Voices from the Field: Promoting Father Engagement, Interview with Randy Johnson (Pop-Pop)

Randy Johnson and grandson

Randy Johnson is a father and grandfather who was born into a large close-knit family. After graduating from high school, he attended Widener University before serving in the Army for four years. Randy worked in the power generation field for twenty years. He has been married to his childhood sweetheart for over thirty years and they have three children and one grandchild. Randy is known as Pop-Pop to his grandson, and they were featured in episode eight of the Preschool During the Pandemic video series developed by the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center.

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Voices from the Field: Promoting Father Engagement, Interview with Rich La Belle

Rich La Belle

Rich La Belle is the CEO of Family Network on Disabilities, which has served persons with disabilities and their families throughout Florida and the U.S. for over 35 years. Prior to becoming CEO in 2005, Mr. La Belle practiced law for nearly 20 years, concentrating in the areas of disability law, including special needs trusts. Mr. La Belle and his wife are the parents of four grown children, including those who have disabilities.

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Voices from the Field: Interview with Nicole Brigham and Shelby Fromm

Nicole Brigham and Shelby Fromm

Vanderbilt University and Tennessee State University have partnered on an interdisciplinary personnel preparation grant funded by the Department of Education. The program prepares scholars in the fields of audiology, deaf education, and speech-language pathology to meet the needs of infants and young children with hearing loss and their families. We interviewed one scholar from each university.

Nicole Brigham is a second-year Audiology student at Vanderbilt University on the pediatric specialty track, which involves additional coursework and practicum experience that prepares students to work with infants and children who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Shelby Fromm is a first-year student at Tennessee State University in the Speech-Language Pathology program, while also participating in a collaborative training grant at Vanderbilt University focusing on children with hearing loss.


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Voices from the Field: Interview with Ann Sam

Ann Sam

 

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

During my undergraduate work, I completed an internship at the University of North Carolina’s TEACCH Autism Program. From this experience, I knew I wanted to work with individuals with autism. I began my career as an inclusive preschool and kindergarten public school teacher. As a teacher, I was unaware of many specific interventions or resources used to support the social, language, and behavioral skills of students with autism. Fueled by my desire to support students with autism in classrooms, as well as the teachers serving those students, I began my doctoral program in 2008 at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. I was fortunate to be funded through an Office of Special Education Program leadership grant: Interdisciplinary Preparation in Teaching, Research, and Service focused on Young Children with Autism and Their Families. When I graduated, I accepted a postdoctoral research position at 3C Institute, a small business that focuses on research and development. After completing my postdoctoral work, I returned to the University of North Carolina as a Research Scientist at Frank Porter Graham (FPG) Child Development Institute. At FPG, my work focuses on supporting the use of evidence-based practices for children with autism using a variety of professional development approaches including coaching and interactive, online modules.

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Voices From the Field: Interview with Barbara Cooper

Alabama’s Support for Dual Language Learners

Barbara Cooper

Dr. Barbara Cooper is Secretary of Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education

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

I was called to serve as an educator over 30 years ago and have worked across the entire birth to workforce continuum. On July 1, 2020 I was appointed Secretary of the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education (ADECE) by Alabama Governor Kay Ivey. Previously, I served as the ADECE Director of the office of school readiness where I administered the nationally recognized high-quality Alabama First Class Pre-K program, which has been recognized by the National Institute for Early Education Research as the highest quality state-funded pre-kindergarten program in the country for 14 consecutive years.

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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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