Lil’ Red Hen Nursery and Pre-School

Lil’ Red Hen Nursery and Pre-School in Delmar, Del., has the special distinction of serving both Maryland and Delaware. Located on the border of these states, this center has created one big community through its work in providing quality care to generations of these neighboring areas.

This community is what motivates Anne Atkinson, owner/administrator, to continue to pursue quality improvements for the more than 125 young children – infants to school age – in her program.

“We have parents who came to Lil’ Red Hen as children,” said Anne. “Now their kids are here because of the quality education. They keep coming back, and they give back.”

“The Delmar community helped support us during COVID. Families provided lunches and dinners and looked for every opportunity to accommodate our staff.”

And in return, Anne and her staff are steadfast in delivering an educational experience rooted in a philosophy that focuses on creating learners versus performers.

“Our educational philosophy is for our children to be excited about the world and willing to try new things – a learner,” Anne explains. “Versus a performer who is afraid to fail.”

To help cultivate this philosophy, Lil’ Red Hen utilized funding from the DIEEC “Let’s Go Outside” outdoor learning initiative to build an outdoor classroom. Additionally, Anne is a “Let’s Go Outside” ambassador and is excited to spread the word to other early childhood education programs about the benefits of outdoor learning.

Anne’s involvement with DIEEC doesn’t end there. She participates in Communities of Practice (CoPs). CoPs are regularly scheduled meetings facilitated by a DIEEC technical assistant (TA) where early childhood professionals can support and share ideas with others in the field.

“Our CoP most definitely helps support me,” said Anne. “It has been a sounding board where directors can share their successes and failures and give advice.”

Support has also come from Anne’s relationship with her DIEEC TA, Holly Griest. According to Anne, Holly “really understands” their goals and provides timely support with emails and counsel to help them make quality improvements.

“Our role has been to be a source of support and resources as the program makes efforts in improving their quality of care,” said Holly. “They expanded their learning with additional support and coaching.”

“They have developed a relationship and continue to consistently collaborate with me in working with the QRIS/CQI protocol to keep their momentum of wanting to do more and do better, constantly moving forward.”

“Finally, they are a staple in the Delmar community, and they take pride in that! Their efforts to provide the best care in the area are endless, and they are always striving to do better.”

Week of the Young Child

DIEEC, in partnership with the University of Delaware Lab School hosted “The Heart of Early Childhood Education: Teaching Social and Emotional Resilience in Young Children” panel discussion on April 6, 2022. Early childhood advocates came together to discuss and reflect on the critical need for young children to develop the skills to be resilient.

Nefertiti B. Poyner, Ed.D. is an accomplished educator, author, public speaker, and professional learning specialist. She currently serves as a national teacher and early childhood specialist with the Devereux Center for Resilience where she helps those in the field “build their bounce.” Prior to joining Devereux, Nefertiti got her start with local roots as a preschool and kindergarten teacher in the city of Philadelphia.

Jamie Schneider is the owner/administrator of the Educational Enrichment Center (EEC) in Wilmington. In addition to the EEC, she also serves as the board president for the Delaware Association for the Education of Young Children (deaeyc). During the COVID-19 pandemic, Jamie led the Delaware Childcare Reopening Task Force to help bring awareness and essential support to those in the field.

Melanie Thomas-Price, Ed.D is an experienced educator, author, therapist, administrator, and early childhood advocate. Throughout her career, Melanie has served as a special education teacher and family crisis therapist in the Delaware public school system. Currently, she serves as the CEO/director of Leap of Faith Child Development Center (CDC) in Wilmington.

Clark Scott is a current second grade teacher at Anna P. Mote Elementary School. Prior to beginning his current role, he served as an intern with the Red Clay School District. Clark is a graduate of the University of Delaware. Originally from Washington, D.C, Clark is passionate about serving as a role model for students, as he was inspired by his own educators growing up.

Laura Morris is a master teacher for the University of Delaware Lab School and also the designer/leader of the annual “I Can Be Mindful” summer camp for the last six years. Prior to coming to the Lab School, Laura has led a three-decade career in education where she’s worked to design early childhood education programs that support and include children/families from all walks of life.

Early child care teachers sow off a patchwork quilt with individual squares from each child

Bayhealth Child Care & Early Learning Center

Brenda Kibler, Bayhealth Child Care & Early Learning Center director, and Laurie DeZao, curriculum coordinator, are creating a movement. “My mission is for child care providers to be considered as professional as any teacher,” said Brenda. “I just need the world to know that we are critical and not a babysitter.”

Their roadmap for this quest is to keep quality at the heart of everything they do at their center. Bayhealth Child Care & Early Learning Center serves 70 children in the Dover area. The center primarily serves Bayhealth hospital’s employees’ children and accepts non-employees’ children if space permits.

Like most early childhood professionals, what’s clear is that they have a ‘heart’ for working with young children. Providing quality care begins with their passion. They have spent their careers working in early childhood – 43 years for Brenda and 18 for Laurie.

“It’s a calling,” said Brenda. “Our staff has a higher sense of purpose.” She charges her staff to implement best practices and then go the extra mile.

“During COVID, we wanted our children to thrive, just not survive,” added Brenda. “We are like extended family and provide families with a lot of stability. This was especially important at the height of COVID.”

Another example of exceeding expectations is what Bayhealth does to support positive behavior management through “teasing shields.” Teasing shields are used by the children to encourage positive problem-solving skills.

“When a child’s feelings are hurt they put up the shield. The shield protects the child from negative words and emotions by empowering the children to resolve conflicts. It’s a win-win!

“Children just don’t deserve the minimum from us or the floor. They need us to break the ceiling – blow it out of the water for them,” added Laurie.

To help pass on their passion and purpose, Bayhealth participates in Delaware’s Project Search.This one-year transition program offers training and education leading to employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Bayhealth partners with the Capital School district to provide work experiences in the child care setting.

We serve as ‘job coaches’ to the individuals and give support and guidance,” said Brenda.

“Great teachers aren’t born and need others in the field to reach out.”

The Bayhealth staff also participates in DIEEC’s Community of Practice, regularly scheduled meetings for group sharing and support facilitated by a DIEEC Technical Assistant.

“Bayhealth staff wears their professions like a badge of honor,” said Nancy Hoffman, DIEEC center-based technical assistant. “They can never do enough for the children they serve.”

Q & A with Karen Schreiber and Toni Dickerson, Sussex Preschools

What comes to mind when you think of the word “legacy?”

“The impact on others that you leave behind.”

Can you give an example of the impact of your work as it relates to legacy?

“We are now seeing children of the children that we had in teen outreach programs years ago, and the fact that we were the person that they trusted with their children is heartwarming.”

Provide background on how you chose early childhood as your profession. Were there other family members in the field who influenced your work?

“We both left our previous positions in order to serve children and families that were being overlooked by other programs.”

What keeps you motivated to continue serving young children?

“The fact that children in our area still do not receive fair/equitable services based on their zip code, and are underserved, even after 20+ combined years of advocacy for us. When children aren’t being served, neither are their teachers and families, and we try to fix that in all areas of our work.”

When your current children are adults, what would you like them to remember about their experience in your care?

“We would want them to know they were loved and that someone put them first.”

If you could go back in time and give your younger, professional self a piece of advice related to leaving your mark/legacy on the field of early childhood, what would that be?

“Stop waiting for a seat at the table, and build your own table.”

Sarah Reyes of Jesus Seeds Daycare was featured in Voices from the Field

Q & A with Sarah Reyes, Seeds of Jesus Daycare

What comes to mind when you think of the word “legacy?”

“When I think about legacy, the first thing that comes to mind is what I leave behind for our children. Unfortunately, the world is marked by social, cultural, and economic disparities. But what if we teach our children at an early age faith and cultural values?”

Can you give an example of the impact of your work as it relates to legacy?

“My mission is to teach our children values that exemplify the Bible’s golden rule about love and respect for others, as Jesus commissioned to all of us. That is how Christian and bilingual education evolves as part of my professional mission and goal in early childhood. In our program, children learn to appreciate differences of cultures, races, languages, and faiths. I want to leave a legacy of Christian values, Spanish language acquisition, and culture to young children.”

Provide background on how you chose early childhood as your profession. Were there other family members in the field who influenced your work?

“My paternal grandfather was a significant influence in my childhood years. In my native Puerto Rico, my grandfather was our neighborhood guitar teacher. The neighborhood residents, specifically young children and youth, respected him as an instructor. His teaching skills and passion captured my attention and admiration. He was a role model who left behind a legacy of musicians, singers, and a community that shared its culture throughout younger generations. He was a model of education and cultural legacy to me.”

What keeps you motivated to continue serving young children?

“I find my inspiration in my children. Because I was concerned about the quality of early childhood education for my children, in the spring of 2004, I decided to quit the art teacher position to become an early childhood professional as a family daycare. The acceptance of our diverse community has been my engine to continue with the mission of leaving a faith, cultural, and linguistic legacy to our young children. At present, I have expanded the school to a child care center where I continue providing quality education to young children.”

When your current children are adults, what would you like them to remember about their experience in your care?

“I want my students to make kindness, love, and empathy part of their lifestyle. My desire is that faith values and cultural legacy pass from generation to generation.”

If you could go back in time and give your younger, professional self a piece of advice related to leaving your mark/legacy on the field of early childhood, what would that be?

“If I could go back in time, one piece of advice I would give myself would be to leave behind my insecurities. Teaching Christian values and culture has been one of the most valuable and rewarding professional experiences in my life. Maybe I can’t eradicate the world’s inequalities. But I can empower our children to be the change we all want for them. That is my legacy to future generations.”

Early childhood educator, Michelle Williams featured in Voices from the Field

Q & A with Michelle Williams, Hilltop Lutheran Neighborhood Center

What comes to mind when you think of the word “legacy?”

“Impact and making a positive difference comes to mind when I think of the word legacy.”

Can you give an example of the impact of your work as it relates to legacy?

Having a positive influence on generations of families who enroll their children in Hilltop programs because of our relationships. An example is we host an annual Girl Boss Summit to empower girls and to let them know that, not only is it alright for them to be in leadership positions/roles, but they can also succeed in them.”

Provide background on how you chose early childhood as your profession. Were there other family members in the field who influenced your work?

“Early childhood chose me. Hilltop was my first and is the only full-time job that I’ve had. I am in my twenty-first year! I came here after completing a year of AmeriCorps service with Public Allies Delaware. Prior to that I was a student at the University of Delaware. I did my practicum/internship with Northern Delaware Early Head Start (where I first met Heidi Beck), now known as New Directions Early Head Start (NDEHS). I started at Hilltop as the lone family service worker for both NDEHS and ECAP and worked my way up to now being the executive director of the organization. Being able to build relationships and make connections with the children and families, seeing them succeed/achieve goals, as well as being able to relate to many of their lived experiences, has kept me in the field.”

“There were no family members in the field, but I brought my sister in to volunteer in ECAP. She quickly became a substitute, an assistant teacher and now a lead teacher (19 years later).”

What keeps you motivated to continue serving young children?

The joy of seeing children and families meet their goals keeps me motivated. To be able to listen and be the support person that is needed also brings me joy. The gratitude that is shown by the families when they receive food baskets and grocery store gift cards for the holidays. The smiles that are on the children’s faces when we have special events or when they receive their gifts for the holidays melts my heart. Attending high school graduations of former participants is truly a great feeling. All of these and many more experiences let me know that my efforts are well worth some of the challenges that are endured in doing this work.”

“When your current children are adults, what would you like them to remember about their experience in your care?

The loving and family-like atmosphere that Hilltop provides.”

“The friendships and relationships that were established.”

“Teachers who were impactful.”

“I want them to be able to have “remember when” stories that they can share and have good laughs about. Since most children come in as infants and stay until they are in middle school, I also want them to remember some of the mistakes they make so that they are knowledgeable of the consequences that may come.”

If you could go back in time and give your younger, professional self a piece of advice related to leaving your mark/legacy on the field of early childhood, what would that be?

“Do it because you love it! Be genuine! Be consistent (even when it’s hard)! Give it all you got! Impacting lives is bigger than yourself! Be the change maker that you always hear about!”

M & M Daycare parent engament outdoors at park

Pauline Kugmeh, M & M Daycare

Pauline Kugmeh has worked in the early childhood field for more than 15 years. Currently, she owns and operates M&M Daycare, a family child care program in New Castle, Del. Like many early childhood educators, she is motivated because of her passion for caring for and educating young children.

Recently, Pauline wanted to learn more about community engagement, so she attended DIEEC’s professional learning experience, “Authentic Community Engagement PLUS.”

The professional learning experience includes a group reflective experience (GRE) where participants share what they learned during the workshop session. Pauline learned that community engagement is about building mutually respectful, strengths-based relationships between program educators, families, community members, and agencies.

Next, participants select a goal and identify steps to implement after the workshop. Then during the GRE, they share their experience with colleagues about implementing their plan. A professional development coordinator guides these reports back through a framework of reflection.

Pauline set a goal to meet her families’ needs more intentionally through connections to resources in the community. As a first step, she is engaging with families to build relationships and better understand their needs.

“One of the keys to successful partnerships is parents’ engagement,” said Pauline. “I want my families to know each other better and build a bridge of confidence via provider/families’ interactions.”

To accomplish this goal, Pauline created a “WhatsApp” chat group for her families to connect on their phones easily. Through these conversations, Pauline and her parents decided to have a picnic which she hosted on April 30 at Battery Park.

The professional learning experience provided Pauline with what she needed to set other goals to build productive and meaningful relationships and for her to develop the best practice of reflection.

“I learned a lot from this training,” said Pauline. “I was able to take away how partnerships with families can build bridges of confidence and trust. Additionally, these relationships allow me to problem solve with parents by identifying the root cause of the problem.”

Little Hearts Child Care

Lori Reed has been working in early childhood education for her 30 – year career. Like many in the field, her passion is educating and caring for young children. What started as a summer camp position when she was 15-years-old, has evolved into a journey of discovery and learning about

“what young children can absorb.”

Although Lori is currently an administrator at Little Hearts Child Care, located in Wilmington, Del., she has a set of leadership principles that has guided her work throughout her career.

“All of us have a sphere of influence,” said Lori. “We have to be accountable for our influence. I am intentional about using my influence, and it all starts with the children.”

“At Little Hearts Child Care, we value learning, but we are aware of the power of our words. Children will remember what they learn, but they will also not forget how they feel.”

Her approach with her staff is similar. “People don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care,” adds Lori. “You have to earn trust and not demand it.”

Little Hearts Child Care program has embedded itself with the community using the same care and concern. Every year, the program does a spring neighborhood cleanup day, where three- and four-year-old students take a small trip outside to help clean up their neighborhood. During the holidays, Little Hearts partners with the non-profit Here2Help Association to provide toys to at-risk families in the community.

“I believe that our staff and their connection to the community we serve make our program unique. We don’t just serve our community between 7:00 am to 5:30 pm. Our staff personally invest its time and energy well past business hours. They treat our families as if they were their own,” said Lori.

Although there’s a lot of heart at this program, this compassion doesn’t overshadow adhering to policies and implementing best practices for children.

DIEEC Technical Assistant Nancy Hoffman supports this program and has been impressed by its pursuit of providing high-quality care to its children.

“Lori realizes that high-quality care is of the utmost importance,” said Nancy. “For example, she recently worked hard to find a communication platform that was more effective in communicating with parents. She tried out several before finding the one that increased parents’ responsiveness.”

This change was just one of the many things on Lori’s to-do list.

“I have learned that the strength of our program relies on paying attention to the details,” concludes Lori. “Details show people that we care. It means something to people when you call their home when their child is out sick, it matters to families when we take the time to explain how much their presence in our program matters to us, it matters that we show families that it’s not just about numbers, rules, and policies, but that it is about loving on their precious children.”