Raising Washington’s youngest learners

October 26, 2017

In Washington state, one out of five early learners grow up in poverty. Fewer than half are kindergarten-ready.

On Oct. 20, eight of Washington’s leading early learning researchers shared their insights into what educators, communities and the state as a whole can do to give all children a fair start to grow and reach their potential during EDU Talks: Raising Washington, organized by the University of Washington College of Education.

During the fast-paced program—held in conjunction with the Early Achievers Eastern Washington Institute organized by Cultivate Learning and co-sponsored by Thrive Washington—researchers discussed what they’ve learned about what works in early learning and care.

Soojin Oh Park, assistant professor of early childhood and family studies, spoke about the importance of better supporting the young children of immigrants and their families, with one in three children in Washington now being dual language learners (DLLs).

“When given the opportunity to enroll in a high-quality preschool, young DLLs achieve larger gains in their cognitive and language skills than their monolingual peers,” Park said. “Unfortunately, DLLs in Washington are enrolling in Pre-K programs at lower rates.

“Early childhood policies that support cultural and linguistic diversity and meet the unique learning needs of DLLs are crucial to ensuring equity access to high-quality programs for all.”

Liliana Lengua, professor of psychology and director of the UW’s Center for Child and Family Well-being, described how unpredictable work hours, unaffordable child care and other stressors can take a heavy toll on poverty-impacted families.

“These stressors can compromise children’s social, emotional and academic well-being,” Lengua said. “If we want to raise resilient children, we need to also support parent well-being and effective parenting that provides children with the safe, stable, nurturing and loving environments they need to flourish.”

Carol Davis, associate dean for undergraduate education, started the event with comments about the College of Education’s Raising Washington initiative, a strategy for partnering with early learning providers, K-12 schools and systems, communities and policymakers across the state. Raising Washington brings together those working to improve the quality of early education for all children in order to share and apply the best knowledge about what works in early childhood development.

“When we invest in our youngest learners—and the professionals who work with them—we all benefit,” said Davis.

EDU Talks: Raising Washington

Many of the EDU Talks: Raising Washington attendees were in Spokane for Cultivate Learning's Early Achievers Eastern Washington Institute. Nearly 300 early learning and extended learning opportunity professionals participated in the 16th institute, including program directors, teachers, family child care providers, coaches, faculty, and wrap around service providers.

Early Achievers Institute

Co-created with Washington State’s Department of Early Learning and Child Care Aware of Washington, Cultivate Learning developed the institutes in 2013 to provide high quality multi-lingual professional development and training opportunities across the state.  Skills-building workshops, that count toward STARS and Clock hours, cover positive behavior support, STEM education, social-emotional learning, restorative justice, leadership training, infant and toddler care, engaging interactions, using tools such as Creative Curriculum and Teaching Strategies Gold, and creating high-quality environments. The institutes also include opportunities for attendees to explore a well-designed mock classroom and create meaningful materials to bring back to their learning environments.

Keynote presenters at the four-day institute included bob Maureen McNeil, a field consultant with the Center for Youth Program Quality; Heather Moss, director of the Washington State Department of Early Learning; and Ilene Schwartz, professor of special education and director of the University of Washington’s Haring Center, who presented “Making Inclusion Happen: Turning Beliefs into Action.”

Workshop sessions covered positive behavior support, STEM education, social-emotional learning, restorative justice, motivational interviewing, reframing conflict, leadership training and more.

Cultivate Learning is led by Gail Joseph, associate professor of educational psychology.