(February 27, 2019) Catherine Read sits down with Mary Braxton, Board member of the Virginia Association for the Education of Young Children (VAAEYC), to discuss early childhood education in the state of Virginia.
Braxton has had a long career in early childhood education. She was an owner/operator of her own in-home childcare business for 27 years, and is a long-time board member of the VAAEYC. Additionally, Braxton also serves on the Southern Early Childhood Association (SECA) Board, as well as being a former President of the Virginia Alliance of Family Childcare Associations. Her breadth and depth of knowledge surrounding early childhood education is wide and deep. Braxton has stood as a strong advocate for Virginia’s children by promoting policies that help improve access to quality early childhood education options.
The VAAEYC has its roots in the Virginia Council on Social Work. Efforts began in 1955 to bring together child care personnel and others interested in preschool children. In 1956, sixty individuals attended a Child Care Preschool Institute in Roanoke, VA. A year later, 200 advocates met, adopted a constitution, and selected the name – the Virginia Association for the Education of Young Children. In 1969 the state association decided to affiliate with the national organization (NAYEC), and then in 1972 the group also affiliated with the Southern Early Childhood Association (SECA).
The mission of the VAAEYC is to promote the professional growth of persons working with young children, improve the availability and quality of developmental and educational services and resources for young children, to advocate and promote public policy decisions which improve the quality of life for young children and their families, and to support, disseminate and utilize research related the well being and education of young children. The organization focuses on children ages birth to eight years of age, and there are eight chapters of the VAAEYC located throughout the commonwealth.
Braxton speaks passionately about the importance of quality pre-K education as the foundation of learning for children. Preschool is where children learn the social and emotional skills that they need for success in both school and in life. Studies have shown that children who have access to quality preschool education have better outcomes than their peers who do not. Braxton and her colleagues work tirelessly to help advance the cause of making affordable childcare accessible to all children. She notes that over 1/3 of the state of Virginia is considered a “childcare desert”, meaning that there are not enough programs to meet the needs of all children who want to access preschool education.
Former Governor Terry McAuliffe established the first ever Children’s Cabinet in Virginia to spotlight the importance of early childhood education. This group has continued under current Governor Ralph Northam, and has expanded to include the first School Readiness Officer in Virginia, Jenna Conway. Her role is to help expand access to quality pre-K education to all Virginia children.
Access and quality of childcare varies widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction throughout Virginia. In Northern Virginia, there are strict licensing requirements for child care providers in Fairfax, Arlington and Alexandria. This assures parents that their children are in a safe environment, weather they are at a daycare center or with an in-home daycare provider. These include things like background checks, CPR certifications and property assessments to ensure a safe environment. In Prince William County, however, providers can have up to 4 children in their home without being subject to any licensing requirements whatsoever.
The many statewide organizations are working together to help bring about positive policy change in regards to early childhood education. They are in regular contact with local, state and federal representatives, and often speak and testify at public hearings in order to advance their issues. As the critical importance of quality early childhood development is more widely accepted as an integral factor in future wellbeing, Braxton is optimistic that their agenda will be more widely accepted, and she encourages everyone to visit their website to better understand the policy initiatives that they are advancing.
The VAAEYC is holding the 63rd annual conference, entitled Constructing Solid Foundations for Children, on March 14-16 at the Hotel Roanoke in Roanoke, VA. The conference is the premier professional development event in Virginia for early childhood educators. The conference will feature 100+ workshops, catering to all aspects of preschool education. Braxton is excited to bring together childcare professionals from around the state to share ideas and best practices. One of the things she loves most about these conferences is that childcare providers are treated as true professionals. Braxton shares that the energy at the conference is palpable, and the attendees find it both empowering and motivating when networking with others in their field. Those interested can visit the website to learn more and sign up for the conference.