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April 16, 2007

Investing in Pre-K Teachers and Parents

[This entry was contributed by guest blogger Marissa Castro Mikoy, the director of the Universal Pre-Kindergarten Incentive Program at CentroNía, an educational community-based organization in Washington, D.C.]

As a pre-k program administrator, it can be easy to think, "I have a great curriculum, classrooms full of top-notch materials - we are all set." Experience has taught me that providing a high-quality program takes much more, from the cultivation of parent involvement to professional development that meets the needs of each teacher. Many components must converge and be fostered to achieve "high quality." Here are my thoughts on a couple of these key pieces.

Teachers: Just having "great" teachers does not necessarily translate to a high-quality program. It is imperative that programs invest in teachers and nurture their professional development. Through the program I lead at CentroNía, funds are available for all teachers to continue their education. In fact, we have a number of teachers who have gone back to school to obtain an associate's or bachelor's degree in early childhood education. Our program benefits not only from having better-prepared teachers but also from having teachers who reciprocate and invest even more of themselves in our center.

Families: The development of a strong family involvement plan is just as important. At CentroNía, we host monthly Family Nights, a time when parents share food and conversation while teachers and staff help them learn about the program curriculum, child development, parenting strategies, and more. Through these events, our families begin to view each other, not just our staff, as resources and supports. I have seen parents of different cultural and economic backgrounds develop relationships at these meetings, and one parent I know of organized a weekend play group based on relationships forged at Family Night.

At an even deeper level, Family Night helps us identify parents interested in serving on the city-wide Parent Advisory Council. Parents from each of D.C.'s 17 Pre-K Incentive Program organizations sit on the council, and among other things have helped organize written testimony and support for the city's publicly-funded program, igniting greater family involvement and advocacy at many pre-k centers.

When families, teachers, and program staff have opportunities like these to interact, form bonds, and grow, I believe the result is a strong, collaborative team that works energetically to sustain the high quality standards all parties desire.

My thanks to all of you readers and Sophia for letting me share a little about CentroNía and the D.C. Pre-K Incentive Program with you over the past week. I look forward to reading your entries and comments and responding with more of my own stories.

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