Early childhood educators were on the front line of the pandemic as essential workers. And they continue to put themselves at risk to serve the community. Yet these essential workers — mostly Black and brown women — have been historically overworked and underpaid. They are rarely given the time and resources they need to advocate for themselves and the young children and families they serve daily. On April 30, 2021, three of our Early Childhood Initiative partners — the District of Columbia Association for the Education of Young Children, the D.C. Family Child Care Association and the District of Columbia Head Start Association — hosted the DC Early Educator Experience (DC Early EdX). These host organizations are led by and made up of early childhood professionals, including teachers, program directors and administrators.
The one-day virtual conference marked the end of the “Month of the Young Child” and recognized early childhood educators and administrators who work in D.C. DC Early EdX brought together more than 1,200 of them for a day of self-care, advocacy and well-deserved appreciation. DC Early EdX was unique in the way it was organized, as it focused on uplifting, supporting and centering these early childhood professionals. The event was practitioner-led, with the host organizations guiding every aspect of the program. “It was custom-tailored to fit the actual needs and wants of the people who are participating,” explains Alexa Griffin, Program Manager for the Early Childhood Initiative at the Bainum Family Foundation. “We started the planning by asking practitioners ‘What are you looking to get out of the experience? What are you not getting out of your day to day that the conference may have the chance to provide? What do you need most in this moment?’”
Most of the content was also delivered by practicing educators and administrators, reinforcing their role as experts with specialized knowledge and skills. The content was presented in multiple tracks, representing the attendees’ roles in the field. Each earned six professional development hours for attending the event.
Participants also received a surprise “wellness” gift box in the mail before the event. The wellness theme continued during the event as participants shared and practiced mental well-being strategies. A fitness instructor, a live emcee, raffles, lunch deliveries and a live DJ elicited movement and merriment.
“We are so focused on taking care of others, we forget to take care of ourselves. We need to find time and stop making excuses,” said one participant after the conference.
“These professionals don’t always feel appreciated or seen as educators,” commented Marica Cox Mitchell, Senior Director of Early Childhood at the foundation. “Every detail was intentionally designed with this in mind. For example, we referred to participants as early childhood educators and administrators, regardless of where they worked or the ages of children they served.”
“DC Early EdX was the ultimate celebration to uplift the spirit, expertise, voice and advocacy efforts of early childhood educators, which is critical for not only the profession but the young children and families that they serve.”
Between training sessions, the early childhood professionals heard appreciation messages directly from families, young children, DC councilmembers, employers, District agency staff, health care workers, and radio and TV celebrities. Participants also walked away with an overview of the policy and funding decisions that will likely impact their practice and ways they can influence these decisions. More than 85% of participants identified compensation and benefits as the resources they need in order to stay in the field and enjoy working with young children.
“DC Early EdX was the ultimate celebration to uplift the spirit, expertise, voice and advocacy efforts of early childhood educators, which is critical for not only the profession but the young children and families that they serve,” says Kathy Hollowell-Makle, Executive Director of the District of Columbia Association for the Education of Young Children.
This inaugural event was a smashing success. Participants discussed how the day had “revived” them and given them a sense of “belonging.” As one participant summed up the day, “I am so filled with gratitude, joy and overwhelmed with all that was said from our speakers this morning. Thank you for caring and recognizing us. Peace and Love to all!!”