April Gagliano, UWM alumna, front row at right, was the Advanced Career Award winner. Jackie Herd-Barber (center), who serves on the School of Education’s Board of Visitors, received the Champion of Education Award. At left is Alyssa Mussa, who won the Early Career Award. Other UWM alumni nominated for awards included Maria A. Garcia-Rodriguez, Advanced Career Award Nominee; Brittany Light, Advanced Career Award Nominee; Wanda Montgomery, Champion of Education Award Nominee; Kelly Schaer, Champion of Education Award Nominee; Casey Silkwood, Early Career Award Nominee.
A number of alumni of UWM’s School of Education were among those honored at the fifth annual Celebrate Teachers and Teaching on Oct. 26.
The focus of this year’s event, which is a collaborative effort of the Education Deans of Greater Milwaukee and nine local schools of education, was early childhood education. This year’s Celebration was held at Milwaukee Area Technical College.
Among the School of Education graduates honored as educators and education champions were:
- April Gagliano, a kindergarten teacher at MPS’s Academy of Accelerated Learning, who received the Advanced Career Award
- Maria A. Garcia-Rodriguez, Advanced Career Award Nominee
- Brittany Light, Advanced Career Award Nominee
- Wanda Montgomery, Champion of Education Award Nominee
- Kelly Schaer, Champion of Education Award Nominee
- Casey Silkwood, Early Career Award Nominee
Also honored was Jackie Herd-Barber, who won the 2017 Champion of Education Award. She serves on the UWM SOE Board of Visitors and is an active community volunteer and education advocate. Angel Hessel, senior lecturer in Curriculum & Instruction, served as co-chair of this year’s event.
Keynote speaker at the event was Dr. Dipesh Navsaria. Navsaria is a physician and associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. One of the areas he focuses on is early brain development.
He practices primary care pediatrics at a federally-qualified health center in South Madison, and is the founding medical director of Reach Out and Read Wisconsin and the founder and director of the UW Pediatric Early Literacy Projects.
In an interview before the event, Navsaria talked about the changing challenges facing teachers in early childhood education. (Slides from Dr. Dipesh Navsaria’s presentation)
“We used to think years ago that learning started at age 6,” he said. “Our public school system was set up to start at first grade. When we realized school started a little earlier, we imported this thing called kindergarten from Germany. And then we realized learning actually starts younger and younger and now we know that it begins at birth.”
The challenge for early childhood teachers is that children arrive in their programs with a wide range of experiences from those early years. Some have nurturing environments and come prepared with curiosity and enthusiasm, according to Navsaria. Others come from more challenging environments.
“What happens then is that their brains are primed not for learning and engagement with the world around them, but for self-protection and safety.
“As you can imagine, there are big differences between a child whose brain has been primed for all these things and a child whose brain has been primed for learning and curiosity. Yet, we are putting them next to each other in the same classroom and asking teachers to do the same thing with them. That’s a pretty tall order we’re putting on educators.”
The solutions lie in collaborations among pediatricians, teachers and families in providing children with nurturing, stimulating environments from birth on, he said. That’s one of the goals of the program he’s involved in as a pediatrician. This program, known as Reach Out and Read, uses well-child checkups to engage parents, model and coach them about literacy.
Developing these nurturing relationships is vital for early brain development, according to Navsaria. “There’s no app or toy that does anything as positive for children under the age of two as building these relationships.”
Teachers also need to work with their students and their families to encourage and teach them the skills they need to develop these nurturing, stimulating relationships, he added.
Too often when children are doing things adults perceive as objectionable in class, they are perceived as misbehaving, said Navsaria.
“When a child flies off the handle over something minor, the question shouldn’t be what’s wrong with you, the question should be what happened to you? What happened that led to this being a response that worked for you before?”
While that doesn’t mean the behavior should be ignored, asking those questions can help the teacher understand what is triggering the behavior and learn how to approach it.
Navsaria also believes, he said, that teachers and schools and the rest of the community need to be involved in prevention. “They have to advocate for programs that support families, jobs that provide living wages, access to good healthcare and adequate housing and food. That is out of the wheelhouse of most teachers, but it has a direct and major impact on the work they are doing.”
While he believes that children can overcome environmental challenges to learning over time and with good teaching, it’s harder to do as they grow older.
“Trying to ‘repair’ a teenager’s’ interest in learning and ability to learn and engagement with the educational system is possible, but it is far more difficult than trying to get it right the first time. And, it can take a massive investment to do that when we should be putting our money into preventing it at the front end.”
“There‘s a lot of talk in our society and in Wisconsin about trauma-informed care — and that’s a good thing — but there also has to be more emphasis on prevention. You don’t need trauma-informed care if the trauma doesn’t happen in the first place.”
The social and political climate has changed to be more supportive of early childhood education, Navsaria said, but there are still those leaders who view it as simply “daycare,” or a place for children to go while their parents work.
Society needs to change that mindset, he said.
“If you want to, you can think of early childhood programs as early workforce development.”
It’s not just about that child and their family, he added, or their school or their community. It’s actually about all of society.
“There are so many kids out there with absolutely fantastic intellects that are flunking out of school, he said. If they are given the right support from an early age, they could be the person who finds a cure for Alzheimer’s or figures out how to get people to Mars or establishes world peace.”
“The intellectual potential we leave behind when we don’t get it right early on is immense. It’s like leaving oil in the ground. This is a natural resource that we’re just throwing away and that ultimately would benefit all of us.”