12/02/2013

Visitors flock to AFT exhibit at early childhood meeting

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The National Association for the Education of Young Children held its annual conference in Washington, D.C., in November, and the AFT booth at the convention proved to be one of the most popular exhibit hall destinations—a place for early childhood educators to browse some of the best professional resources available and to engage in substantive "shop talk" with distinguished classroom colleagues, many of them members of the union's cadre of early learning educators.

NAEYC photo booth

NAEYC visitors were eager to explore the union's new Reclaiming the Promise photo booth. There, they could snap a photo and email it to friends and family to show their support for the union's efforts to reclaim the promise of early childhood care and education. These priorities will be at the core of events on Dec. 9, when the AFT joins with community and education partners across the nation for a National Day of Action.

"You can sense real interest in our message," said Belinda Scarberry, a preschool director from Seattle who is one of the newest members of the AFT cadre. Scarberry circulated among guests at the Reclaiming the Promise photo booth, explaining the initiative as only a colleague in the classroom could. This type of public outreach, she said, is important not only for children but also for preserving a true professional voice in early learning. When it comes to early learning, "We get many new laws and regulations—some work, some don't—and we need to have that input" to make these policies work well.

Also helping at the photo booth was Head Start teacher Mackenzie Childers of Charleston, W.V. Childers, like Scarberry, is part of the AFT cadre, the third team of professionals that the union has gathered over the years for developmentally appropriate direction when it comes to the AFT's priority work in early learning. The Nov. 20-23 NAEYC convention marked the first time that these newest cadre members had assembled as a team, and the introductory discussions were extremely constructive, said Childers. "It was great to meet people from all over the country and to learn about some of the new materials we have—like the bargaining toolkit" for early childhood education.

NAEYC exhibit booth

Childers hopes that being a member of the cadre will give her a chance to make a difference in areas that professionals really care about, such as the proper alignment of early learning standards and the need for quality professional development and resources. "When it comes to PD, so many of the things we get just do not apply," she says.

That professional hunger for exceptional materials was clearly on display just a few feet away: a bank of computers set up at the AFT booth so that visitors could check out materials offered at Share My Lesson, the AFT's digital collection of lessons and other resources. Thanks to lesson uploads from colleagues in child care centers and classrooms around the nation, Share My Lesson materials for the early learning community are growing quickly, St. Louis pre-K teacher and AFT cadre member Yvette Levy explained to the many educators who stopped to browse the materials and sign up for the Share My Lesson site. "This is a great resource and we really want to expand it" so that early childhood educators have at their fingertips resources of exceptional quality—and finely tuned for each stage of development in young learners.

Also showcased at the booth was the AFT's work with First Book, a partnership that has put 1 million free and low-cost books into the hands of children from low-income families. "I just love First Book—I use it all the time and recommend it to everyone," said Cindy Dickerson, who directs an early learning initiative in Columbia, S.C.

Dickerson made a beeline to the AFT booth—taking a lunch break to browse the First Book titles and to meet educator and Mind in the Making author Ellen Galinsky at a book-signing event. Dickerson spoke with pride of the titles she was able to acquire through First Book—more than 800 high-quality books so far, many for as little as 45 cents. "Teachers know how important this is, how much of a difference it makes when you get those books into the hands of these young children."

[Mike Rose, Connie McKenna]