At the last DEY organizing meeting during the NAEYC conference in Washington, DC, I met Heather Siskind who is the director of Jack & Jill Children’s Center in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Heather told me about the negative impact the results of the new kindergarten readiness test have on child care centers in Florida. Last month, I was headed to Miami for a retreat and made time to visit Heather and her colleague Julia Musella, Head of School at BB International School in Pompano Beach. Julia was instrumental in creating the I Am Ready movement in response to the attack on more than half of Florida’s early learning programs. I am Ready is the type of resistance we need to save the early childhood profession. Below are Julia’s responses to three interview questions to help you understand what is happening in Florida and how early childhood educators are fighting back.
Please tell us how I Am Ready began. Why did you feel the need to start this group? What do you hope to accomplish?
‘I am ready’ was born in direct response to the inappropriate testing of incoming Kindergarten children by computer and then publishing the scores in 2018. This disgraceful labeling of more than 50% of Florida’s Early Learning centers as failing to prepare children for kindergarten created an outcry from early educators across the state. We had enough years of being voiceless so we created an online petition through Change.org to then-Governor Rick Scott demanding the scores be taken down and comply with the statute on assessments. At the same time, we launched a public Facebook page, registered “I am Ready” as a nonprofit corporation to serve as an advocacy group, and encouraged local groups of providers to launch private Facebook pages to dialogue with each other.
Our hope went beyond the short-term goal of having the scores eliminated and the assessment changed to meet the statute, although that was something we used to engage the community statewide. Our long term goal was to organize, galvanize and start a movement that would be the voice of Early Learning and small business owners who are in the business of education throughout the state. We were in it for a long term permanent organization that would use voter registration, voter mobilization (locally and statewide) and education of legislators to give a voice to young children, who are voiceless.
What has the response been to I Am Ready from teachers, parents, and lawmakers?
‘I Am Ready’ was an instant presence with 1,000 signatures added onto the petition very quickly. The Facebook page is widely followed by all the folks who are invested in the cause and beyond. There is a constant flow of stories, advice, shared experiences and a large group of silent readers, we call them, who reach out to the organization behind the scenes, by email, to set up appointments with legislators or local agency leaders who govern the funding. In a recent example, a post brought together a local ELC and providers to discuss raises in the reimbursement rates, something that hadn’t happened in 10 years.
What is next for the I Am Ready movement? How can early childhood teachers across the country join/support your work?
In this past election (2018), we used the NAEYC tool kit for advocacy and organized our childcare centers into thinking of themselves as a powerful voting block that included not only families and teachers but all the people who they touch in their everyday businesses. ¸
We created an organization of provider representatives (PRO) to dialogue with our local Early Learning Coalitions as a statewide group. After hosting various candidates in our centers for “Meet and Greets” during the election, we have been meeting with the newly elected or reelected lawmakers, locally in their districts to educate them on the inadequacy of funding for early learning, and the injustice of the testing.
As a grassroots unfunded group, we use the power of social media to get our message out, keep our issues on the forefront, and coalesce with other causes and issues. We have created a template for local conversations with communities and we are sharing the “ten-minute agenda” speech as we meet other educators at conferences, forums, and trainings throughout the state and hopefully nationwide in the very near future.
Thank you, Julia and all early childhood educators and supporters, in Florida who are resisting the inappropriate use of kindergarten readiness assessments.