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Supporting Children Through an Educational Journey

Angelica Vilaverde knew from a young age she had the makings to be a teacher, but it wasn't until 2009 when she found out how much of an impact she would have on the lives of students. Working with low-income, at-risk families brought some challenges Angelica's way but what drew her in as an Early Head Start teacher was listening to their stories and using parents as a key instrument in their child’s successful educational journey.

Angelica Vilaverda is being honored as a Champion of Change for her commitment to delivering on the promise of Head Start in her community, helping to educate and care for our youngest, most vulnerable children. 

As a teacher in the Early Head Start community, I am honored to be a White House Champion of Change. As I reflect upon my service in my community and what it means to me to be an Early Head Start teacher at Educare Arizona, I realize that it all began with my passion for children at a very young age. My passion was recognized in the fourth grade. I arrived promptly each day to tend to my morning duty of escorting children in wheelchairs to their classroom. All I remember my mother saying was, “She will be a great teacher one day.” My journey in Head Start began in November 2009 as a teacher for the Early Head Start Center-Based program. I knew how to support the play of children and how to conduct developmental assessments, but was unaware of the astounding impact the children and families would have on my work. Working with low-income, at-risk families brought some challenges my way but what drew me in as an Early Head Start teacher was listening to their stories and using parents as a key instrument in their child’s successful educational journey.

I used multiple venues to engage parents and families on this expedition within my Early Head Start community in Arizona. Parent and family engagement is an important component of the Head Start program but for me it was an opportunity to support the individual development of infants and toddlers and their parents. It also allowed parents to educate me about their children. These incredible discussions often began at Early Head Start breakfast time where I would enjoy family style meals with toddlers and their parents. We conversed on subjects like recent family events and developmental milestones that their toddler has just attained.

One conversation I will never forget as long as I live is one with a mother of a child with a disability who was enrolled in my Early Head Start toddler classroom. This Hispanic mother had shared her cultural perspective about toddler family style meals and the potential for toddlers to play with their food at mealtimes. She felt that this that this autonomy during meal times at Early Head Start could result in a mess at mealtimes. She shared with me that her daughter made a mess every time she ate and that it frustrated her. I explained to her the importance for sensory exploration in children and simply said, “She’s exploring her environment,” as her child spread applesauce all over her face and hands.

After a few days this same mother came to the Early Head Start classroom with her sweet toddler. As the mother and the child sat to enjoy another breakfast as a transition ritual, the toddler's hands began to dance in her food. Her mother, who always quickly wiped her daughter’s hands with a paper towel, looked at me and said, “Teacher Angelica, she’s exploring!” Although we both chuckled at the humor behind her comment, it hit me hard. You are probably asking, “What’s the point?” The point is that the power of parent and family engagement is limitless. This mother's engagement in Early Head Start created a partnership in her child's education that will be built upon for future foundation of school readiness.

The use of family engagement in the Early Head Start program creates a sense of community for parents of infants and toddlers. The Early Head Start classroom environment sends messages that families belong here. Parents became a part of their child’s educational journey. A profound experience is when I had a father come to the classroom to plan together with me for his daughter’s development. At our meeting, I handed him some pictures, glue and other materials and said, “Here is your chance to be Picasso.” This father had a puzzled look on his face but took on the challenge. The end result was a "developmental story" that he created and discussed with me using pictures of his daughter’s Early Head Start classroom experiences. This "developmental story" contained on every page a reflection about all of her positive attributes and progressions in her development. Needless to say, his excitement about his creation prompted him to share his experience as a single father with other parents.

My work within the larger Early Head Start community has resulted in my ongoing participation as a member of the 2012-2013 Early Head Start Data Sharing Workgroup, which will assist the field of infant-family practice to create systems to sustain parent and family engagement in school readiness. The promising practices that I have participated in developing will be utilized in the field by other early childhood professionals that are seeking to engage families with infants and toddlers as full partners in preparing their child for future school success.

I believe that these examples illustrate the importance of intervening and supporting infants and toddlers and their families within our communities. As an Early Head Start teacher, I encourage professionals in the infant-family practice field to embrace the potential of full parent and family engagement in their infant’s and toddler’s education. The earlier parents become consumers of their children’s education, the more profound the impact within our communities. My sole purpose in this important field is to not make all the money in the world. In fact, it is to dedicate myself to infant and toddler learning outcomes by ensuring that families’ experiences result in engagement so that they become strong advocates for their children and their Early Head Start communities.

Angelica Vilaverde is an Early Head Start Center-based Teacher.