Magazine article Stanford Social Innovation Review

Valuing Stakeholders in Early Childhood Education

Magazine article Stanford Social Innovation Review

Valuing Stakeholders in Early Childhood Education

Article excerpt

A conversation with Adrianna Foss

On an overcast March morning, a dozen preschool children rush out through the doors of a former elementary school in downtown Carpinteria, Calif. The air suddenly fills with bursts of Spanish and English as a pair of teachers pull back tarps and haul buckets of toys. Unprompted, two little boys carry out a sand table for themselves, plopping it down several feet away. For the next several hours these teachers and children will play, nap, eat, and rest outdoors.

Welcome to the outdoor classroom area of CAC Main, a nationally accredited Head Start preschool run by Santa Barbara County's Community Action Commission. CAC Main is just one of the child-care centers in Santa Barbara County affected by The Orfalea Fund's workin this area, whichis overseen by Adrianna Foss, director of Early Childhood Education. The Outdoor Classroom Project sprang from research showing the profound impact of high-quality outdoor environments on every aspectof ayoung child's cognitive, social, and physical development

"Many children come from families that are very confined-there might be multiple families livingin asingle home," says Theresa Embry, Outdoor Classroom Project coordinator. "Theydon'thave the ability to move around and to play. But physical activity is such an important thing for kids at this age. Young children need to be able to move."

The Outdoor Classroom Project is just one component of the fund's multifaceted approach to early childhood education, which has contributed to Santa Barbara County preschools' achieving high-quality accreditation at eight times the California average rate. Barbara Andersen, director of strategic partnerships, spoke with Foss about building an engaged early care community, leadership development, and why the fund launched its own initiatives to change the culture of early childhood education in Santa Barbara County.

Barbara Andersen: The anxiety experienced by parents selecting an affordable, high-quality center with an available space can often feel insurmountable. In Santa BarbaraCounty, The Orfalea Fund and First 5 of Santa Barbara County have worked together for more than a decade to address these concerns and fundamentally improve early childhood education leadership and practices. Based on accreditation statistics, it looks as though progress has been made.

Adrianna Foss: We transformed the ECE [early childhood education] sector in Santa Barbara County by valuing, recognizing, and supporting a sector that is underpaid and under-resourced, and isn'tgiven as much respect as it deserves. For the last 15 years, all thebrain researchhas told us howimportant the early years are, but I don't think people's attitudes have caught up with the research to appreciate how important these preschool teachers and directors are to the well-being and long-term trajectory of the young children in their care.

Andersen: In most families, all of the adults work. Less than one-third of children have a full-time, stay-at-home parent. As a result, almost one-quarter of children under the age of 5 are in some form of organized childcare program, which includes preschools, Head Start, California State Preschool, and private and nonprofit programs.1 These centers affect a huge swath of our society.

Foss: Absolutely. Our fund's ECE efforts support the development of a healthy whole-child vision, in whichplayand socialemotional development are not sacrificed for early academic programming. In Santa Barbara County, there are more than 150 early education centers, where thousands of kids spend 6 to 12 hours a day. These centers hold a key to the healthy development of our children, so we crafted an integrated strategy that included three main components: first, teacher and director education and professional development; second, national early childhood education quality accreditation; and third, whole-child programs including the Outdoor Classroom Project and the Preschool Food & Healthy Habits Initiative. …

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