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Michelle Kang, NAEYC chief executive officer, will be keynote speaker

What is one of the Kansas City region’s biggest unmet needs? According to data from Child Care Aware of Kansas and Child Care Aware of Missouri, the region’s early learning programs only have the capacity to serve half of our young children.

To address that need, the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) organized a steering committee of early learning educators, providers, business and civic leaders, and other advocates as part of an effort called Connecting the P.I.E.C.E.S. KC. The goal is to transform the region’s early learning system through shared planning and collective action. The steering committee consists of 32 members including parents and representatives from 27 local organizations.

The steering committee’s first event, the Forum on Early Learning, is scheduled for Saturday, July 13, from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Kauffman Foundation Conference Center. There is no charge to attend.

“This forum is unique because over half of the time is allotted for participation for the attendees,” said Toni Sturdivant, Ph.D., director of MARC’s Early Learning Department. “We are not presenting a plan, but instead coming to the community to hear what the needs are, possible solutions and concerns from as many people as possible.”

Sturdivant said the discussions that take place at the forum will inform the next stages of the committee’s strategic planning process, which includes deciding on short- and long-term solutions and developing metrics to monitor progress.

Michelle Kang

Michelle Kang

To provide motivation and inspiration at the forum, event organizers invited a national leader in the early learning community, Michelle Kang, chief executive officer for the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Kang writes and speaks about the challenges and opportunities facing the early childhood education workforce.

NAEYC is the largest professional association for early childhood education and is considered a leader in quality early learning. Sturdivant said NAEYC’s unifying framework, which provides a blueprint for states to establish necessary credentials and experience for early educators across multiple delivery systems, is used nationwide, including locally.

“On both sides of the state line we have NAEYC-accredited early learning programs and local early childhood leaders who are members of NAEYC and regularly attend NAEYC professional development events,” Sturdivant said. “The opportunity to see the CEO of NAEYC is often limited to seeing her speak on stage at NAEYC’s large conferences. This forum in Kansas City will allow our local community to have a closer interaction with one of the key leaders in the field of early education.”

The forum is open to anyone interested in early learning:

  • parents
  • early educator
  • employer
  • someone preparing future early educators
  • someone who works at a school that benefits from students having been enrolled in quality early learning programs
  • anyone who wants their voice to be heard

“The issues around the early learning system are complex and will require multi-faceted solutions,” Sturdivant said. “The more people who weigh in, the better the result will be. All of us benefit from a high-performing early learning system.”

Forum registrations are still being accepted. Because seating is limited, attendees are asked to register online. Individuals and organizations who want to get involved but can’t attend the forum can participate in one of the five workgroups formed around the five pillars of an effective early learning system. Those interested can sign up online.