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What Happened at the National Smart Start Conference?

Pre-K for all panelists


The National Smart Start Conference took place May 5-8 in Greensboro, North Carolina. Three members of the Smart Start Oklahoma office, as well as representatives of the nineteen Smart Start communities, attended this event. The conference gathered early childhood advocates and providers together for an informative professional development experience.

                  Smart Start Oklahoma staff members began their week with attending applicable preconference sessions, such as “Framing Early Childhood Messaging: How to Tell Your Story Your Way.” ABLe Change Framework developer Erin Watson, a Smart Start Oklahoma partner, presented “Early Childhood Health and Nutrition: From Individual to Systemic Changes.”  

                  Regular conference panels and workshops began on May 6 through May 8. These learning experiences included sessions on aligning early childhood advocacy efforts and creating worthwhile parent engagement. Smart Start Oklahoma staff used these sessions not just for professional development, but also for networking with other vested stakeholders in the early childhood system.

                  On May 7, Smart Start Oklahoma Executive Director Debra Andersen at the National Smart Start Conference spoke on the topic of pre-k for all children. Andersen gave the history of universal pre-k in Oklahoma. 

“Our mind set was that when we are using state dollars to fund the program, it should be available for everyone in the state,” Andersen said during her presentation.

Speaking alongside Andersen was W. Stephen Barnett, Director of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), and Cecilia Zalkind, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey. Barnett gave an overview of the impact of universal programs from his research, and Zalkind informed the audience about New Jersey’s pre-k program. All three panelists explored state and local policy options and successes.

                  The conference ended on May 8 with a celebration banquet. At the luncheon, the North Carolina Partnership for Children invited Oprah Network star and talk show host Wes More to speak about the importance of advocating early for a child’s school readiness. Moore’s heartfelt story, told through his book The Other Wes Moore, demonstrates the importance of having good expectations of children in order to develop them as highly productive citizens of the United States.

Overall, the conference reiterated the importance of early childhood experiences and how to make sure children receive positive ones. This conference was a valuable event that enhanced Smart Start Oklahoma’s existing knowledge and will help staff members and communities move forward to make lasting systems change. 

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