facilitates Greater Community Collaboration
By Suzanne Wayne (May 2007)
UNIVERSITY PARK, PA – On May 10, 2007, Penn State hosted a conference on early childhood education, Advancing Forward with Early Development and Education: Remapping the Terrain through Professional Collaboration.
The conference brought together members of the Pennsylvania Department of Education, school district representatives, early childcare professionals, and Penn State faculty from across the state to focus on facilitating greater collaboration and communiczation between the different stakeholders.
The discussion is especially timely because of proposed legislation that is currently being considered by the Commonwealth that will affect the professional development of early childhood educators, as well as the amounts of funds dedicated to early childhood education in the state budget.
Harriot Dichter, Deputy Secretary in the Office of Child Development and Early Learning in the Pennsylvania Departments of Education and Public Welfare, opened the conference with her explanation of state programs and efforts in early childhood education. Harriot Dichter reiterated how critical coordinated services are in early development and education, and she energized the audience with information about current changes and the need to be ready to meet future challenges.
She was followed by Maureen Cronin, Director of the Bureau of Early Intervention Services in the Office of Child Development and Early Learning. Cronin’s insightful comments regarding early intervention and coordination was followed by a panel discussion by early intervention specialists. Panelists underscored the need for building linkages starting at the baseline and representing the perspectives of all stakeholders, especially the children and their families. They articulated what is currently happening in early intervention and mental health.
Bob Bell, Director of Pre-K Counts, began the afternoon session. Pre-K Counts is a public and private community partnership to improve pre-kindergarten programming throughout Pennsylvania. Bell explained the opportunities available to community partnerships that apply for grants from his organization. The state of Pennsylvania earlier created a similar Pre-K Counts program which also offers grants to community partnerships.
A lively panel discussion followed. Participants described their efforts to implement a Pre-K Counts grant, as well as identified factors that need to be considered when entering into such a partnership, including having the appropriate stakeholders at the table and recognizing how diversity creates a strong partnership and program.
The conference was supported by the College of Education and by a Penn State Children, Youth, and Families Consortium-funded project, the “ Year of the Young Child at Penn State,” co-directed by Jim Johnson, professor-in-charge of the Early Childhood Education Program in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education, and Rick Fiene, associate professor of human development and family studies and senior research associate in the Prevention Research Center for the Promotion of Human Development in the College of Health and Human Development.
Johnson and Fiene both praised conference coordinator Dr. Sudha Babu for doing an excellent job organizing this event and making sure it ran smoothly.
Reflecting on the conference’s significance, Jim Johnson noted, “ The conference celebrated year long work on early development and education and created new possibilities for networking and collaboration. We benefited from new information and ideas about state and local programs which serves teacher education well.” All involved want to continue the conversations started, including integrating early education into K-12 programs.