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SPRINGFIELD — Reading Success by 4th Grade, Springfield’s community-wide early-literacy program, recently convened 539 Springfield early educators for the second annual Building Bridges Conference, the only city-wide professional-development conference for early educators working with children birth to kindergarten.

The full-day event featured a keynote by Junlei Li, Saul Zaentz senior lecturer in Early Childhood Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The conference featured more than 34 different presenters in the field of early education.

Conference attendees were from all different areas of early education, including Springfield Public Schools, Head Start, Square One, Springfield Partners/New Beginnings, independently owned family childcare centers, early interventionists, the Boys & Girls Club, the YMCA of Greater Springfield, and more.

The conference allowed the more than 500 participants to join in more than 32 breakout sessions throughout the day on a variety of topics, including “5 Roles Families Play in Family-School Partnership,” led by Gretchen Osodipe, founder of Co-Teach, LLC; “The Whole Book Approach,” led by Courtney Waring, director of Education at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art; “Astronomy for Children,” led by Jenny Powers, director of the Springfield Science Museum; and “We Have Stories to Tell: Making Stories and Texts with Young Children,” with Maria José Botelho, Gretchen Hohmeyer, and Meghan Whitfield from the UMass Amherst College of Education, to name a few.

The closing plenary was given by Francia Wisnewski, director of the National Early Educator Training Center of the SEIU-ESF, an organization that focuses on providing education and training programs that empower workers, raise standards, and promote high-quality jobs in the family childcare sector.

“It is amazing to see our Springfield community rally to support the early-childhood field and give them space to come together around the very compelling content offered throughout the day,” said Chrissy Howard, manager of Reading Success by 4th Grade and organizer of the event. “We are happy to see so many early educators learning more to educate and honor the whole child and family. We celebrate our early educators and are inspired by how they collaborate to move our children forward in early language and literacy development, which is imperative for our long-term goal of all children learning to read proficiently.”

When asked for feedback, one attendee said, “there were things said in this conference that I will definitely remember and believe will make an influence and difference in my life.” Another said, “the interactive questions and leaderboard activities helped me to feel connected to the virtual conference versus just watching some Zoom classes.”

The Conference was supported by a number of community organizations and companies, with the Irene E. & George A. Davis Foundation and PeoplesBank as lead ‘architect sponsors.’

Reading Success by 4th Grade is a broad coalition of leaders in education, child development, business, philanthropy, and government working toward the goal of all of Springfield’s children reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

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