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April 29, 2019

Pre-K Conference Explores Successes and Challenges

By Choya Randolph, M.F.A. ’18

What challenges are Pre-K programs facing? How can teachers provide balanced curricula to our youngest learners? On April 5, 140 educators filled the Performing Arts Center to answer these questions and discuss the future of early education as part of the Evidence-Based Practice in Pre-K Conference.

The conference—sponsored by Kaplan and organized by the Alice Brown Early Learning Center and the College of Education and Health Services (CEHS)—featured Michael Hynes, Ph.D., superintendent of the Patchogue-Medford School District as the keynote speaker. (In May 2019, Dr. Hynes resigned his position, effective July 1, to become the Port Washington School District superintendent.)

“I’m going to say things that you may not agree with…That’s okay. We need to have these really in-depth conversations,”said Dr. Hynes, an outspoken educator and thought leader.

Dr. Hynes encouraged play-based learning saying, that students can use play as a learning tool to explore and discover. “Play promotes language skills. Play will build vocabulary… Play-based preschools foster happier and healthier children.” He made some similar points about playtime during his on-campus TEDx appearance in 2017.

He also pushed for longer recesses, arguing that New York state prisoners have more time outside than students have for recess. “That’s a large problem,” he said.

Referencing time he spent in Finland, Dr. Hynes said he believes that their education system is something New York should take note of. “I’m not here to bash New York,” he said, but the school day and school year is shorter in Finland so “they’re maximizing their time.” He presented the first page of the National Core Curriculum for Basic Education and Next Generational Learning Standards in a “what’s wrong with this picture?” manner—arguing that it “focuses more on the teachers rather than the students.”

He also called for 45-minute recesses that are child directed, with minimal adult intervention, and for preschool teachers to be paid “like the professionals they are.”

More Play Time

“Basically, we’re overscheduling our kids from the moment they wake to the moment they go to bed. They need the opportunity to do things on their own,” Dr. Hynes said. “There are decades of research in developmental psychology that shows play is the most effective way for young children to learn, develop social skills and regulate their emotions.”

After his presentation, there was a panel discussion led by CEHS Assistant Professor Lisa L. Minicozzi. The panel consisted of professionals who play different roles in education, including Susan Guiliano, director of curriculum, instruction and assessments in Hicksville School District; Christy Taveira, speech pathologist in Valley Stream 13 School District; Lisa Armentano, educational director at Brooklyn Treehouse Preschool; Stepha Krynytzky, senior executive director of teaching and learning at the Division for Early Childhood Education, New York City Department of Education; and Dr. Hynes.

The panelists touched on a range of topics, such as shifting the structure of early childhood education, connecting with parents, seeing each student and family as individuals, and understanding the power of listening and interacting with students.

“We think we’re doing the right thing when we give them structure,” Taveira said. “Structure sometimes sets students up to fail. More structure is not going to help them. We should embrace the students’ ideas and allow them to make more decisions about their learning.”

In addition, the panelists emphasized the significance of focusing on students’ strengths. “We think, ‘They can’t do this and let’s get help’ but what can this child do?” Guiliano said. “I think it’s important to know those children and what they’re able to do.”

Audience members were given the opportunity to question the panelists. When a teacher asked about students in underserved communities having to deal with trauma, Dr. Hynes stressed the significance of mental health and the role of social workers in schools.

The panelists also agreed that all families and students are different. “Yes, we’re mindful of poverty yet we see each family as individuals,” said Krynytzky. “Though you may be a part of a certain ethnic group, you’re not all the same.”

Afterwards, there was a networking lunch where educators could talk to Dr. Hynes personally. He encouraged them to visit his schools to learn more about his practices.

Minicozzi said, “My graduate student sent me an email afterwards saying, ‘That was so amazing!’ Many people took their day off of work. To hear them say ,’This was so productive’…to me I felt like we’ve done our job.”

With Adelphi’s first Pre-K conference now done, CEHS Interim Dean Anne Mungai, Ph.D., said, “Every year we’re going to do something like this because we need it.” Plans for next year’s event are already in the works.

“We want to make Adelphi a place of world class academics,” said Laura Ludlam, M.S. Ed ’00, director of the Alice Brown Early Learning Center. “We want to expand the audience…and show the best practices for early childhood educators.”


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