The Institute’s Informal Family Child Care Project (IFCC) Recognizes Brooklyn Borough Professional Development Series on Building Relationships Participants


Photo credit: Kelly Williams

On Wednesday, May 25, 2016, the IFCC team held a recognition ceremony to celebrate the participants who completed their Brooklyn Borough Professional Development series on Building Relationships. The providers participated in a 5 week class on Wednesday evenings and covered topics such as responsive caregiving with children, supporting and partnering with families, and creating safe learning environments. The IFCC team wanted to recognize and celebrate the participants for their commitment to their professional development, their communities, and to the children and families they work with. The providers’ dedication is especially important given that the majority of the participants are informal providers, and thus they are not required to complete professional development hours.


Photo credit: Kelly Williams

The ceremony opened with a few remarks from the Institute’s Executive Director, Sherry M. Cleary, the IFCC Project Coordinator, Angelica Velazquez, and the class facilitator, Andrea Maldonado. The participants then shared their thoughts and feelings about their experience and discussed what’s next for them in their careers and professional development. Many of the participants shared their goals to become licensed, or to pursue the CDA credential or an advanced degree.

The following participants were recognized:

Sandra  Dixon

Leticia Harper

Michelle Higgins

Margaret Hunter

Treniece Johnson

Marjorie Lomax

Gorgiana Price

Donna Reid

Gertrude Upsher


Photo credit: Kelly Williams

Congratulations to the participants for all of their accomplishments and hard work throughout this series! 

Getting to know Institute Staff: Meet Dana


Dana Benzo is the Project Coordinator of the Institute’s higher education initiatives. We asked Dana to share some of her reflections about her work with us.

What is your current role? In your own words, how would you describe the work you do?

I am currently the coordinator of the higher education arm of the Institute. I oversee the credit-bearing Child Development Associate (CDA) Certificate program (undergraduate) and Children’s Program Administrator Credential (CPAC) program (graduate) offered in partnership with the CUNY School of Professional Studies (SPS). I would say my primary function is to build the competency and capacity of the early childhood workforce through formal education, ongoing professional development, and high-quality relevant field experiences.

Who do you work most closely with at the Institute? What outside partners/organizations do you work with?

I collaborate with all aspects of the Institute, but work most closely with the New York Works for Children team, Career Development Services Center, QUALITYstarsNY team and the Pre-K Support team. Outside of the Institute, I work with the other early childhood faculty from CUNY’s Schools of Education; the NYC Department of Education, Division of Early Childhood Education; and numerous early childhood programs and professionals throughout New York City. I also work very closely with the New York State Association for the Education of Young Children (NYSAEYC) through my role of providing ongoing professional development to the early childhood workforce statewide. I deliver the NYS Trainer Institute, a 6-part series for providers of professional development; professional development sessions on the NYS Core Body of Knowledge and the NYS Pyramid Model, for the entire Early Childhood Education workforce; and the NYS Early Learning Guidelines, for those working directly with children. I also was involved in the revision of the Training and Technical Assistance Professional (T-TAP) Credential and creation of NYS Coaching Competencies.

What motivated you to work in the early childhood field?

I entered the field 23 years ago as a part-time aid at a preschool in Central New York because I loved children and working with them felt natural. I quickly realized a love of children was necessary but not sufficient to work effectively with young children and their families. I continued my education and moved my way up the career lattice from aid to assistant to certified teacher to director with children from birth through 6th grade. I’ve worked in parochial, public, private, and subsidized programs in upstate New York, Long Island and New York City. My experiences have motivated me to remain in the field. I have such a huge respect for children and all they bring to the world. I am motivated on a daily basis to find ways to provide all children with the most optimal environments, experiences, and interactions in which they can thrive.

If you could learn a new skill today, what would it be?

I am actually in the process of learning a new skill right now. I’m preparing to launch some of our CPAC courses online beginning in the summer 2016 semester. Therefore, I am currently enrolled in an intensive course to learn effective design and facilitation skills for teaching online.  

What brings you joy in your work?

Remaining curious and connected to the ground. I find in order to be the most effective in my work I need to spend time on the ground (literally) with children, families, teachers, and leaders. I know what I experienced when I was a teacher and leader but I need to know what is happening now – what are the struggles, successes, obstacles, and triumphs – so I can find ways to help, support, and celebrate with the early childhood professionals I work with. I love hearing from former students or programs I’ve worked with that express that my time with them made a difference, personally or professionally, and a difference in the lives of the children and families they serve. This motivates me to keep doing the work I do for children.

What do you want to be remembered for in your current role?

I would be honored if I was remembered as being someone who believed in the capacity of others – children and adults – and played a role in empowering them to meet their fullest potential. I would also like to be remembered as someone who wants nothing but the best for children. I’m often told I have very high ideals for the early childhood field, and I do, because children deserve nothing less.

If you had one piece of advice for a new early childhood teacher, what would it be?

Focus on building your knowledge, understanding, and application of child development. When this foundation is strong, it will become second nature and will be the basis to guide your practice. In your career, you will be asked to implement various programs and meet certain requirements and expectations. You will feel confused and overwhelmed, but if you remain grounded in your foundation of child development, you will be able to decipher the numerous “asks” and still do what is best for children. 

To learn more about New York’s Child Development Associate Certificate and Children’s Program Administrator Credential, visit


The Aspire Registry May Newsletter

The Aspire Registry team has released their May newsletter. The newsletter includes the latest Aspire Registry news and events, and also highlights the work of professionals in the field of early childhood. This month’s newsletter spotlight features Louisa Higgins, New York Works for Children’s Project Coordinator. 

The Aspire Registry team also provides information about their outreach efforts on social media. Currently, 700 people like the New York Works for Children Facebook page and over 4,000 people have seen their posts in April. Lastly, the newsletter includes an announcement requesting Aspire Registry users to participate in a virtual focus group in order to learn more about their experiences using the Aspire Registry.

Click here to read the newsletter: The Aspire Registry May Newsletter (2016)

The Informal Family Child Care Project May Newsletter

The Informal Family Child Care (IFCC) Project team has released their May newsletter. The newsletter includes the latest IFCC Project news and events. This month’s newsletter contains an article that provides families and caregivers with information to make a decision about children’s exposure to screen technologies. The newsletter also provides self-care tips and advice for caregivers.

Click here to read the newsletter:IFCC May 2016-Connections in Early Learning Newsletter

A Visit from Assemblyman Michael P. Kearns


On April 28, 2016, Family Help Center daycare received a visit from Assemblyman Michael Kearns. In his role as guest reader, Assemblyman Kearns read “Over in the Meadow” to children in the Universal Pre-K classroom. During the visit, Assemblyman Kearns also had the opportunity to meet with Kim Stewart, the center’s director. Assemblyman Kearns and Ms. Stewart discussed her center’s impact on meeting the special needs of families and children that her program serves. She also had the opportunity to familiarized Assemblyman Kearns with the important role that QUALITYstarsNY resources and supports play in the growth and improvement of the center. QUALITYstarsNY is New York's Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) that assists all types of early childhood programs in improving the quality of their services in order to achieve the best possible outcomes for children.

To learn more about QUALITYstarsNY, visit

Yes, Preschool Works. Let’s Make it Work for More Children

In a recent article in Medium, Kris Perry, Executive Director of the First Five Years Fund, discusses the need to move past the debate of whether or not preschool works, and instead focus on innovation, experimentation, and evaluation. Perry argues that research has consistently shown the academic and economic benefits of preschool, especially for disadvantaged children. Therefore, the question is no long effectiveness, but rather, how to bring quality early childhood programs to scale for children from birth to age 5.

To read the article, visit

Beyond Readiness: The Impact of Early Childhood Educators

In a recent post on the Huffington Post Blog, Kai-leé Berke discusses the important role early childhood educators play in children’s lives beyond academics. Berke shares personal anecdotes about the special relationship her child has with her teacher, and how the teacher supports her child’s ability to manage transitions. Based on these experiences, Berke recommends developing tools to support teachers’ abilities to build a sense of security and community in the classroom in order lay the foundation for learning.

To read the article, visit

Everyone Loves Pre-K, But No One’s Asking the Key Question: How Do We Train Early Educators?

In a recent article of The 74, Conor P. Williams, Ph.D., Senior Researcher of New America's Education Policy Program, discusses the importance of professionalizing the early childhood workforce in order to improve the quality of early childhood care and education nationwide. Dr. Williams frames his argument around the current presidential election, and urges candidates and policy makers to create pre-K proposals that focus on developing a properly prepared and well-trained workforce and attracting qualified candidates to the field.

To read the article, visit

The Promise of Teacher-Residency Programs

In an article featured in the Atlantic, author Jackie Mader discusses a new innovative teacher preparation model that adopts practices from the medical field. Urban Teachers is a 3-year residency program in which prospective teachers co-teach a classroom with an experienced teacher while earning a master’s degree and receiving ongoing coaching. After completing the third year of residency, residents continue to receive coaching and support for an additional year. Research suggests that this model may address the alarming rate at which new teachers leave the profession.

To read the article, visit

It’s Time for an Ambitious National Investment in America’s Children

The Economic Policy Institute has released a report that explores the economic and societal benefits of investing in early childhood care and education. The authors argue that investments should include public funding for home visitation by trained nurses to provide prenatal support to families, resources to ensure child care settings are of high quality, and resources to support workforce development. The authors assert that these investments will positively impact productivity and the education and health of the future American workforce. Additionally, investing in early childhood care and education will reduce the rate of inequality and increase the next generation’s access to opportunity.

To read the report, visit