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A Clear Commitment to Early Ed

The first group of Zaentz Fellows share their biggest takeaways from the program and emphasize the importance of giving attention to early education.

Zaentz Early Childhood FellowsThe Saul Zaentz Fellows Program is designed for Ed School students enrolled full-time in the Ed.L.D. Program or one of the 13 master’s programs, who demonstrate continued commitment to early education. The 10 students in the inaugural cohort have just completed their fellowship year, which included a variety of field placements that show the diversity of the work currently being done in the field of early education.

“The Zaentz Fellowship has given me so much access to knowledge and opportunities related to the latest research in the early education field, and the relationship between that research and policy and practice,” says Ariel Shapiro, Ed.M.’18, who did her fieldwork at the Amigos School in Cambridge. “I've gotten to have wonderful, stimulating, and motivating conversations with people in the field that will propel my work in the future.”

As their time as Zaentz Fellows came to a close, several among them shared their biggest takeaways from the program and expressed why early education is so vital. 

Marion GeigerMarion Geiger
Mind, Brain, and Education
Early ed background: certified Montessori teacher for 3–6-year-olds for six years; contributed to a teacher-training program in Montessori Early Childhood Education in São Paulo, Brazil.
Field placement: Professor Stephanie Jones’ EASEL lab as a research assistant, helping to adapt their social emotional learning strategies called Kernels, to be tested in Brazilian public preschools.
Biggest takeaways: “If we can do methodical, careful preparation for research that takes into account the needs of teachers, and the perspectives of stakeholders on the ground, I believe that the research will be more meaningful, effective, and impactful for the children whose lives we seek to improve. This experience brings to light how we can even impact the global early childhood context. Research and education have been isolated from each other for so long, and it is refreshing to see a lab that really takes into account the voices and needs of teachers, parents and school administration.”
On early ed: “I’ve always believed that the earlier you start, the stronger impact you will have on a child’s development into a successful human being. In looking more closely at child cognitive and neural development this year as a Mind, Brain, and Education master’s candidate, it is even more evident how important the early childhood timeframe is, down to factors as fundamental as brain development.” Marion

Kal GieberKal Gieber
Technology, Innovation, and Education
Early ed background: senior developer at WGBH, producing educational games and interactive content for PBS KIDS series such as Curious George; rehabilitation engineer working with and evaluating children with disabilities to determine what technology could be used to assist them in home and school settings; trained parents and educators at early intervention programs in underserved areas on how to use computers and assistive technology with their children.
Field placement: WGBH, working on an NSF-funded research project incorporating computational thinking into the math curriculum of early education programs.
Biggest takeaways: “I've come to understand how difficult it is to replicate the success of programs at a large scale. There can be many factors impacting that success which may not be fully understood.”
On early ed: “Research has shown that this is a period of important developmental milestones in language, literacy, and executive functioning. When children are not given access to stimulating environments from which to learn and grow, they face greater challenges to learning in later years.”

Rachel KleinRachel Klein
Education Policy and Management
Early ed background: first-grade teacher; manager on the expansion team of the New York City mayoral initiative, Pre-K for All, developing outreach strategies and working with superintendents and principals across all five boroughs to support the implementation of pre-K policy.
Field placement: Boston Public Schools’ division of early childhood, helping to pilot an initiative that connected two community based organization (CBOs) with childcare services with district schools.
Biggest takeaways: “BPS’s approach to early childhood education in the city has been focused on quality. Because of this approach, they are willing and able to think critically about each move in the system and consider how that decision will impact various communities and stakeholders. In my research and conversations with internal BPS staff, I identified key questions and decisions whose answers would be critical in determining the next steps for growth. … The connector model they have established has the potential support children, families, and partner programs but more information must be gathered on the impact of the pilot year to ensure that scaling the program would meet the program’s intended goals.”
On early ed: “We can all recognize that our education system is imperfect, unfair, and unjust. Although support at all levels in the system is important, early education gives us the opportunity to proactively reset the model and begin with quality education and supports for all families. Particularly in a world harnessed by test-based accountability and fear of differences, it’s imperative to provide a strong social emotional and academic skill foundation for future generations. I believe that our schools can be safer and more creative if we set such a precedent in early childhood education.”

Adam Parrott-ShefferAdam Parrott-Sheffer
Doctor of Education Leadership (Ed.L.D.) Program
Early education background: kindergarten inclusion; principal of a preK-4 school; district administrator for early childhood for a school district that was in the first cohort of eight districts in Illinois to receive an award of excellence for early learning academics. 
Field placement: Principal’s Center Training in Early Education Leadership, developing and implementing plans and opportunities for early education leaders to have access to the most current research and skills for leading early childhood programs and educators.
Biggest takeaways: “How much work there is to do to get policymakers, educators, politicians, and funders at the same table and having conversations similar to the ones that happen as part of the Zaentz Fellowship.” 
On early ed: “There has been some significant research on intervention and return on investment that suggests that resources invested before first grade are not only revenue neutral but actually make money in the long run. More importantly, early education is a unique space in that you do not have to pick a policy vehicle to create the conditions for school success because they are so deeply intertwined. The work can build family knowledge and skills while addressing health, social and emotional wellbeing, and academics.  It is a space where it is much easier to address the challenges holistically before so much of each child's experience with society becomes departmentalized.”

Ariel ShapiroAriel Shapiro
Language & Literacy
Early ed background: first-grade bilingual and Sheltered English Immersion teacher. 
Field placement: Working with a literacy coach at the Amigos School, a bilingual school in Cambridge Public Schools.  
Biggest takeaways: “Connecting new research in neuroscience to practice has huge implications for improving student outcomes. Understanding the trajectory of literacy learning from early childhood through adolescence is actually really important for supporting all students, in early childhood and beyond.”  
On early education: “I believe that every child fundamentally has the right to an enriching, engaging, safe, and responsive education. We know that without it, students, due to no fault of their own, struggle much more. To me, it's very simple — anything less is not acceptable.” 

Ilana ShiffIlana Shiff
Human Development and Psychology
Early ed background: research coordinator for ParentCorps, a school-based preventive intervention for preK children and their parents in low-income schools in New York City.
Field placement: Helping Mightier, a company that developed bio-responsive videogames to enhance self-regulation in children, figure out if they are optimally meeting the needs of their youngest users.
Biggest takeaways: “You can work in the service of young kids in many different types of settings and work environments.”
On early ed: “Early education is important because of brain development and other physiological changes, the earlier we support kids' development the better.” 

The remaining Zaentz Fellows were:

  • Megan Bock, Human Development and Psychology
    Field placement: Strategies for Children, an early education advocacy group working to develop community organizing models.
  • Bre’Lynn Lombard, Arts in Education
    Field placement: Harvard Ed Portal, using Project Zero frameworks to develop professional development for teachers that supports student thinking-processes
  • Diana Peña, Prevention Science & Practice
    Field placement: Parent Engagement Pipeline: PreK to Middle School
  • Emily Wiklund, Human Development and Psychology
    Field placement: Harvard Child Care Co-op, working to develop a tool to assess the quality of teacher-child relationships

Photo: 2017-18 Zaentz Fellows: Top, l-r: Kal Gieber, Ilana Shiff, Bre'Lynn Lombard, Rachel Klein, Adam Parrott-Sheffer, Megan Bock. Bottom, l-r: Ariel Shapiro, Emily Wiklund, Diana Pena, Marion Geiger