[r59] Representing Indiana at the Early Learning Fellows Conference (5/21/2014)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Start Date: 5/21/2014 Start Time: 8:00 AM

Representing Indiana at the Early Learning Fellows Conference

I was humbled when House Speaker Brian Bosma asked me to represent the Indiana House of Representatives at the Early Learning Fellows Conference in Denver. Hosted by the National Conference of State Legislators, the conference is known to strengthen state leaders in the subject of early learning.  This year’s class of fellows was comprised of legislators and staff from 14 different states. It was refreshing to hear new perspectives from legislators in Oregon and Alabama on what they are doing to improve their state’s early learning model.

The purpose of the conference was to work together, exchanging ideas using new research, in order to craft policies that address the achievement gap. Throughout the conference, I was given the opportunity to meet with researchers and policy experts in the field of early learning as well. One of those experts was Dr. Deb Leong. She graduated from Harvard Medical School and now practices medicine in Boston.

Dr. Leong spoke to us in depth about the importance of brain development, stressing that self-management and using resources to achieve a goal is critical during a child’s early stages of learning. Inhibition, emotional control and the ability to plan and stay organized are some examples of what she referred to as ‘executive functions.’ According to Dr. Leong, children who do not develop these executive functions are more at risk for academic setbacks than those who develop them. It was interesting to hear the science behind early learning and what steps parents and guardians can take to help with their child’s brain development at an early age.

We also talked extensively about two-generation strategies which emphasizes the importance of  educating both the child and the parent together. This strategy also highlights the important role that nutrition, the environment, proper mental health treatment and friends all contribute to development in a child’s life. While this is not necessarily a new idea, it is important for parents to acknowledge that they are the child’s number one teacher and critical to their success.

Early childhood development has always been a top priority of mine, and childcare and early education has captured the attention of fellow policy makers, researchers, educators and parents in recent years. With compelling advances in brain development research, state lawmakers are working to improve access to high quality, early childhood services that are essential to their development, school readiness and success later in life. Some of these services can be found close to home.

The following list includes some of those opportunities available to newborn through five years olds in our community:

  • Bright Beginnings provides quality care for children six weeks to four years old.
  • Busy Bees is a pre-k program that is based at Johnson Education Center, CSA, Fodrea, Rockcreek and Mt. Healthy.
  • Pre-K Title 1 is a pre-k program that is based at all elementary schools with the exception of CSA, Lincoln and Fodrea.
  • Beacon is a before and after school program for Bright Beginnings and Pre-Kindergarten Programs.
  • Family School Partners is a free home visitation program created to help parents of preschool children ages one through five develop skills as their child’s first and most important teacher.

As a result of my Early Learning Fellowship program, I am even more committed to early learning research and development. I recognize that the pathway for a successful future is to ensure that the youngest generations have top-notch education available to them. With that being said, I am eager to meet with more researchers about the topic while educating fellow legislators in the coming months about what I learned at the early learning fellowship.


Smith_Early Learning Fellows.docx