05 May 2011

Honoring efforts to improve early childhood education

High-quality early childhood education is crucial to student
achievement. That point was emphasized again at the recent
Week of the Young Child Recognition event in York.
By Christy Renjilian

April 14 was a big day for education in York County. Starting in the morning and lasting into the early afternoon, approximately 250 people attended the YorkCounts Education Summit. In the evening, 375 people attended the annual Week of the Young Child Recognition event for early childhood educators. The first event drew administrators, teachers, businesspeople and other community members interested in hearing about the current climate for public education. People attended the second event to celebrate the impact of high-quality early childhood on the children and families in York County.

This was the 40th annual Week of the Young Child, a national celebration sponsored by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the world’s largest early childhood education association, with nearly 100,000 members and a network of over 300 local, state and regional affiliates. Week of the Young Child focuses public attention on the needs of young children and their families and recognizes the early childhood education programs and services that meet those needs.

The annual recognition event is sponsored by Focus On Our Future, the early childhood education initiative of the United Way of York County, and the York Area Association for the Education of Young Children (YAAEYC). Nava Ghalili of Fox 43 News served as the master of ceremonies, and Kurt Kondrich was the keynote speaker. Mr. Kondrich is a retired police officer who now serves as the Chair of the Governor’s Advisory Council for Early Intervention. He is a passionate advocate for the importance of high quality early childhood education and early intervention programs. He is also a father of a child with Downs Syndrome who is reading on grade level and an active participant in her second grade class. So he knows first hand how quality programs support children and families.

This year, parents nominated approximately 100 early childhood educators for the Outstanding Provider Award, recognizing the teachers’ hard work and dedication to their children.

The event also celebrated the home-based and center-based programs that voluntarily participate in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s quality-improvement program, Keystone STARS. Approximately 130 York County providers are participating in this program. In the past five years the number of STAR 3 has increased from none to 13, and STAR 4, the highest level, has increased from 13 to 22. We also recognized York County’s Pre-K Counts, Head Start, and Early Head Start programs and those programs that have achieved national accreditation, the highest level of quality. York County has 13 accredited centers and 12 accredited home-based providers.

A Children’s Champion Award is presented to an individual in the community who does not work in the early childhood education field but is a strong advocate and partner in supporting families and young children. This year’s award was presented to George Eckenrode, chief executive officer of Family-Child Resources, for his efforts to support the mental health needs of young children and their families.

The event does more than celebrate accomplishments of early childhood educators and the programs they serve. It recognizes the importance of their work on the future educational success of the children, which, in turn, will improve the economic viability of York County. It also affirms the connections and the commitments the early childhood education community has with each other. Home-based and center-based programs and Head Start, EvenStart, Early Head Start, preschool and Pre-K Counts all work together to provide a variety of services to meet the needs of children and families. They share their knowledge and skills with each other working collaboratively on curriculum, professional development and classroom management issues. The early childhood education community, along with its partners Martin Library, public schools, early intervention, Lincoln Intermediate Unit #12 and community-based organizations, learned a long time ago that by working together, in partnership with families, they can improve quality and keep costs down.

Speakers at the YorkCounts education summit talked about the importance of school districts and the community working together, to provide joint professional development opportunities, share community resources and engage parents. One effective model of this is the early childhood education community in York County. Over the past 16 years, Focus On Our Future, YAAEYC and the early childhood education providers in York County have shown us that by working together collegially we can ensure a more successful future.

Christy Renjilian is the director of Focus on our Future for the United Way of York County. She has a Masters degree in Social Policy Analysis from the University of Chicago. Christy has more than 20 years of experience administering early childhood education programs and has been with the United Way of York County for more than five years. She lives in Springettsbury Township with her husband and two children. Christy can be reached at renjilianc@unitedway-york.org or 717-771-3808.

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