This month, we are celebrating National Autism Awareness. Every year on April 2nd, autism organizations around the world celebrate the day with unique fundraising and awareness-raising events.
Autism recently re-identified through the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by:
- Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts;
- Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities;
- Symptoms must be present in the early developmental period (typically recognized in the first two years of life); and,
- Symptoms cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning.
The term “spectrum” refers to the wide range of symptoms, skills, and levels of impairment or disability that children with ASD can have. Some children are mildly impaired by their symptoms, while others are severely disabled.
As part of a well-child visit, your child’s doctor should perform a “developmental screening,” asking specific questions about your child’s progress. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) list five behaviors that warrant further evaluation:
- Does not babble or coo by 12 months
- Does not gesture (point, wave, grasp) by 12 months
- Does not say single words by 16 months
- Does not say two-word phrases on his or her own by 24 months
- Has any loss of any language or social skill at any age
Caring for a child with special needs can present itself with many challenges but there is help available for parents, caregivers and child care providers (licensed and legally exempt). If you are in need of support and knowledge, reach out to the community around you. The Autism Speaks organization has supported children and families for 10 years, and are available to answer your questions and provide information about screenings and medical and mental health resources.
Want to advocate and help raise awareness?
Walk for a Cause! Autism Speaks will be holding their ‘Walk Now for Autism Speaks’ events throughout the country and within the five boroughs.
The walks will take place within the five boroughs on the following dates:
- Queens/Manhattan: April 26, 2015
- Bronx: May 17, 2015
- Brooklyn: July 19, 2015
- Staten Island: Oct. 25, 2015
For locations and times visit the Autism Speaks website at www.walknowforautismspeaks.org.
Voices from the field
We sat down with PDI’s own Ms. Margaret Ayala, MSW about her experiences and insights into working with parents, children and caregivers as it relates to the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Ms. Ayala has been working with children with special needs for over 10 years and comes with a wealth of knowledge.
Ms. Ayala explained that from her experience, children living with special needs (specifically ASD), have varying strengths and challenges. She reported that caregivers of autistic children have to quickly figure out what routines and conditions are best for the children. Ms. Ayala stated that caregivers of children with special needs require on-going support and she reminds parents and caregivers to be patient and understanding – with their children and themselves.
The Early Care and Education Consortium (ECEC) is a non-profit association of America’s leading national, regional, and independent providers of high-quality child care and early learning and development programs for young children representing over 7,500 programs in all 50 states. ECEC affiliates are devoted to serving as the unified voice for providers of high quality programs and services that support all families and children. They recently released a report outlining the importance of high-quality community early care and education programs. Click here to read the full report. We’ve put together a short summary for you below.
High-quality community early care and education programs play a critical role in supporting the workforce of today and tomorrow. It proposes developmentally appropriate early education opportunities for children; at the same time, it delivers a safe, dependable care that empowers parents to be financially productive within the labor force. Affordable high-quality community early care and education program options remain at the core of effective early childhood structures and include a range of programs (e.g. Early Head Start and Head Start, kindergarten, and home visiting).
High-quality community early care and education programs deliver evidence-based school readiness experiences to children of working class families. These families depend on year-round, full-functioning day program accessibility in order to continue being part of the workforce. The excerpt below displays the importance of high-quality community early care and education programs and the effect they have on parents and businesses:
Nationally, 76% of children under age five with employed parents spend some time in out-of-home care each week. Working families of all income levels need readily available, affordable, and reliable settings that provide high-quality care and early learning opportunities for their children during their hours of employment. Today’s working families generally require extended hours of care that exceed the traditional school day. Lack of access to affordable, stable care means substantial losses in worker productivity. On average, employee absenteeism based on disrupted access to child care is estimated to cost U.S. businesses $3 billion annually.
An increasing amount of research confirms that investment in high-quality early care and education programs produce positive results in school readiness, well-being and long-term efficiency. With 90% of brain development occurring between birth and age five, high quality care and learning environments shape children’s cognitive, social-emotional, and physical growth, and promote executive function skills during their early years.
High-quality community early care and education programs support tomorrow’s workforce by:
- Participating in state licensure as a foundation for continuous quality improvement.
- Ranking within the top levels of state Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS).
- Holding accreditation by a nationally and internationally recognized entity, including NAEYC and AdvancED.
- Relying on an evidence-based curriculum, including Teaching Strategies’ Creative Curriculum and HighScope’s Infants and Toddlers or Preschool Curriculum.
- Administering a developmentally appropriate, research-based child assessment, including Teaching Strategies’ GOLD, TeachStone’s CLASS, HighScope’s COR Advantage, or a statewide Kindergarten Entry Assessment (KEA).
- Ensuring strong instructional leaders and accountable management systems. Benefiting all children by promoting diverse and mixed-income learning environments.
Happy first week of April! This week, there is a lot happening in New York in relation to Pre-K news! The articles below cover our top picks for the most important reads for this week. Enjoy!
The Department of Education plans to cut 25 kindergarten seats from the overcrowded P.S. 8 in Brooklyn Heights for the 2015-16 school year.
-Negotiators Agree in Principle on State Budget – The Buffalo News
Lawmakers are still deciding how to divide education funding, with Senate Republicans working to drive relatively more funding to suburban districts and Assembly Democrats looking to send more funding to lower-income districts.
-Cuomo and Lawmakers Still at Impasse Over School Deal – New York Post
Over the weekend, Gov. Cuomo blamed a lack of consensus on his education proposals on the outsized influence of teachers unions.
As lawmakers hammered out details of the budget in Albany, union leaders and advocates camped out near Cuomo's offices to oppose his proposals.
New York’s legislative leaders reached agreement on some thorny education issues on Sunday, but plenty remains to be decided, including how the education funding will be divvied up. Lawmakers also punted on teacher evaluations, agreeing to let the state education department make decisions about future changes.
New York Lawmakers Rush to Beat Midnight Budget Deadline – The Washington Times
Ahead of the start of the new fiscal year Wednesday, state lawmakers are set to vote on education proposals following what’s likely to be a long debate Tuesday.
-Confronted by Cuomo on Schools, de Blasio Digs in – Capital New York
Leading up to budget negotiations, Mayor Bill de Blasio has been clear of his aggressive disagreement with Gov. Cuomo on many of his education proposals, including state takeover of struggling schools, failure to permanently extend mayoral control and raising the charter-school cap.
Even after the budget deal comes to a close, education policy changes including teacher evaluations and extending mayoral control of city schools are likely to remain a top priority for education advocates through June.
The legislature passed an education portion of the state’s $142 billion budget that contained several parts of Cuomo’s agenda, including big changes to the teacher evaluation system that sparked hours of rancorous debate from lawmakers.
Happy Friday everyone! This week, there is an extensive amount of media attention focused on New York’s final state budget – expected to be complete on Wednesday, April 1st. As stated by Benjamin Franklin, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” The articles below cover our top picks for the most important reads for this week. Enjoy!
The city is building a new, 108-seat pre-K center inside a Lower Manhattan building that's also home to a substance abuse treatment center.
In an unlikely alliance, Mayor Bill de Blasio and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani have teamed up on the issue of school governance, writing a letter to Gov. Cuomo and state lawmakers urging them to extend mayoral control while taking a "veiled shot" at Cuomo's plan to take over low-performing schools.
Two influential business groups also backed de Blasio's call to make mayoral control permanent, citing his administration's handling of its universal prekindergarten program and "ambitious" school turnaround plan.
De Blasio took a swipe at Cuomo — although not by name — this weekend when he criticized the "failing" label given to low-performing schools in public education.
-My Agenda for NY Opportunity: Boosting Access to Good Schools – New York Post
Cuomo writes in an op-ed that he wants to pass the DREAM act — which Republicans oppose — and another law that provides private school scholarships for middle and lower-income students — which teachers unions oppose — as part of a broader agenda to improve access to higher quality education.
Parents and teachers continued to weigh in on the problems facing New York City schools with little agreement.
More than 37,000 four-year-olds have signed up for prekindergarten so far, more than halfway toward the city's goal of 70,000 before a deadline next month.
A Manhattan elementary school is telling prospective parents that a "minimum" of six hours of volunteer fund-raising for the school is expected of them during the school year, violating city rules.
The city's decision to add pre-K programs to some school buildings next year without going through a space-planning process involving the Panel for Educational Policy is raising eyebrows among some parent leaders.
I start every morning the same way. I sip my coffee and skim the news, usually education news. This morning I came across a good article in Huffington Post, Why Investing in Kids Is Good for Business.
It serves as a powerful reminder. In New York, we are days away from a budget deal. The budget is expected to be complete within a week on Wednesday, April 1st. Now, as they say, it is down to three men in a room. Those men would be Governor Cuomo, Speaker Heastie and Majority Leader Skelos.
Over the past few months, many important early education proposals have been discussed and the outcome remains unclear. The stakes feel high. For example, the future for QUALITYstarsNY, New York’s quality rating and improvement system, will depend on securing funding in the final budget because federal Race to the Top funding runs out in June. Governor Cuomo’s executive budget included funding, while the Senate and Assembly budgets did not. In the past two weeks, we have seen educators and parents contacting their representatives to explain the importance of this critical investment. It is inspiring stuff. Click here to see an example from one amazing QUALITYstarsNY program, Club Fed Child Care Center in Albany, NY. An overwhelming number of QUALITYstarsNY programs signed a letter asking leadership to include the investment in the final budget proposal. Similar outreach is occurring to support expanded preschool and child care investments. There is a lot of uncertainty, but this uncertainty has been met with action on behalf of kids and families across New York.
In this final week, let’s take a moment to remember just WHY early education is such a powerful investment (taken from the Huffington Post article referenced above):
- The economic case is clear: We also know that investing in early childhood education improves the educational attainment of individuals in the long term, and will lead them to better and brighter economic futures. These realities show us beyond a shadow of a doubt that when children start behind, they so often stay behind,
- The evidence is clear: Over 90 percent of brain development occurs between a child's birth and the time they are five-years-old, and that so many life outcomes are impacted and determined during those precious early years.
- The science is clear: As Dr. Craig Ramey of Virginia Tech has shown through a 30-year longitudinal study and comparison of at-risk youth who received quality childcare and those who didn't, 23 percent of individuals who received childcare were college graduates by age 30, compared to just 6 percent of those who did not.
We work on behalf of children. It is our job to support and encourage leadership in our state to do the same. Thank you to those who have. We have five days left!
Bonnie Beukema is the Deputy Director for the Early Childhood Professional Development Institute, CUNY. Two parts wonk and one part activist, Bonnie started her career in education as a policy analyst and advocate, organizing parents to speak out to policymakers. She used those lessons to lead early education system reform efforts at the Washington State Department of Early Learning, culminating in a successful Race to the Top initiative. She is pictured above with her adorable niece.
Happy first day of spring! This week, there is a ton going on in New York in relation to Pre-K news! The articles below cover our top picks for the most important reads for this week. Enjoy!
City officials plan to close 18 schools by 2017, according to the Daily News.
Cuomo’s Education Plan: Where Do Other Lawmakers Stand? – Lohund: The Journal News
As lawmakers enter the final stages of budget negotiations, both the Assembly and Senate agree on one thing — their budgets remove the link between additional education funding and Gov. Cuomo's proposed policy changes.
The city's plan to allow mid-day prayer breaks for pre-K programs operating in religious schools is continuing to raise questions among civil-liberties groups, who say the city "seems to be asking for a lawsuit."
As Mayor Bill de Blasio’s signature education policy change, universal pre-K, enters year two, parents of four-year-olds began applying Monday.
13 Charter Schools Approved to Offer Pre-K this Fall – Capital New York
Sixteen charter schools will offer pre-K in the fall, after the Department of Education approved applications from 13 new schools.
De Blasio Touts Early Pre-K Application Numbers – Capital New York
Nearly 22,000 children signed up for a pre-kindergarten seat on the first day of enrollment, three times as many as last year.
City Nixes 45 Percent of Potential Full-Day Pre-K Providers – New York Post
The city rejected 45 percent of pre-K providers that applied for the city's expansion.
There will be "very clear opt-out rules" for students in religious pre-K programs who don't want to take part in prayer activities permitted for next year, a top city official said.
The official, Richard Buery, also pushed back against criticism that the pre-K expansion disproportionately benefited middle class families, saying most students lived in areas below the city's median income while also highlighting the merits of classroom diversity.
Poll: Voters Sour on Cuomo’s Education Plans – Capital NY
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s statewide approval rating fell to 50 percent – the lowest it’s been since he took office in 2011 – largely due to his proposed education policy changes, according to a Quinnipiac University poll. The poll released Wednesday shows just 28 percent of voters approve of the governor’s actions on education.
Last week, some colleagues asked me for suggestions for developmentally appropriate classroom activities to feature on this blog for St. Patrick’s Day. My response was short and simple: I’d rather not.
My immediate reaction surprised some of my coworkers, especially those that don’t have hands-on experience working with young children. So rather than moving on and looking elsewhere for shamrocks and leprechauns, my curious and trusting colleagues wanted to understand why I reacted this way.
The answer is a little complicated – but I’ve tried to unpack it here:
1. I believe in an intentional, integrated curriculum and thoughtful planning.
I often push back when people ask for activities. In fact, I think some of the best activities that ever happened in my Head Start classroom were designed by or suggested by 4-year-olds. Far too often as the grown-ups in the room, we get caught up in the end product and forget about the concepts we’re teaching and building upon.
I had the benefit of spending the last few years providing professional development to Pre-K teachers and assistant teachers. They were such an incredible group of dedicated, passionate, caring educators and they came to each session eager to learn and grow. One of the most difficult shifts over the course of the year was from activity focused planning to objective focused planning. In objective focused planning, we look at activities as a vehicle for teaching as well as assessing rather than something to do or make. Here is how the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) defines curriculum:
“Curriculum is more than a collection of enjoyable activities. Curriculum is a complex idea containing multiple components, such as goals, content, pedagogy, or instructional practices. Curriculum is influenced by many factors, including society’s values, content standards, accountability systems, research findings, community expectations, culture and language, and individual children’s characteristics.” 
2. I believe that young children’s experiences should be relevant to their lives and respectful of their families.
The conversation on whether to celebrate- or even acknowledge- holidays in early childhood programs has been a hot topic since I started early childhood education coursework twenty years ago. When I worked as a teacher in a Head Start program in California, there was no conversation to be had- no holidays were celebrated, including birthdays.
Many years ago, I found guidance in an article from NAEYC. They have sense incorporated holidays into the important work they do in the area of anti-bias education.
“NAEYC believes that decisions about what holidays to celebrate are best made together by teachers, parents, and children. Families and staff are more comfortable when both have expressed their views and understand how a decision has been reached. The important thing for all to remember is that when planning holiday activities, the rules of good practice continue to apply: Are the activities meaningful to the children? Are their needs and interests being met? Is the activity a valuable use of children's time?”
How easy it can be to lose sight of the difference between what is meaningful to us, what is interesting to us, and what is valuable to us as compared to the young children and families with whom we work. In some early childhood settings, recognition and celebration of St. Patrick’s Day will be both relevant and appropriate. In these instances, consider all there is to explore that is related to the holiday and integrate all of those topics into lesson planning over a few weeks.
3. I believe that the ways in which teachers interact with children during an activity can matter more than the activity itself.
Lesson planning can be stressful and overwhelming. Staring at blank pages or empty boxes can often lead to the question: What are we going to do? There is pressure to plan activities that relate to the course of study, are engaging and challenging, and can be modified to meet the needs of all children. Sometimes the role of the teacher gets lost in that planning. Your words – and sometimes your silence!- has a huge impact on how and what children learn.
I have used the following article The Nature of Teacher Talk during Small Group Activities, from the wonderful NAEYC publication, Young Children in professional development sessions over the last few years. This article is a must read for anyone who works with children in small groups, a time that is so important and often overlooked in planning. Small group activities provide an opportunity for teaching, observing and assessing. Perhaps most importantly, the intimate nature of small groups can allow you to get to know the children in your care in a very different way. The authors conclude:
“Our choice of words is important (Johnson 2004). Consider the power of a hurtful word or how words are used in advertising to persuade us to buy products. Words shape our attitudes, feelings and thoughts. Yet language is such a part of our lives that we often take it for granted. As educators, we must continually ask ourselves how we can use language for our ultimate purpose: to support children’s development and learning.”
Thank you to my fantastic coworkers for believing that I had something important to say, though it might not have been what was planned. I am not anti-St. Patrick’s Day or any other holiday being recognized in early childhood programs when it is done thoughtfully, intentionally and with respect to all families and staff.
I wonder when I will reveal my Irish heritage to them.
Louisa Higgins is the coordinator for New York Works for Children (NYWFC), the state's integrated professional development system for the early childhood and school age workforce, administered by the PDI. Louisa began her career as a teacher in a Head Start program and went on to work as a mental health consultant in pre-k classrooms before transitioning into policy support and systems building. Louisa misses working with children but finds so much joy when she has the opportunity to work with adults through professional development – and spends a lot of time with her niece (pictured) and nephew.
 National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (NAECS/SDE). (2003).Joint position statement on early childhood curriculum, assessment, and program evaluation building an effective, accountable system in programs for children birth through age 8. Washington, DC: NAEYC, p. 6.
 Celebrating Holidays in Early Childhood Programs; https://oldweb.naeyc.org/ece/1996/18.asp
 The Nature of Teacher Talk during Small Group Activities. Rainer Dangel, Julie; Durden, Tonia Renee.
Young Children, v65 n1 p74-78, 80-81 Jan 2010 (http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1015&context=cyfsfacpub)
Happy Friday to all! Here are our top picks for early childhood education news in New York this week! Enjoy!
A new Manhattan preschool set to open later this year will include a 3,500-square-foot outdoor space with a classroom, garden and climbing boulders.
-Gender Gap in Education Cuts Both Ways – New York Times
Eduardo Porter: The 'most troubling imbalance' in a new report on the achievement gap between boys and girls is that of less-educated student groups: Six of 10 underachievers are boys, including 15 percent who are American boys compared with 9 percent American girls.
Assembly Democrats have put forth a budget proposal that adds $1.8 billion to the state’s schools outlay and scraps the education-policy proposals made by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Mayor Bill de Blasio is working to amass a "financial war chest" to help fight for his policy ideas, including getting more state funding for schools.
-Slow-Motion de Blasio on School Fixes – Daily News
Editorial: The fact that some schools in the city's turnaround program are waiting for specific help, and that it's unclear when schools will get an extra hour of instructional time, as Chalkbeat reported last week, means the de Blasio administration is not moving fast enough.
Mayor de Blasio will release a joint statement with Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner calling on the governor to increase education spending; funds they say could be used to enact "meaningful reform."
-Preachers Back Cuomo’s Education Reform Plan – New York Post
A contingent of influential black preachers is planning to spend the month pushing Gov. Cuomo's education-policy plans, saying it's part of their mission of helping the disaffected to fight "educational injustice."
RSVP for our Final Principals’ Institute, March 23rd: Creating Community in and with Early Childhood Classrooms
We are excited to invite you and a colleague to the next workshop of the Principals' Institute, Creating Community in and with Early Childhood Classrooms, which takes place Monday, March 23rd from 8 – 10:30 AM. This is the final workshop in a series of three hosted by the City University of New York (CUNY) and the NYC Department of Education open to all principals in New York City. Join us for breakfast and great conversation!
Featured Speaker: Suzanne Carothers
Dr. Suzanne Carothers, professor at NYU, will discuss why family involvement is a critical component of programs for young children. The workshop will focus on strategies for building home/ school partnerships that support young children’s learning along with implications for what leaders can do to support teachers to build them. Strategies that support young children's learning will be explored in depth as will approaches that honor all families, respect cultural differences and provide for children who are English language learners.
We look forward to seeing you
Monday, March 23rd from 8:00 – 10:30 AM
at the CUNY Graduate Center – Concourse Level
365 Fifth Ave, between 34th and 35th Street.
Registration opens at 8 AM. Seminar will begin at 8:30 AM.
Please call us at 718-254-7353 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or to change RSVP information.