Big Celebrations at the ECMHSP 2017 Annual Conference

Speaker Paul Schmitz at the conference.

ECMHSP hosted our annual conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, from March 14-16. The conference theme was “Looking Towards the Future: Innovation, Leadership, Success.” Everyone in attendance received a wealth of information, with a particular focus on innovative practices to improve the quality of our program.

There were far too many wonderful presentations to share the details of them all with you here. However, we do want to share with you some of the highlights:

  • Dr. Arturo E. Hernandez, the author of the seminal text on bilingualism, The Bilingual Brain, presented a fascinating discussion on the benefits of bilingualism in early childhood education. Our Board President, Dr. David Conde, was so moved by Dr. Hernandez’s presentation, he drafted a recent article on the topic. You can read it here.
  • Training on the new Head Start Program Performance Standards: Our partners from FHI 360, fresh from their own training, oriented us on the new research-based, outcomes-driven performance standards. Eileen Torres and Leida Rivera of FHI 360 shouldered the heaviest presentation burden making more than a dozen presentations during the course of three days.
  • Paul Schmitz, the former Executive Director of the non-profit Public Access, made a riveting presentation on the qualities of leadership and how leaders are formed through a collaborative process, with many individuals supporting those who are anointed with the title of “leader.”
  • Kay Schieffer of the Grant Wood Area Education Agency provided an informative presentation on best practices for trauma-sensitive early childhood classrooms.

In addition to these wonderful presentations, a number of ECMHSP departments stepped up and delivered presentations on important topics, including the Quality Assurance team (led by Beth Zinkand), and the Nutrition team (led by Anteasha Farrell).

Dr. Villa, CEO, and Dr. Conde, Board President, congratulated staff as they were recognized for their years of service at the Annual Conference.

At the closing plenary of the ECMHSP Annual Conference, Dr. David Conde, reflected upon all that we had covered at the conference and shared the Board’s perspective on where ECMHSP is and where ECMHSP is going. Dr. José S. Villa, our Chief Executive Officer, followed Dr. Conde’s presentation with an inspirational message for the ECMHSP community which reminded us that all of our MSHS children are true “road scholars”.

Traci Lasher, HR Director, presented Angel Casiano (left) and Dana Rogers (right) with this year’s Staff Excellence Awards.

The annual conference ended on a celebratory note. ECMHSP is fortunate to have talented and dedicated staff throughout our service areas, and many were recognized for their years of service and their excellent performance. ECMHSP instituted the Staff Award for Commitment to Excellence to give special recognition to employees in all parts of the organization, including the Direct Service operations and Administrative Services. Staff are invited to nominate deserving employees who have made outstanding contributions that improved the life of a migrant or seasonal child or family, or significantly contributed to the professional development of their fellow staff members.This year’s recipients were Angel Casiano, Director of Operations West, and Dana Rogers, South Carolina Head Start Administrator.

ECMHSP wishes Michael Wilcox a happy retirement and thanks him for his years of service.

We also celebrated the retirement of longtime ECMSHP Facilities Manager, Michael Wilcox. We thank him for his hard work in keeping our centers safe and beautiful for our children to learn and play.

We owe a special thanks to the Program Support Department team that did a wonderful job designing our conference, especially Christine Alvarado, Clara Cappiello, and Cynthia Victa Matthews.

Guest Post: More than a Center, it’s a Refuge

Ted Hoffman is the architect who has been building Head Start centers with ECMHSP for the past 12 years. These are his thoughts.

I was asked to contribute some words and photos about the new Jennings Head Start Center I am working with ECMHSP to build in northern Florida. The work is shaping up nicely, but until it’s done, the photos can be rather uninteresting.  Instead, I thought I would try to describe more generally my goals and thoughts as I design new centers for ECMHSP.

The new Head Start center currently under construction in Jennings, Florida.

The new Head Start center currently under construction in Jennings, Florida.

Jennings will be the seventh center for me, dating back 12 years or so. Each new site presents its own unique challenges and problems, but the overriding philosophy for me is to make each place special, interesting, welcoming, and more than just a place to drop the kids off each morning.  To do that is hard, and it requires the understanding and sensitivity of all the players to make the hard work relevant and worthwhile.

We all know that for the families, the Head Start centers represent more than a safe place for their kids. It represents, I think, a refuge, a place just for them, comforting and helpful, full of resources they don’t find anywhere else. That feeling comes mostly from the staff, but I try to heighten that representation by making places that are: 1) spatially exciting and interesting; and 2) built strong in character and permanent in construction. Unfortunately, permanence is not something found in the lives of migrant farmworkers anywhere.  I refuse to buy into the idea that the working poor somehow don’t deserve good design, whether it’s in their housing or where they send their kids to school.  The centers I design cost the same –and in some cases actually less– than the Head Start centers that look either like big tract houses or shoeboxes scattered around a chain link playground.

ECMHSP Maintenance Staff with architect Ted Hoffman: (from left to right) Tony Ponds, Marzell Hall, Ted Hoffman, Eugene Mitchell, Vincent Barksdale, Greg Stone, Mike Wilcox

ECMHSP Maintenance Staff with architect Ted Hoffman: (from left to right) Tony Ponds, Marzell Hall, Ted Hoffman, Eugene Mitchell, Vincent Barksdale, Greg Stone, Mike Wilcox

I can’t talk about building for ECMHSP without mentioning my ECMHSP colleague and partner in all of this work: Mike Wilcox, the Facilities Manager. These centers would literally not look like they do without him.  You would never know it from watching or listening to him growl and stomp around the site yelling at everyone (including me!), but he gets things done and the time and commitment on his part is nothing short of amazing.  Another thing that happened at Jennings recently was that Mike had almost all of the maintenance people from every area come to Jennings and work for two weeks building and setting up the classrooms in order to speed up the construction process.  These men work all year keeping the facilities operating and it was special to see them working together on one of my creations.

So the next time you go to one of the places Mike and I have made, look around and see if you can sense a place made with heart, soul, and a great respect for the families and children who use them. I want my work to be a physical extension of the very special things that the Head Start program, and East Coast Migrant Head Start Project specifically, makes happen.

These Head Start centers have gotten a good deal of recognition and awards from the architectural community, but the best recognition happened to me one day as I went into a preschool room full of children with a center director. One of the children asked, like they almost always do, “What’s your name?”  I said, “Ted,” and the center director said, “This is the man who designed this place.”  The little boy looked around, looked me in the eye, and said, “I love it here.”

Ted Hoffman has been designing centers for farmworker children with ECMHSP for 12 years.

Ted Hoffman has been designing centers for farmworker children with ECMHSP for 12 years.

You can see pictures of all of the Head Start centers I have helped build on my website: tedhoffman.us.