Voices From the Field: Interview with Kirsten Bilderaya

A Preschool Teacher’s Perspective on the New School Year

Kirsten Bilderaya

Kirsten Bilderaya is an early childhood special education (ECSE) specialist. She works as an itinerant ECSE specialist for Adams 12 school district in Colorado at Tarver elementary school. She specializes in autism and works with two Learning Experiences—Alternative Programming for Preschoolers and Parents, for young children with Autism (LEAP) certified classrooms. In addition to working with children and teachers, she has taught parent classes for families with young children with autism, and supervises ECSE graduate students from University of Denver, and University of Colorado Denver.


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

I began as a classified Early Childhood Education (ECE) Group Leader in an inclusive ECE classroom. Students in the ECE program included those who had individualized education programs (IEP)s, or who had high developmental risk factors, such as adverse childhood experiences, poverty, family separation, or English as a second language. After the fall semester, I decided this was the career I wanted to pursue and started the Master’s program in Early Childhood Education at the University of Colorado Denver. When I completed the program, I became a licensed early childhood special educator.

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Voices From the Field: Interview with Cindy Hillyer

Promoting Equity in Children’s Vision Health

Cindy Hillyer

Cindy Hillyer is the director of the Office of Early Childhood Education at Minneapolis Public Schools. Throughout her career, Cindy has led public health and education initiatives focused on cross sector collaboration and advancing equity. She currently serves on the University of Minnesota Institute on Community Integration Advisory Board; the Executive Committee of the City of Minneapolis Child Friendly City Initiative and chairs the Minnesota Early Childhood Vision Health Task Force-a National Center for Children’s Vision and Eye Health-Better Vision Together team. 

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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.

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Voices From the Field: Interview with Justin Brown

A Father’s Engagement

Justin Brown

Justin Brown is an adoptive father of a 4-year-old boy, and a foster father to two 2-year-old boys. He works as a youth minister for St. Agnes Parish in Dalton, MA and is the co-director of Camp Holy Cross in Goshen, MA. Justin first became involved in early intervention when his 4-year-old was referred for services at 18-months-old. He has become a strong advocate for the strengths and needs of his children and enjoys wrestling, cooking, and going for walks with them.

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Voices From the Field: Interview with Linda Gilkerson and Pamela Epley

Promoting Children’s Mental Health Awareness

Linda Gilkerson and Pamela Epley

Linda Gilkerson and Pamela Epley

Linda Gilkerson, Ph.D., LSW, is a professor at Erikson Institute where she directs the graduate training programs in infancy and infant mental health.

Pamela Epley, Ph.D., is an associate clinical professor and director of special education at Erikson Institute.


ED: We are celebrating Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day in May. Could you tell us what efforts you have been involved in to improve the quality of early childhood programs and services to better address young children’s mental health?

Infant and early childhood mental health (IECMH) is synonymous with healthy social-emotional (SE) development and robust early learning, including the ability to regulate and express emotions; form close personal relationships; and explore the environment and learn in the context of family, community, and culture. Over the past years, we have worked with Illinois’ Early Intervention (EI) system to increase its focus on children’s SE development. We’ve done this by promoting relationship-based services, more systematic screening of SE development, and the addition of SE Consultants.

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Voices From the Field: Interview with Alicia Brewer Curran

Alicia Brewer Curran

Alicia Brewer Curran works at the University of Missouri, where she is the director of operations for the Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes (ECHO) Autism Program, and serves as a parent panelist on three expert hub teams. Additionally, she is the family faculty member for the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) program, program manager and quality improvement lead for the Autism Learning Health Network (AHLN), and the CDC’s Learn the Signs. Act Early. ambassador for Missouri. 


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

My interest in early childhood began after my son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Due to lack of knowledge, I didn’t realize how concerned I should be about the differences I observed in his development, and I didn’t recognize that these differences were the early symptoms of autism. That resulted in my son losing out on two years of early intervention services.

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Voices From the Field: Interview with Diana Capobianco

Diana Capobianco

Diana Capobianco is a private practice pediatric dentist, Executive Board Maryland Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and Liaison to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and Maryland Chapter of AAP. Her career as a pediatric dentist includes working with infants, children, teens and individuals with intellectual disabilities and autism. Diana holds several positions in local county offices of the Maryland Department of Health and serves on the AAP Dentistry national education committee.


ED: How did you begin your work in early childhood?

My desire to work with kids goes way back to my own youth. I always enjoyed being around kids, baby-sitting and tutoring, assisting with kids at after-school play time, that sort of thing, but I also wanted to work in healthcare helping others. A career in pediatric dentistry was a natural melding of those pursuits.

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Voices From the Field: Interview with Ginger Roberts-Scott

Ginger Roberts-Scott

Ginger Roberts-Scott, Director of the Maine Women, Infant, and Children Supplemental Nutrition program, began her career as a licensed social worker working with individuals with intellectual disability and autism. Throughout her 32 years in a public health service career, Ginger has held several positions in the Maine Department of Health and Human Services helping children, senior citizens and people with disabilities access services, education and employment to gain self-sufficiency.


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

My bachelor’s degree is in Human Services with a focus on intellectual disabilities and autism. I worked at the Maine State Medicaid office as the children’s and waiver services program manager and was responsible for making sure children received services to which they were entitled, especially early intervention services. Prior to that I determined eligibility for Medicaid services. In 2017, I moved to the Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) program after 26 years at Medicaid. Working at WIC in my current position is a continuation of advocating for children.

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ED Games Expo Highlights Accessible Learning Games and Technologies

 

By Kristen Kushiyama
Public Affairs Specialist, OSERS, U.S. Department of Education


The U.S. Department of Education held the seventh annual ED Games Expo at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, Jan. 9.

“The ED Games Expo is the department’s annual public showcase and celebration of educational learning games as well as innovative forms of learning technologies for children and students in education and special education,” according to the ED Games Expo site.

The expo had almost 150 learning and technology games that covered topics such as early learning, science, engineering, making, math, reading, social studies, English learning and social skills for all students — including students with disabilities.

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Voices From the Field: Interview with Grace Wardhana

Developing Executive Functioning Skills through Games

Grace Wardhana

Grace is co-founder of Kiko Labs, an educational company creating learning games based on principles of neuroscience. She has been the principal investigator on two small business innovation research (SBIR) grants funded by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) in the U.S. Department of Education and another grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Prior to founding Kiko Labs, Grace spent 15 years in product roles in the technology industry, including a stint at Microsoft. Grace holds an AB in Economics and MS in Management Science and Engineering from Stanford and received an MBA from Harvard Business School. Her research interests include game-based learning and assessment as well as technology-infused learning applied to all facets of school readiness. 

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