Leveraging Insights

by Kim Cauley Eckel, 2018 OCDEL Policy Fellow

In my role as the Young Child Wellness Coordinator for PA Project LAUNCH, I am continually looking for opportunities to promote the social emotional health of families through pregnancy and the first eight years of life.  Project LAUNCH, which stands for Linking Actions for Unmet Needs in Children’s Health, is a five-year SAMHSA grant that the Commonwealth was awarded.  Allegheny County serves as the local site of implementation, and following the national model for this grant, has five workgroups that meet monthly pursuing various projects related to improving the quality, accessibility and integration of services available to families with young children.

The OCDEL fellowship has not only helped make this state agency more “real” in my mind’s eye by providing the opportunity to directly engage with staff, but has provided me with a great number of insights which is directly impacting my current work leading the implementation of PA Project LAUNCH.

By virtue of being able to share coffee and chat with Deb Daulton before a fellowship meeting began, I will now be able to share Allegheny County’s work to forge cross-sector partnerships and professional development between home visiting programs and opioid centers of excellence at the state’s upcoming Home Visiting conference.

Weekly assignments that cultivate group discussion gave me the opportunity to read the insightful suggestion by one of my colleagues, that pediatricians ought to be educated on OCDEL’s statement about reducing preschool suspensions and expulsions.  Project LAUNCH is in the process of creating communication pieces and professional development content for pediatricians on topics related to early childhood mental health, and unpacking the prevalence and impact of preschool suspensions and expulsions and the services that are available to support families will be a meaningful topic to add to our communication and professional development offerings.

Finally, the OCDEL fellowship provides a meaningful opportunity to hear first-hand from some of the state leaders crafting and implementing early childhood policy.  During one of our sessions, I was able to dig into the substance of our state’s new ESSA plan[1] with OCDEL staff, exploring how our state’s Future Ready PA Index now means that schools will be judged on the basis of the social emotional content delivered to students as prep for “career readiness.”  The Career Readiness Indicator in our state’s index will look to see how schools prepare students on such things as self-reflection, communication and conflict resolution.[2]  These are skills that teachers can learn how to foster in their students via the professional development that LAUNCH has made available.  As we announce the upcoming opportunity for this professional development that we’ll be providing to Allegheny County’s 43 school districts, our cover letter will not only help interpret what the new state ESSA plan will mean for administrators moving forward, but will frame our opportunity as a means of satisfying the requirements of this new plan.

For anyone considering this Fellowship opportunity, I highly recommend it.  There are many opportunities and insights to leverage in the early childhood field by virtue of taking part.

[1] http://www.education.pa.gov/Documents/K-12/ESSA/Resources/PA%20ESSA%20Consolidated%20State%20Plan%20Final.pdf


[2] http://www.stateboard.education.pa.gov/Documents/Regulations%20and%20Statements/State%20Academic%20Standards/Career%20Education%20and%20Work%20Standards.pdf


Learning my Strengths through the OCDEL Policy Fellowship

by Jessica Chelik, 2018 OCDEL Policy Fellow

Since starting the fellowship in September, I feel that I have learned new things about myself both professionally and personally.

Prior to the fellowship I was at a crossroads as to what direction in my life I wanted to explore.  The fellowship has allowed me to learn more about different programs under OCDEL that I didn’t have much knowledge about before, such as Keystone STARS and child care. I also learned how long it takes for policies to be developed and the processes involved for a policy to be finalized.

My favorite part of the fellowship thus far has been the Strengths Finders activity.  I found it interesting to learn what my top 5 strengths are. It has also allowed me to use my strengths in my job when interacting with staff and families.

My mentor, Emily Hackleman, has been amazing and very supportive throughout my  fellowship , including my project.  When I tell people that my project is in relation to data, they find it so funny because they know I am the least tech person around.    My vision for my project is that it will be a useful tool for Early Intervention programs when reviewing their data.  My project involves giving suggestions or ways that programs can review their data to help them see their strengths and works on areas that may need improvement.

I am halfway done with my fellowship and I am looking forward to see what I learn during the remainder of the fellowship.


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!