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First Early Childhood Institute Gives Educators a Chance to Learn

Nearly 100 early childhood educators from Massachusetts visited the Harvard Graduate School of Education on June 14 –16 to attend its inaugural early childhood education institute, part of HGSE's Programs in Professional Education (PPE).

The Early Care and Education Institute is the first of PPE's professional development programs geared toward early childhood education. The event, sponsored by the HGSE dean's office, is also the first offered at no charge. Typical costs for PPE's summer programs--20–25 of which are offered each year--range from $500 to $2,000.

Dean Kathleen McCartney, whose research focuses on early childhood education, told the participants on Wednesday that she had sought to create a professional development program on the topic for some time. Aware of the financial burden that attending such a program might cause for early childhood educators, McCartney explored several ways to ease the hardship, and ultimately succeeded in providing the event free-of-charge.

Over the course of three days, participants sat in on seminars about early childhood education that examined two overarching themes: organizational development and instructional improvement. Seminars emphasized applying theory and research to educational practice simultaneously. Some topics included making learning visible; promoting early literacy development; and supporting positive behavior in child care settings in respect to child, staff, and classroom perspectives. Sessions included speakers from Harvard, Children's Hospital, the National Association for Education of Young Children, and the state House of Representatives.

Considered one of the more underserved groups in education, early childhood education is now the focus of both legislative action and increased public discourse. "It is so needed," said Susan Mello, director of Noah's Arc, a preschool based in Fall River, Massachusetts.

Amy Cabral, lead teacher at Noah's Arc, agreed. "It is nice to be recognized as an important part of the community," she said. "People tend to think we're babysitting."

In her opening remarks, McCartney stressed the importance of investing in early childhood education because it aids in children's development and their futures, and helps to reduce state costs in the long run.

Fifty centers throughout the state were invited to attend the landmark institute with the caveat that each participant would share the information that they learn with coworkers and other members of their communities. McCartney also encouraged participants to keep the following objectives in mind: connect state of the art research with policy and practice; build teams with action plans to become continuous learning organizations; and promote leadership among early childhood educators.

Mello said she plans to develop workshops in the future from what she has learned at HGSE.

"This is a vital and important thing to do," Cabral said.