By Alison May
Last month, 25 legislators and two legislative staff representing 14 states and the District of Columbia traveled to the Mile High City of Denver to participate in the second of two face-to-face meetings as part of their yearlong participation in NCSL’s Early Learning Fellows Program.
Selected Early Learning Fellows, chosen through a competitive application process, arrived in Denver ready to continue their work as a cohesive group, prepared to network and learn from legislative colleagues, researchers and NCSL staff.
The first full day of the meeting was chock full of presentations. The morning began by hearing from a local sheriff and member of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids about the importance of the early years and protecting public safety by promoting solutions that steer kids away from crime.
This was followed by a session discussing self-regulation and executive function skills, defined as what enables us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Self-regulation and executive function skills are important and are not skills we are just born with. Interested to learn a little more? A great example of these skills can be seen in a three-minute video called The Marshmallow Test.
Other day one highlights included hearing about the importance of home visiting from current Early Learning Fellow Representative Kathy Swan (R-Mo.) and a presentation from University of Denver researchers about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in the early years.
Many states continue to discuss suspension and expulsion in early childhood settings and NCSL was pleased to cover this very topic at our meeting. Having Representative Susan Lontine (D-Colo.), an alum of the Early Learning Fellows Program, and Representative James Coleman (D-Colo.) discuss each of their bipartisan bills that focus on suspension, expulsion and teacher workforce created the space for an engaging and thoughtful dialogue.
Rounding out the day was a session about early childhood data—how to get it, how to secure it and how to appropriately use it. And to conclude the jam-packed day we had a social reception and dinner at the hotel, which was enjoyed by all.
A lot of ground was covered during the second day of the meeting, including financing strategies and school finance formulas, chronic absenteeism, children’s caucuses, third grade reading, child care workforce and school readiness, transitions and K-3 alignment. As important, day two of the meeting gave participants many opportunities to complete their Early Learning Plan.
During the two face-to-face Early Learning Fellows meeting participants are encouraged to create their Early Learning Plan—an individualized road map to help participants identify priorities and goals, and establish steps and timelines to achieve what’s important to each legislator or legislative staffer in their state.
“I found the sessions extremely engaging”, says Representative Stephanie Hilferty (R-La.). “I appreciated the opportunity to translate the data and research from the sessions into potential state legislation. During the 2017 legislative session, Louisiana created a STEM Advisory Council composed of educators, business and industry, policymakers and elected officials. Drs. Sarama and Clements’ presented their Building Blocks program and the introduction of STEM in the first years of life. I plan on bringing this information back to Louisiana for use in our advisory council.”
When asked about the meeting and the program overall, Representative Sandra Hollins (D-Utah) shared that “the Early Learning Fellows has taught me the benefits of early childhood education on the emotional, social and physical development of young children.”
The 2017 Early Learning Fellows Program also included a June face-to-face meeting in Omaha and webinars in July and August. Participants in this year’s program now join a cadre of NCSL Early Learning Fellow Alumni across the country.
NCSL looks forward to continuing this program and will begin the selection process for the 2018 cohort during the first quarter of next year. Interested in learning more? Visit our webpage.
Alison May is a staff coordinator in NCSL’s Children and Families program.