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Fifth annual UFT Early Childhood Conference

‘We can’t do it alone’

450 educators get message that collaboration is key to success in education

Karen Alford, the UFT vice president for elementary schools, welcomes educators Miller Photography

Karen Alford, the UFT vice president for elementary schools, welcomes educators to the conference, while keynote speaker Kathleen Cashin (inset), a New York Regent, shares strategies for helping children become responsible adults.

In this workshop on smartboard technology, Kavita Bharat (left) of PS 131 at PS Miller Photography

In this workshop on smartboard technology, Kavita Bharat (left) of PS 131 at PS 380 in Brooklyn and Jennie Chu of PS 171 in Manhattan learn some tips from Tanisha Franks (center), the UFT Staten Island education liaison.

The playful yoga workshop has everyone stretching, breathing and relaxing. Miller Photography

The playful yoga workshop has everyone stretching, breathing and relaxing.

The theme of the day was “Collaboration: Changing Lives Together,” and it brought 450 early childhood educators to UFT headquarters for their fifth annual conference on March 24.

“We can’t do it alone, we know it takes parents, teachers, family child care providers, administrators, politicians and advocates for children,” said UFT Vice President for Elementary Schools Karen Alford as she welcomed the educators to their day of learning, reflection and meeting their colleagues from schools across the city.

Participants had their choice of 15 morning and afternoon workshops and a plenary session featuring Dr. Kathleen Cashin, a New York state Regent, UFT President Michael Mulgrew and Alford.

“You’re in for an awesome day of collaborative learning,” Alford promised at the outset — as well as time for celebrating the work of early childhood educators, who, she said, despite the constant push for “accountability” never forget to include play, dance, art, music, green learning and laughter in their students’ day.

Mulgrew, in his opening remarks, underscored the importance of the educators’ work, saying that despite all the disagreements in the “contact sport” of education reform, there is one thing that everyone agrees on: the earlier you get to children and work with them to develop their learning skills, the better. 

Dr. Cashin offered her wisdom as a lifelong educator, who began working as a teacher and became a staff developer, principal, superintendent, regional superintendent and now Regent. 

“The key to success during stressful times — and this is a stressful time — is collaboration,” Cashin said. 

“Don’t stand alone; educators and parents should work together,” she advised, noting that all her successes as a regional administrator were the result of collaboration.

New York City Councilman Stephen Levin also addressed the group, telling them that “in a city and era when it’s popular to bash teachers, there’s nothing that can replace the work that you do every day in the classroom.”

Levin criticized the mayor for cutting funding for early education. Every year, he said, “we have to fight” the tens of millions of dollars in cuts to early childhood programs in the mayor’s budget — and this year is no exception.

The workshops, most led by UFT educators with a specialty in the topic area, included autism and literacy, integrating technology into the classroom with smartboards, teaching science, math for bilingual learners, a Let’s Cook! food and nutrition class, differentiating instruction, and building children’s vocabulary. 

Pre-K teacher Pam Deych, of PS 131 in Brooklyn, who was attending her first early childhood conference, welcomed the chance to check out the “More than ABCs and 1,2,3” workshop, which she said will help with the early literacy work that she is already doing in her classroom, where the students speak six different languages.

Nanette Smith, a physical education teacher at PS 37 in Queens, said she plans to use what she learned in the “Playful Yoga with Children” workshop in her gym classes.

“When my students finally get to the gym, they can’t concentrate and focus on a lesson” without some type of relaxation exercise, Smith said. 

Chapter Leader Evelyn Ortiz, of PS 159 in the Bronx, brought two parents and their children along with her, because “these are things they can practice at home and share with other parents as well,” she said of the workshop offerings. 

“Parents are their children’s first teachers. You have to change your parenting skills at every stage,” the visual arts and literacy teacher said.

Her own objective, Ortiz said “is to bring the community closer to the school.” 

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