By Preschool 3 Teacher Lorraine Yamin
Late last spring, deputies from the New York City Department of Education asked early childhood professors at Bank Street College to create a Universal Preschool (UPK) institute, in order to provide professional development (PD) for the nearly 2,000 teachers hired to fulfill Mayor de Blasio’s UPK promise.
By early June, Getting Ready For PreK: An Institute for Educators was conceived by professors, deans and program coordinators who were devoted to the mission of expanding UPK. They tackled long sequences of logistical problems to deliver this “Big Hairy Audacious Goal.”
Once the institute had form, the designers – Nancy Nager, Nancy Gropper and Joy Lundeen Ellebbane – emailed alumni and friends of Bank Street, explaining the new partnership with the NYC DOE. They hoped and prayed for enough applicants to cull 80 facilitators who would provide the PD. Most people had already solidified summer vacation plans, so finding the 80 facilitators could have been daunting. But it wasn’t.
There was a tremendous response from the early childhood community. Bank Street sent out a clarion call to service and many responded, offering to be facilitators before knowing the pay, despite having to rework vacation plans. I was one of the facilitators selected to provide the PD and am enormously grateful to have had that opportunity.
At the end of July, at the facilitator training, I sat in a conference room with 39 other early childhood educators brimming with enthusiasm for this historic UPK initiative. Along with me in the two-day workshop for trainers were three former bosses and many colleagues whom I had worked with over the past 20 years. It felt, at once, like a conference and a homecoming. Our sleep deprived hosts presented us with the training manual and led us through the PD as the new hires would experience it.
On August 12-14 at Queens Community College, Bank Street and the DOE held the first three-day UPK institute. My job was to facilitate experiential, small group activities and discussions on the content provided by Bank Street. I was assigned a dreary, dingy classroom with rows of tightly packed chairs, and 40 people preparing to either teach in, or supervise, UPK classrooms.
On that first morning, when the long train of people poured in, I wondered, “How are we going to maintain the tremendous enthusiasm for this project, in such a drab, grey room?” The content and multi-media tools provided by Bank Street were fantastic and we were told to be true to the curriculum while making it our own. For me, the linchpin proved to be stories about the children. I knew that each educator in the room carried with them memories of children, and that those memories would animate the content. Throughout the three days, I told stories, the participants shared memories, and together, we brought the children into the room, which instantly united us as a community of adult learners.
This September, the NYC DOE expanded the number of UPK spots by 30,000. There were imperfections in the plan, and many challenges to this great initiative remain. I was thrilled to join a legion of early childhood educators who would not allow imperfections to halt the tremendous benefit for children and families whose daily lives have been supported by Mayor de Blasio’s expansion of UPK. It was an amazing experience and I hope to be part of it again some day.
Originally featured on The Alumni Blog of Bank Street College of Education: https://bankstreet.edu/blogs/the-alumni-blog/2014/09/15/alumnas-experience-as-a-upk-facilitator/