NORTH ADAMS -- Northern Berkshire early childhood educators are heading back to school with a brighter outlook for the future.
With $160,000 in new funding from the state Department of Early Education and Care (EEC), Child Care of the Berkshires Inc. is developing a new Northern Berkshire Collaborative program. Partners include Berkshire County Head Start, North Adams Public Schools, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, other community organizations, as well as teachers, parents and community members.
Last week, the Northern Berkshire Collaborative held a three-day leadership program, the Summer Brain Building Institute, to help get early childhood educators on track toward bettering themselves and discovering strategies to meet their goals so they can in turn guide the children and families they work with, from birth to Grade 3, to have greater successes in life.
"This very positive news for the North Adams community which has been lately faced with many challenges," said Anne Nemetz-Carlson, president and CEO of Child Care of the Berkshires Inc.
Among Northern Berkshire communities about half, on average, of students are struggling to read at a proficient level by Grade 3, which is why the new collaborative is working to create and implement more early interventions to have kids ready and succeeding in learning early on.
Carrie Schadler -- who has worked in a variety of roles in early childhood education and has children in North Adams Public Schools -- now serves as the coordinator for the new Northern Berkshire Educational Collaborative.
She said there are three primary child care centers in Northern Berkshire, and approximately 43 individual family child care centers or providers in the region, with more than half operating as private entities.
"As an educator and as a parent, I would love it for all children in our area to be in a high quality program from the day they are born to the first day they enter a classroom and move up through elementary school," she said.
To make this as seamless as possible, Schadler says the Northern Berkshire Collaborative's role will be to make connections for all early childhood educators and child care providers to resources, to information about state regulations and curriculum, professional training and degree programs and each other.
"With parents also serving as their child's first teacher, it's important that we include them too, as much as possible," Schadler said. "I know what it's like to struggle in these areas, but I also know what success looks like and how it feels."
Education leadership consultant Susan MacDonald, founder of Inspiring New Perspectives, led a group of nearly 30 participants through the Summer Brain Building Institute, with an emphasis on having them define their own goals first, and then goals for the classroom.
Many of the participants said they've become overwhelmed with new state and federal measures in early childhood education reform, such as data collection and analysis, and pushing for early childhood educators to get more credentials and advance degrees -- all of which can be costly, time-consuming and a difficult process to navigate. Raising infants and young children is no longer a matter of playtime and making friends, it's become the subject of studies and initiatives produced at places like Harvard and MIT.
"I know data has its place, but it also has to help children," said Jackie Thomas, a first-grade teacher at Brayton Elementary School. In a poster-making exercise, she drew a heart around all the things she valued about her field, namely happy, successful children and families. She said the latter makes all the new changes worth it.
"It's good in the end when kids are happy," said Melissa Zepka, a literacy specialist for the Family Resource Center in North Adams.
Erin Morris, a coordinator for the Parent-Child Home Program of Child Care of the Berkshires, said having the extra support of her peers in the Northern Berkshire Collaborative has helped her face her own doubts and fears as an educator. "This whole process for me has been amazing," she said. "For example, I didn't get into the grad school I wanted to a few years ago, but now I'm ready to go back and think about how I can get my master's degree."
MacDonald said that sense of support will best help improve the quality of early childhood education in the region. "If we don't work together, we won't have success," she said.
For more information about the Northern Berkshire Collaborative, contact program coordinator Carrie Schadler at (413) 663-6593, ext. 27, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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