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Brain development conference set for Aug. 8-9

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Hundreds of early childhood advocates, nationally recognized speakers and the state's Early Learning Council converge on White Earth next week to discuss the importance of early learning and brain development in Minnesota's communities.

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The 12th annual Communities Collaborative Brain Development Conference runs Aug. 8-9 at the Shooting Star Casino Hotel & Event Center in Mahnomen.

Additionally, the Minnesota Early Learning Council will hold its monthly meeting there on Tuesday, Aug. 7, which coincides with pre-conference sessions. On Wednesday, Aug. 8, conference keynote speakers include Dr. Jack Shonkoff of the Harvard Center on the Developing Child, whose work has brought national attention to the issue of brain development.

"We are honored to have respected leaders like Jack Shonkoff share their message on the White Earth Reservation because we value children," said Erma J. Vizenor, Tribal chairwoman of the White Earth Reservation.

"For American Indians and non-Indians across the region, this conference has been a pioneering venue to spotlight child development. We welcome our guests to White Earth to learn together about what all Minnesota children need in order to thrive."

Past conferences have drawn upwards of 900 attendees, who come from a range of fields that encompass child and family services. With a theme of "building strong children," the 2012 conference features sessions on "nurturing neurons," promoting quality early learning opportunities, and addressing developmental challenges such as autism and fetal alcohol syndrome.

In addition to hosting the conference, the White Earth Reservation Child Care/Early Childhood Program is launching a new school readiness initiative as one of four pilot sites in Minnesota funded by a four-year, $45 million federal Race to the Top: Early Learning Challenge grant.

"We are busy implementing the Race to the Top strategies, organizing this conference, and managing our normal services," said Barb Fabre, director of White Earth Child Care/Early Childhood Programs.

"These activities reflect the strong leadership and dedication of people across our department and throughout our tribe. We must work together to offer children high-quality early learning settings that are stimulating to them and culturally relevant to our families."

White Earth is the only tribal site in the state's Race to the Top effort, which aims to increase the quality of early learning providers through support and professional development. A quality improvement and rating system, called Parent Aware, seeks to help parents and caregivers choose higher quality care for their children.

Parents can use scholarships for children to be served by quality providers and programs. Together with staff from the state Office of Early Learning, the Minnesota Early Learning Council is convening its monthly meeting in White Earth to learn first-hand about the tribe's pilot and participate in conference sessions.

White Earth Reservation Child Care/Early Childhood Programs started the brain development conference in 2000. At about the same time, Dr. Jack Shonkoff co-authored the National Research Council report, From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood, which galvanized what was becoming a growing movement for more attention and resources for early childhood.

In addition to Shankoff, other 2012 plenary speakers include Art Rolnick, PhD., co-director of the Human Research Collaborative at the University of Minnesota; Mary Gordon, PhD., developer of the Roots for Empathy program; Lisa Murphy, an early childhood specialist in sensory play; and Douglas Wood, an author and storyteller from Sartell, Minnesota.

Conference information is available at www.whiteearthchildcare.com.

Pre-conference sessions begin at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 7, and extend into the evening. The Minnesota Early Learning Council meeting runs from 1-4 p.m. on Aug. 7 and is open to the public. The main conference on Aug. 8-9 begins at 8:30 a.m. on both days.

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