Voices From the Field: Interview with Mona Qafisheh

Power to the Early Childhood Education Profession

Mona Qafisheh

Mona serves as the director of grants and contracts with the Association for Supportive Child Care which provides early childhood coaching, assessment, and professional development to early childhood professionals, and education for family, friends, and neighbor caregivers and families. Mona’s role includes supporting the organization through the granting lifecycle from identification of potential funding through reporting. Mona also serves as the president-elect for the Arizona Association for the Education of Young Children.

ED: How did you begin your career in early childhood education?

My career in early childhood education began like many others’ have. When I was 19, I needed a job and the only place that would hire me was a child care center. I worked as a camp counselor for 9 and 10-year olds through high school and figured working with toddlers would be a piece of cake. Spoiler alert: working with toddlers isn’t a piece of cake! But it was the most rewarding job I’ve ever had and inspired my love for young children and began my now almost 20-year commitment to them and their families. Also, like many of my peers in early childhood I began my career with a few college credits and was barely able to make ends meet financially. Those early teaching years have made me an advocate for high quality infant and toddler care, livable wages, and accessible, affordable higher education for early childhood educators who are often non-traditional students.

ED: What efforts have you been involved in to improve the quality of early childhood programs and services?

I currently serve as the Director of Grants & Contracts for the Association for Supportive Child Care (ASCC) based in Phoenix, Arizona. In this role, I support the organization with raising funds that we use to deliver early childhood programming across the state of Arizona. We operate programs that support parents, family, friend, and neighbor caregivers, and early childhood professionals in understanding how to best support the young children they care for. I am lucky to work for an organization that values the roles that adults play in children’s lives and has developed innovative and responsive programs to meet those adults where they need it the most. One of our biggest programs is the Arizona Kith and Kin Project that serves family, friend, and neighbor caregivers. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, ASCC has adjusted all of our services to be available virtually including the Kith and Kin Project. In addition to virtual services, ASCC has also secured funds to financially support Arizona’s family, friend, and neighbor caregivers who have been deeply impacted by the pandemic and commonly care for the children of first responders and medical professionals.

I am a doctoral student at Northern Arizona University specializing in Curriculum and Instruction. My research focus is on designing effective community-based professional development programs for early childhood educators. We know that most early childhood educators enter the field with little to no formal higher education and community-based professional development is an opportunity for skilled instructors to facilitate learning and develop the skills of those educators in a more informal, easy to access setting. My hope is to study how to do that well and increase the quality of early childhood professional development across the country.

In addition to my paid work and doctoral program, I am also a volunteer on the Arizona Association for the Education of Young Children (AzAEYC) board of directors. AzAEYC, along with our sister affiliate the Southern Arizona Association for Education of Young Children, is an affiliate of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). I was first elected to the AzAEYC board in 2019 and am currently serving as the President-Elect. Our work mirrors many of the NAEYC initiatives with a specific focus on serving Arizona. Most recently, AzAEYC has been focused on engaging in conversation with AZ early childhood professionals around the NAEYC Advancing Equity Initiative including the Position Statement on Advancing Equity. We recently partnered with several early childhood organizations to host the second annual Arizona Early Childhood Public Policy Forum. The forum was an opportunity for early childhood professionals to sharpen their advocacy skills and learn about upcoming legislation related to education.

ED: What are some of the challenges you have experienced in your work and what strategies have you tried to overcome them?

One of the most significant challenges that the field of early education has been struggling with is how to professionalize the field. Professionals that care for young children before they enter kindergarten are often considered babysitters. This devalues the early childhood professions and hinders our efforts to professionalize the field. Thankfully, NAEYC’s Power to the Profession initiative is helping early childhood educators and the field as a whole organize and develop a shared understanding of the work we do. NAEYC has led the field in developing Unifying Framework for the Early Childhood Education Profession that includes recommendations in regards to roles and responsibilities, educational pathways and specialties, compensation, and shared accountability. AzAEYC is proud to support and advance Power to the Profession in Arizona.

ED: What suggestions do you have for others interested in improving early childhood services and programs?

I have two suggestions for others:

  1. Get involved: Network and build connections to others in the field and never be afraid to connect with experts doing innovative work in other social services. An important component of getting involved is civic engagement. Improved early childhood services and programs often start with policy so it is important to get involved at the state and local level.
  2. Remember why the work is important: We’re all here for the same reason. Frame every decision you make on how what you’re doing will benefit children and their families. Keeping kids’ best interests as your guiding star will mean that early childhood services and programs will be responsive and high quality. They deserve our best!

Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

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