September 19, 2022
On Saturday, June 4, Fairfax Futures hosted its 18th Annual School Readiness Symposium – Creating Authentic Family Partnerships. This event marked the PNC Foundation’s 14th year of providing funding for this signature event. Sallyann Bergh, Executive Director of Fairfax Futures, welcomed hundreds of early childhood educators from centers, family child care homes and public Pre-K programs.
Rhonda Morofsky, Assistant Director for the School Readiness Division within Fairfax County’s Office for Children provided opening remarks to announce a new partnership with the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation’s Ready Regions initiative. With this effort, publicly funded programs across the Commonwealth of Virginia will be supported with a unified approach focused on early childhood success, including access to quality teaching and learning experiences. Stacey Collins, Vice President and Assistant Director of Community Relations with PNC Bank, Greater Washington Area shared PNC’s Grow Up Great® initiative which provides tools and resources in support of high quality early childhood education.
The keynote speaker, Karen Nemeth, Ed.M., with support from co-author Kelly Ramsey shared insights from their book Families and Educators Together: Building Great Relationships that Support Young Children. During the session, early childhood educators were provided the opportunity to:
Following the Symposium, participants were invited to continue their professional learning by joining any of six virtual sessions to delve into each of the six chapters of the book. Sessions were facilitated by either Kelly Ramsey or Karen Nemeth and participants were provided with a copy of the book. The following are highlights:
Understanding Family Engagement
In this session, participants defined family engagement, examined family structures, identified family connections, and explored key relationships for partnering with families.
Facilitator Kelly Ramsey shared “The topic of family engagement is of utmost importance in this changing season we are in. As we consider our work as pedagogical leaders in early care systems, we must center families in our work. The family is an institution that remains when all other systems fail.”
Communicating with Families
A family engaged is the goal! Early childhood educators learned about specific strategies and resources for culturally and linguistically responsive communication with families.
Participant Carrie Re, lead teacher for King of Kings Lutheran Preschool shared, “We all know that family is a key component of a child’s education. But this class provided me with specific, usable concepts. It opened my mind to creative ideas of how to draw in the individual families in the best interest of their child and my classroom.”
The Role of Teachers in a Comprehensive Family Engagement Approach
Early childhood educators explored how relationships develop between teachers and families. Communities of Practice, a tool to support comprehensive systems, was also introduced.
Family Engagement in Action
This group explored the meaning of continuity of care and identified key strategies to include males in early childhood programs.
Partnering with the Community
This session focused on how community organizations and resources can strengthen both families and early childhood education programs.
Connecting Home and Program Teaching and Learning
Important concepts were re-visited in this final session, including the practice of two-way communication between educators and families as well as centering families as advocates for children’s educational journey.
“Partnering with both the local and national community helps every program and educator to build a broad system of family engagement. This is accomplished by bringing information and resources to the early childhood program, sharing information about high quality early childhood education with the community, and providing resources to families to help them thrive,” said Karen Nemeth.
Moving forward, this initiative will focus on the development of Communities of Practice groups, facilitated by early childhood specialists from Fairfax County’s Office for Children within Neighborhood and Community Services. This will serve as an opportunity to apply the concepts learned in the professional development series. Key stakeholders from each community group will meet next year. Accomplishments from this learning will be shared during next year’s Annual School Readiness Symposium.
“Our objective with this year’s Symposium and professional development series was to more deeply explore the partnership between early childhood educators and families,” said Fairfax Futures Manager, Tori Ongodia. “We will build on the rich discussions and strategies shared for the upcoming Communities of Practice work and look forward to the positive impact on the communities engaged.”