May 2021 eNews

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by John Young Shik Concklin, ICS Palmetto Associate

Excerpt: As the country has considered how it will emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, child care has remained a central topic of conversation, sitting at the intersection of education, the economy, workforce, and family dynamics. Simply, the pandemic acutely highlighted that child care is foundational to all four, and as such, policy makers are wrestling with how to address it. 

A study recently released from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of Chicago, and University of California Berkeley economists confirms the long-term individual and societal benefits of prekindergarten. Students in Boston who were admitted, via lottery, to public prekindergarten were more likely to graduate high school (70% versus 64% of non-lottery winners), take the SAT, and enroll in college. They were also less likely to be suspended from school or interact with the justice system. Bottom line: academic, social, and emotional progress were positively affected. Despite this set of good news, the study also supports the mixed findings of similar previous studies: there was no evidence that child care had any effect on test scores. Previous studies have returned either positive or, as this one, no evidence on test scores. Few, if any, returned negative test score outcomes.


by Mackenzie Soniak, PsyD
Director, Partners for Early Attuned Relationships (PEAR) Network, South Carolina Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health

Excerpt: “I’m just pouring from an empty cup.” This widespread feeling continues to be shared among adults as they reemerge from a year defined by loss, routine changes, stress and anxiety. The COVID-19 pandemic has left its mark on everyone, but adults connected to infants and young children have the added responsibility of buffering the impacts of the pandemic on this vulnerable population.

...Infants and young children rely on nurturing relationships with reliable adult caregivers to achieve optimal health and social-emotional development. But stressors, such as job loss, housing or food instability, pandemic fatigue, health anxiety and grief, can make it more challenging for adults to respond with consistency and predictability. Prolonged stress and instability can have a lasting impact on infants and young children’s growth, development and mental health.

With many adult caregivers struggling to mitigate the impact of stress and daily routines in fluctuation, studies have recently emerged demonstrating varying impacts of the pandemic on the mental health of children...

A Profile in Service - Mary MacKenzie,
ICS Senior Fellow
by Amber Posey, ICS Policy & Research Associate

Mary MacKenzie teaches. She has from the start, since growing up in South Africa with four brothers who, as she says, gave her the opportunity to “assert herself.” For any teacher, the classroom is a great space to command, and so Mary, a natural, began playing school with possibly the most difficult type of student–a relative. Rather than playing make-believe, or succumbing to the pressures of the sibling hierarchy, Mary realized her leadership in these moments. As she aged out of childhood games, her interest in guiding others developed from studies at the University of Cape Town, through teacher training in Johannesburg and then to a life-long teaching career in South Africa and the United Kingdom (UK). She pursued other paths such as working as recruitment manager at Plan International and then retrained and continued her teaching career from 1994 until 2017.

If you think retirement feels like the end of the story, you’ll be surprised because in many ways retirement was the just another steppingstone of Mary’s career. When asked why she doesn’t spend her retirement life relaxing by the pool with a piña colada, she’ll say “well, it would be a margarita.” She’ll continue explaining retirement should be spent doing something you love, and she loves working. She fancies researching and presenting to people in the greater hope of having a positive influence in their life. Mary doesn’t realize it, but she’s an old-school influencer. Before the beauty gurus and gamers of YouTube, Mary, and teachers like her, have been making careers out of inspiring people. She hasn’t stopped.

Since retiring, Mary has provided untold hours of early childhood advisory work to schools and organizations like Clemson and Furman Universities, and the Institute for Child Success. This includes inspiring new generations of teachers to look beyond the classroom. She emphasizes the importance of free play and how it should be considered as a valuable complement to formal education. Like a wise herald of the current pandemic-reality, Mary has been speaking of the value of outdoor and exploratory learning for school-aged children for years.

She lives by the mantra, “you make your own luck.” Inspired by her mother who believed the same, when you hear her say the phrase, smiling, with a calm conviction, you can’t help but admire a woman who takes ownership of her own happiness. She splits her time between the USA and the UK. If she isn’t doing the work she loves, she is laughing with Tina, her Aqua Zumba instructor, or easing back into the world of ballet as the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden reopens. She still maintains the same boldness and excitement that she displayed as a child. It’s quite possible she’s still the head of the class to her brothers; a person making her own luck and inspiring others to do the same.

If you are interested in learning more about Mary MacKenzie’s work with ICS, please read her writings on forest schools, free play, and outdoor learning.
What We've Been Up To
  • Prisma Health-Upstate is hosting the Rome Visiting Professorship for community partners May 26-28. ICS Director of Innovation and Inclusion, Mary C. Garvey, wrote, "The School-to-Prison Pipeline and Implications for South Carolina," about the correlation of preschool suspensions and expulsions between the school-to-prison pipeline. She presented a summary for attendees this morning.
  • ICS has entered into a partnership with the David and Laura Merage Foundation in Colorado. ICS will support the Foundation’s Care for All Children (CFAC) advocacy campaign by engaging US Senators and lawmakers representing Alaska and South Carolina (more states may be added later). The aim of CFAC is to create, distribute and have widespread adoption of nonpartisan language centered on universal access to childcare
  • ICS Senior Fellow, Dr. Dee Stegelin, presented "Reggio Emilia, ItalySchools, Community and Inspirations," before Clemson University's Emeritus College membership on May 20. The schools reflect the larger Italian culture, with an emphasis on child and family well-being, relationship building, inclusiveness, and addressing health and educational needs of all children. This early childhood session featured an open discussion of how American schools and communities can learn from this Italian approach.
  • South Carolina Infant Mental Health Association (SCIMHA) 2021 Annual Conference was held virtually May 3-6. National experts and state leaders examined practices and policies that can better support infant and early childhood mental health in South Carolina.
  • ICS was featured in America Forward's Coalition Highlights blog on May 6 in recognition of our work to advance children's health, safety, well-being and development (especially) during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • ICS and the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) co-hosted a panel discussion on April 29. View the webinar recording of Bolstering Early Childhood through American Rescue Plan Act. The event highlighted how jurisdictions can apply an equity lens when working to deploy the funding coming to states and other territories. NAPA’s President and CEO, Terry Gerton gave opening remarks, and Mary C. Garvey served as the moderator. Thanks to ICS Board Member, Gary Glickman, for initiating the partnership between NAPA and ICS. Gary is a NAPA Fellow and serves as Chair of their Standing Panel on Social Equity in Governance. 
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