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Early childhood educators and childcare providers from across North Texas gathered at the Gaylord Texan Saturday, April 15th for the Annual Early Childhood Educators Conference hosted by Educational First Steps (EFS).  The DFW-based nonprofit offers the conference complimentary to educators and providers within their network, sharing tangible tools for providers to utilize in their centers and classrooms.

EFS aims to help build and sustain the highest quality of early learning environments in historically underinvested communities. They achieve this through professional development training, classroom resources, one-on-one mentoring, and business support services. This work impacts teaching and programming in the classroom as well as the business success of these critical small businesses.

The annual conference provides attendees with new and enhanced techniques for classroom learning, engaging students with different needs, retaining quality staff, communicating effectively with parents, and maintaining high standards at childcare centers.  All participants are partners with EFS, and their work directly impacts the most critical stage of learning for children. Prevailing research in the field indicates that 90% of critical human brain development occurs in a child’s first five years, and EFS knows that a high-quality early learning experience will positively transform the trajectory of a child’s future both inside the classroom and beyond.

 "Early childhood educators are one of the most crucial building blocks in a child’s life. Educational First Steps is committed to empowering our conference attendees to think big, dream bigger and go back to their centers and classrooms with the knowledge and resources they need to prepare these children for a successful future,” said Vickie Allen-Brown, president and CEO of Educational First Steps.

Conference attendees noted recruiting and retaining qualified teachers represents the biggest challenge in childcare today. Other significant issues addressed at the conference include equitable access to high-quality childcare across many North Texas communities, the importance of good parent communications and engagement, and promoting greater public awareness about the importance of childcare and early learning.

EFS recognized the top educational leaders from 2022-2023 through the Munson Awards.

Yvonne Virden received the Dave Munson 2023 Teacher of the Year Award for consistently going above and beyond at Lilian’s Learning Center in Arlington, Texas. She utilizes her instructional strategies to reach every child at every level in the classroom. She finds the training she receives from EFS challenging, entertaining and encouraging.  In April 2022, Yvonne suffered a brain aneurysm. She says her work colleagues and the families of the children she serves checked on her constantly, sending her gifts and cards, coming to visit, and praying.  Virden dreams of having her own childcare facility one day, where she would like to provide free transportation for children to ease that burden on parents.

The Dave Munson 2023 Director of the Year Award was presented to Angela James-Davis, the director of Sunrise Early Learning and Development Center in Fort Worth, Texas, for the past four years. Her extensive education background ranges from camp director to teaching special education for three years at Sam Houston High School in Arlington ISD.  EFS provides Angela and her team mentorship, training, support and grants. “Every mentor I have had is so wonderful. Educational First Steps is like family to me,” she said.

For Angela, receiving the award was an honor, and she said that it means a lot when someone sees your hard work. Angela dreams that every child under her care becomes successful, and she looks forward to opening her own childcare center in the future.

The Dave Munson 2023 Home-Based Provider of the Year Award was given to Shaneda Ford, who has owned and operated Royal Hearts Learning Center for five years. Her home-based childcare center in DeSoto, Texas, serves children 18 months to 12 years old.  Shaneda’s mission is to ensure that children and parents have the ultimate early childhood experience possible through the safe, educational childcare she provides for a smaller number of children. EFS supported Shaneda as she secured her CDA as a director and as a home-based provider. The mentorship provided by EFS has been a guiding force behind the success of Shaneda and Royal Hearts Learning Center. “I’ve grown up through the program,” she said.  “I’ve grown so much with my partnership with Educational First Steps.”

About Educational First Steps

For the last 33 years, the ultimate goal of Educational First Steps (EFS) is to ensure all children can access equitable, high-quality childhood education in the communities in which they live.EFS works to expand access to high-quality childcare resources that all children deserve, regardless of any barriers their families might face in an under-resourced community. EFS partners with more than 100 child development centers and more than 50 home-based providers in North Texas to support center directors and educators so children can dream big.