Pittsburgh’s Early Learning Soiree

by Shimira Williams, 2016-17 OCDEL Policy Fellowship Alumni 

I am Shimira Williams, a Pennsylvania Office of the Child Development and Early Learning Policy Fellowship alumni.  In early February I decided to host an Early Learning Soiree after attending a meeting at the Navus House in the Central Northside neighborhood of the City of Pittsburgh. The venue was perfect for the evening the Homewood Child Care Associate members always talked about, during planning meetings. The members are home-based early learning providers that wants to host an evening to just relax and talk shop but not have a formal agenda and new activities to complete. Since I had access to the venue, I started planning an evening and here’s what I learned.   


Have a budget and vision for the atmosphere you want to create for the meet-up. First, ask how are you going to pay for it? Next, Who do you want in the room and what type of connections are you hoping to spark between the attendees?  Once you’ve answered these questions do some research: ask yourself who in your network can support your effort as well as what’s happening in your local, regional or national ecosystem?


For this initial meet-up, I was intentional about focusing on getting home-based early learning providers in a new environment so they might see themselves as business owners or community leaders. With this in mind,  I tapped into the City of Pittsburgh’s Inclusive Innovation Week, since there were no barriers to entry to participate. Once my idea was approved and added the Inclusive Innovation Week calendar I gained credibility and was able to secure the desired location for the meet-up.


Next, I reached out to my Pittsburgh-based colleagues from the Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning Policy Fellowship to join me in doing five-minute ignite style talks about their work in early learning. They all graciously accepted the invite, and I looped in the fellowship team into the conversation. The Heinz Endowments funded the alumni cohort of the policy fellowship and noticed the event which how the conversation started about sponsorship.  It was unexpected but allow us to rethink our catering services and hire a photographer. For this event, I reached out to AxnFgr Visual to send a photographer to document the evening because I wanted to be a host.


The essential component to hosting any meetup or event is to be flexible and have fun. As a former early learning provider, I know that a definitive plan is necessary, but it can all go differently fast, and you need to be willing to adapt to people’s needs. The primary reason for organizing the meetup is to share resources amongst women business owner and executive in early learning and human services. Let the attendees relax; they spend the majority of their time taking care of children and supporting their families. Here are a few tips for hosting an early learning meet-up in your area.  



Do a little research to discover where you can gain support or who you can align with to implement your idea. Do not limit your search to a local event, consider regional and national initiatives and hashtags. The Early Learning Soiree was April 6, 2018, which overlapped City of Pittsburgh Inclusive Innovation Week (#WeInnovatePGH)  and Month of the Young Child (#MOYC2018), plus it was able to use the common networking hashtag #FirstFriday. In your discovery phase answer these questions.


  • Do you belong to any groups or organizations that can assist or support your idea?
  • How does your idea align with what your community’s need?
  • Are there funding opportunities available?
  • Review the local calendar, what’s around happening in the area?
  • What hashtags and keywords can you utilize?



Location is key to setting the atmosphere and accessibility to meetup. Over the years while participating in the Homewood Child Care Association we had discussed have a meetup. I am in a Facebook group for Pennsylvania providers, in central PA they host a meetup at local restaurants. Find a location that works for you and the be people you want in the room. When you are evaluating a place, ask these questions.

  • Do you want attendees to engage in a specific activity? If so what does it require a particular environment?
  • Is the space handicap accessible?  
  • Will this be a family-friendly environment?
  • What is your parking needs and is it accessible via mass transit?



Invite the people you want in the room. Take the time to invest in sending certain people a physical invitation. Also, create an online registration channel to communicate with potential attendees. Then share this information with your network and ecosystems to spread the word about your meetup. If the event, is closed to a targeted group of people do an invite-only using a link. Here are few free online platforms I utilized to create marketing materials.

  • Canva is a tool that makes it possible to design anything and publish anywhere. With its user-friendly drag and drop tool. With Canva, you can easily create beautiful documents & designs for any occasion and purpose.
  • Eventbrite is a platform to help you build, manage, and grow your events that integrates seamlessly with Facebook Events.
  • MailChimp is an marketing automation platform that help customers find their audience, engage their customers, and build their brand.
  1. LET EAT!

I’m a firm believer of doing what’s in your budget. Be creative and find a partner with your local ecosystem, consider a local catering service provider or local farmer. I will admit that Pittsburgh is very fortunate to have a plethora of options and a supportive community.


Meeting at a local eatery is always an option. I still recommend contacting the location in advance, to set a reservation and see if there synergies. It can be something as simple as agreeing to host your meetup of their slow night so they can accommodate your group and it gives the bump in sales.

Who in your local ecosystem can support refreshments for the meetup?

Remember, closed mouths don’t get fed.  



Create a method to collect contact information to follow-up with who’s in the room after the meetup. It’s as simple as taking a picture with your cellphone and sharing on social media. Before you share, get permission from the people. Keep it simple. Create a traditional sign-in sheet that includes a release opt-in. The form should capture attendees Name, Telephone, email address and media release option. Don’t forget to follow-up with a thank note to all the attendees as well as sponsors and partners.


Photo Credit: Raymond Carrington

Location: Navus House, Pittsburgh PA



by Kamilah Philpotts, 2018 OCDEL Policy Fellow

“Why did OCDEL…?” This is a common question heard in my sector of the ECE field.

I am a Keystone STARS Team Leader at the Southeast Regional Key. This work involves working with child care providers to assist them in demonstrating how they meet the Keystone STARS standards. In doing so, I’m able to assess their needs and connect them with technical assistance, professional development, partner agencies, and other resources. I also have the pleasure of supervising a team of Quality Coaches in doing this work.

Child care providers often look to the regional key as the face of OCDEL. When Keystone STARS in revised or new initiatives are put forth, the regional key is charged with spreading the word in their respective region. As such, often times providers and regional key staff alike wonder “Why did OCDEL…?” This question is what prompted me to apply for the OCDEL Policy Fellowship. The fellowship has given me the opportunity to gain an understanding of the complex systems that comprise OCDEL in order to gain perspective and explain the why behind the how.

Participation in the fellowship for me has been all about gaining perspective. Hearing the perspective of leaders in the field has been an invaluable experience. It’s allowed me to see the overarching goals and helped me to decide where I see myself aiding in achieving those goals.

Some of the most impactful experiences that were directly related to my work was listening to Deputy Secretary Susan Morris describe the vision for Early Learning Resource Centers. It was also wonderful to hear Secretary Pedro Rivera describe the holistic approach to education the Every Student Succeeds Act allows school districts to take.

I’ve also had the pleasure of working with Donna Wennerholt, the Professional Development Project manager at the PA Key as my mentor. Donna helped me connect the pieces in the relationship between OCDEL, the PA Key, and the regional keys.

Perspective is powerful. When one takes the time to see the other side of a situation, it gives the ability to appreciate both sides. I am ever grateful to have had the opportunity to gain perspective.


by Ilecia Buckner, 2018 OCDEL Policy Fellow

When they come, don’t stop and stare

Grab a hold of the ones you hold dear

Destiny awaits before your eyes,

Whether you see it or not, don’t be surprised

I have the opportunity to walk with destiny, my friend

And destiny’s cousin, opportunity, met me in the end

I hold the OCDEL Fellowship as an opportunity that destiny hooked up

I hold the OCDEL Fellowship more than just pure luck

I am meeting new people, envisioning new places, seeing new things

I am learning about new endeavors, new projects, new ways to make WINS!

In a field I hold dearly in my heart, in a field where little lives make their start

My colleagues, my mentors, my agency, my state,

Has surrounded me with new knowledge that will help me continue in this fight for ECE’s place,

In a world that didn’t know it or see its value that well

Now it’s my time, it’s our time, OCDEL fellows to make a pitch that will sell

We are selling this to our neighbors, family, and friends

We are selling this to our schools, child cares, and centers

We are selling this to our legislators; federal, local, and state

We are selling this to our families, if they start now it won’t be too late

For their little ones to grow, develop, and learn

For their parenting skills to flourish, get better, developmental successes earned

For their communities to see what quality early childcare can produce

For their hopes and dreams to come alive from the help of the early learning crew

Take a look, take a look, take a look at the walls

Take a look, take a look, take a look through the halls

Look at Sally’s painting

Look at Maria’s “a”

Look at Kevin’s house of blocks

Look at Doa’s pretend play

Listen up, listen up, listen to what they say

Listen up, listen up, listen as they play

Listen to Sally tell her teacher how she feels

Listen to Maria tell her friend how she likes her meal

Listen to Kevin count from one to ten

Listen to Doa sing as all his friends join in

This is what we see and this is what we hear,

When we tune into ECE learning throughout the year

These amazing feats coming from classrooms

Equipped with talented staff,

Who put everything they have into making changes that last

In little minds, in little hearts,

Present, now

Future, later

Thanks for all involved

OCDEL, parents, teachers, fellows, advocates, legislators, directors, trainers

Opportunity has knocked for all involved

Opportunity meets destiny for me!

Opportunity meets destiny for ECE!

We Are All Digital Citizens

by Shimira Williams, 2017 OCDEL Policy Fellowship Graduate

We are all digital citizens!

No matter, how much you engage with technology, you are a digital citizen. And it’s our responsibility to build future digital citizens that will shape our digital communities and create future digital tools. Take a moment and think about the evolution of how we listen to and create music.

When I was eight years old, I got a record player, and my mom taught me all about how to take care of it and my albums (LPs). At eleven years old, I got an upgrade to a stereo with a record player, radio, microphone line and dual tape cassette deck.  Now, I could make mix tapes.  For my first trip on an airplane, my family got me a portable CD player.  In my senior year at college, I got a CD burner for my computer. At one point I owned 60 GB of music, today I primarily listen to music via a streaming service. The digital tools I use to listen or create music have evolved. At each point, I had to learn the nuances of the new digital tool. In a desire to learn more, I branched out from home into the community and started visiting my local library.

photo courtesy of Shimira Williams

I doubt when my parents purchased the record player they could imagine; in the future, I would be to create a playlist of my favorite songs and listen to them via wireless earphones from the connection to phone in my pocket. Online and in real life parents are a child’s first teachers. How you use your devices is reflected in your child’s play.  Giving the rest of the world a glimpse into your digital habits along with what shows up your web search results.

A few years ago my sister posts this picture to Facebook with the caption “ I can’t believe our little princess will be four soon.  #shewasworking #yesthatsadoublestrollerandlaptop #girlpower. ”

The picture got 38 likes, and seven comments, one being me

“Modeling mommy…”  In reply to one comment, my sister wrote “Lol. I bet. It’s interesting to see how they perceive us. She [Jael] sees me with the double stroller, laptop, keys, cell phone, and saying I’m working” – J. Smith

More recently, I had an awesome auntie weekend with four children three of them were under seven years old and other was 17. The last question, I asked the parents before they left for the weekend was how much screen-time are the children allowed.  “The kindergartens each get two hours per weekend, and the teenager has to unplug by 1 am.” Is that all screens or just television?

You are the architect of the digital ecosystem for the child/children you interact with using media and digital tools.

Regardless of how you construct your digital ecosystem, its foundation should be built on research-based resources. While there are varying opinions, everyone agrees that we should make it a habit to unplug/disconnect from your technology, so you can refresh/rechargeDo what works for you and your environment. In my classroom, there was a docking station to charge technology when it was in use; you can create one at home too.  However, I try to use features built-in to the device, like Airplane Mode or Do Not Disturb. By far, Do Not Disturb is a favorite method because it allows me to enable the function on-demand or schedule.

Three Media Mentor Tips for getting started in media literacy education with young children:

As adults, we are the gatekeeper for how much access a child has to digital tools and the personal data of a child. With the uptick in data breaches we are forced to consider who, what, why and how data is being collected, shared and stored.

  • Be proactive about digital privacy rights. Before installing apps review what type of data access you allow. Take a moment to do a privacy and security check on your digital ecosystem.

Before we let a child play in an environment, we tend to explore the landscape and its surrounding. Do the same with digital tools, before handing it over to a child. And like at the playground sometimes you need to join in, and sometimes you can observe. Embrace the moments of observation as a window in a child’s voice.

  • It’s important to understand how and why a child is interacting with a digital tool through their lens. Ask them to teach you how to play. It’s empowering for both parties and can spark a robust conversation.

Extend your relationship into your digital world.  First, make a connection through a shared consumption experience like listening to an audiobook together.  Once trust is established, shift to co-creating, sometimes you lead, other times you need to follow your child’s lead.

  • Turn a moment into memory with media and Let your camera roll be a child’s soundtrack with collaborations from their community.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the video is priceless. Think about an old family photo and how different story people tell about it. Technology, allows us to amplify the storytelling, no longer do we have to guess when and where a picture. Video allows the people to tell their own story. Once we share it with our community, we solicit contributing narratives, via comments, reactions and call to actions.

The Internet has changed how and where we build community, but libraries continue to a community anchor.  A library card continues to magnify our exposure to different cultures and spaces while creating space to gather for shared experiences.

  • Get to know your librarian; they still serve as trusted community members of information. Many libraries are leading efforts to address the digital divide through skills programming and lending initiatives. Now libraries are interconnected, allowing our access to information and digital tools beyond what’s available at your local branch.

While where, what, how, and who we can access has evolved. At the core, it’s still human to human relationships co-existing in communities online and in real life. As citizens, we must ask why are we creating, connecting, communicating, and collaborating and how does it build our communities. Because it will dictate what digital tools future generations create.


This post originally appeared on the Erikson Institute Website

Jumpstart’s Read for the Record: Using My Fellowship Experience to Build Partnerships

by Christa Hunter, 2017 OCDEL Policy Fellowship Graduate

“Imagine starting a race knowing more than half of your competitors will be given a head start. Not exactly fair, is it?”

I read those words on a brochure during my freshman year of college before submitting my application to the Jumpstart Pittsburgh program at the University of Pittsburgh. Jumpstart is a national early education organization that recruits and trains college students and community members to serve preschool children in under-resourced communities through a language, literacy, and social-emotional curriculum. Jumpstart was the greatest experience for me during my time in college. I was able to spend a significant amount of time in preschool classrooms each week, learn about early childhood education in our state, and discover my passion for the field. It was an eye-opening experience and one I am truly grateful for since it set me on the career path I am today.

After graduating, I was fortunate enough to become a Jumpstart Site Manager. I truly enjoyed watching the college students I managed grow and learn. I coached and supported pre-service teachers inside and outside of the classroom every week, communicated with child care staff on a regular basis, and connected with families during events. During this past year, I was able to take on a new role at Temple University’s College of Education as the Assistant Director for Early Learning Services and Career & Student Development. I continue to work with pre-service teachers as well as support the college’s early learning initiatives. I still work closely with the Jumpstart Site Managers and do everything I can to support the work our students are doing in the field.


Last year, I participated in the OCDEL Policy Fellowship. This gave me the opportunity to learn more about OCDEL’s policies and procedures, meet leaders across the state, and develop leadership skills to help me grow as a professional. Additionally, I connected with leaders at OCDEL such as Deputy Secretary Suzann Morris who provided us with insight on the state of early learning in Pennsylvania. Being a native from Philadelphia, I was inspired by Suzann’s leadership and encouraged to continue to grow as a leader myself.

This year, we are grateful for Deputy Secretary Morris’s support of Jumpstart’s Read for the Record not just at Temple University but across the state. Jumpstart’s Read for the Record highlights the importance of high-quality early education in America by mobilizing millions of children and adults to celebrate literacy by participating in the largest shared reading experience. On October 19th, children and adults around the world will highlight the importance of children’s literacy by reading, “Quackers” by Liz Wong. In Philadelphia, we try to engage as many people in the city to participate in this national event and spread the word about the importance of high-quality early education and literacy. Community members, Temple faculty, staff, and students, Jumpstart Corps members, teachers, and children participate in our celebration every year at Temple University.



My participation in the OCDEL Fellowship provided me with the confidence to connect with leaders at the state and local level to participate in this year’s event at Temple. I have actively been seeking more opportunities to get involved in early childhood education conversations in my city to bring back to my students as they prepare for their future as educators and I am looking forward to continuing my growth and development with the skills I learned from this experience.

* To learn more about Jumpstart’s Read for the Record and how to get involved, click here: https://www.jstart.org/read-for-the-record/

** If you would like to participate in Temple University’s event on October 19th, please email jumpstart@temple.edu for more information.