The Power of One and the Bennington BBF-Early Childhood Council
By Robin Stromgren
I have always felt that the heart of the work in Bennington lies in the region’s ability collaborate. If I were to highlight the entity that is at the core of making a difference for young children and families in Bennington, it would be The Building Bright Futures-Early Childhood Council.
There has been some form of an early childhood council since the late 80’s. The Council was formalized when Success by Six became an initiative under Governor Howard Dean. The name of the organization changed and the people may have changed, but the work continues. The goal is to build a flourishing region where children, families, and communities have what they need to reach their potential.
An Engaged and Connected Council
The Council is the engine that helps drive the work supporting all that is happening in the Bennington Region for young children and families. There is energy in the room and as a result there is energy for the children and families in our region. The Bennington BBF-Early Childhood Council has a diverse membership. It is the nexus of health, mental health, early care, education and home visiting. I am impressed by the Bennington culture, the willingness to share resources and support the collective effort. As a result, I did an interview with the Bennington Council at the October 10, 2017 meeting.
People come to the BBF-Early Childhood Council for many reasons. Some of the reasons council members identified in October include:
- To connect me/my agency to what’s happening in the county and to help me to make a difference on larger scale
- To connect with other professionals, be part of a bigger early childhood community, to support current initiatives and have a voice for children and families
- It’s all about building and maintaining relationships and sharing information and resources
- Just started! I think this diverse group of stakeholders, working together for the benefit of young children and their families is extremely important
- I come to be better informed about the community,to help bring about change if I can, and to learn about community needs
- I come for community connections
For me, it is all of these reasons plus the learning experience with questions, discussion, comments and ideas. It helps us to keep or develop a path towards a flourishing region.
We have had a regional plan since 2005. The plan has always been a working document. It allows strategies and activities to change as the efforts continue or new priorities are identified.
The Bennington Plan has a strong component of professional development woven through out all of the outcomes. Bennington aims to assure that the region is working towards it goals with common language, tools, and understanding. As one of its core principles, the Council believes that it is important to have knowledge to build skills that change attitudes and practice. As the coordinator of the Council, I am continually amazed at the knowledge, the enthusiasm, the ability to collaborate and the quest to improve outcomes for young children and their families.
Agendas That Drive Action
The agenda outline for council meetings encompasses the presentation of information with time for questions, feedback, networking, and announcements. The Council agendas are developed to build on the previous discussions and concerns. There is always a tie to the regional plan. There is an intentional rotation of agenda topics making sure the council is looking at successes and issues from all sectors. Early Childhood is more than childcare. It is all the services and programs that support children and their families.
There are times when topics emerge as a result of an announcement or a concern raised by a member. When the topic of children not being safe in the classroom emerged, we organized an ad-hoc committee to develop a problem statement and define some areas of concern prior to jumping into the topic as a full council.
The committee came up with the statement below, which has been incorporated into the regional plan:
“Currently, we do not have the level of services necessary to ensure that all children and their families are as successful as possible both in their school placement, home, and in the community
- The goal is to (promote school success) prevent school failure by developing a lifelong attitude as a learner.
- Realizing that it is important to integrate the students learning in school, at home and in the community.
- The importance of assisting students to positively interact with their peers.
- Services are not always available when students, schools and families need them”
It is exciting to think that a council discussion can act as a springboard to action. In this case, one of the concrete strategies in support of this goal is that Bennington is working on becoming a trauma sensitive/trauma informed region through shared professional development. In Vermont, we are very aware of the negative effects that trauma has on children and their ability to learn.
A second action from this discussion was the development of a kindergarten transition summit that included teachers both from the elementary schools, pre-school teachers and other support staff. The question that we were seeking answers to were: how do we make sure that schools are ready for children as well as understanding the expectations for them?
In interviewing the council earlier this fall,it was important to ask what could make the time that they spend together better. Some opportunities for change for the council include:
- Direct connections to statewide initiatives
- Better connecting the dots between the work that we do
- Remembering the purpose of child-centered work for our community in order to identify and troubleshoot larger issues.
- Develop regular reports exploring what did we do as a council, how well did we do it, and is anyone better off?
Bennington and the BBF-Early Childhood Council really demonstrates the “Power of One”. Our Council respects each other and the breadth and depth of the work that we do. We continually demonstrate that by working together, we can affect change for the children and their families. Bennington is on its way to becoming a flourishing region in Vermont.