Early childhood studies students visit Capitol to lobby for children

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Mercedes Molina, legislative aide for Texas Rep. Ramon Romero (D-Ft. Worth) (left), explains to early childhood studies students how the legislative process works at the state level inside the state capital March 26. Jackie Muralles

The program offers opportunities for experiential learning.

By Jackie Muralles

sac-ranger@alamo.edu

Eighteen students and two faculty from the early childhood studies program at this college headed to Austin March 26 to visit legislators in their offices in the state Capitol to advocate for children.

In addition to the students and faculty from this college, six representatives of local child care facilities and three students and a professor from Texas A&M University-San Antonio also went with the group.

They joined about 70 professionals and students in a lobbying effort sponsored by the Texas Association for the Education of Young Children during the group’s Early Childhood Education Week.

The Texas Legislature comes together at the state capitol for only 140 days every two years.

During this time, the legislator is expected to read over as many bills as possible, hold hearings on these bills and vote on them. In this session, there are between 70-100 bills concerning child care, said Kim Kofron, executive director of the association.

This is the local chapter of the national association that provides child care standards for centers across the country, including this college’s early childhood center.

The group arrived at the capitol at 9:15 a.m. and joined a line of other constituents waiting to be heard.

Groups visiting the capitol that day included a real estate agents association, a Catholic anti-abortion group and police officers from around the state.

Some were there for hearings while others, like the early childhood studies program, were there to speak to representatives about proposed bills.

After the group made it through the security screening, they huddled into a small room in the back of the cafeteria, where other educators and future educators from across the state discussed the day’s agenda.

The association started with a welcome message from Sue Hancock, vice president of advocacy for the association, and ended with training by the association’s lobbyist Eric Knustrom on ways to lobby effectively.

After the presentation, students and educators were divided into groups according to the representatives they wanted to see that day.

Each group was given two to four folders containing materials assembled by the association to encourage the lawmakers to support five bills.

These bills would enhance data collection and reporting to help state agencies identify trends and address gaps within subsidized child care.

Other bills push for smaller child-to-caregiver ratios than the state allows.

Terri Sinclair, early childhood studies professor and program coordinator, speaks with Elizabeth O’Connor, intern for Texas state Sen. Donna Campbell (R-San Antonio), on the importance of bills that support quality child care March 26 inside the state capital. Jackie Muralles

Another bill would raise the minimum standards for nutrition and active play in child care centers.

When the groups spread out to visit representatives, they found many were in committee meetings and hearings.

The only two legislators the group actually spoke to were Rep. Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth, and Rep. Ray Lopez, D-San Antonio.

Even if legislators were not present, the groups found a way to get their message across.

They passed the message onto aides and interns and left the folders for the representative.

“Whenever any advocates come, we always take their literature, and we file it away,” said Garrett Auzenne, legislative chair for Romero. “Then whenever that bill actually gets referred or if it’s on the floor and we need a recommendation to the representative when he’s asking us how he should vote, then we’ll lean back on the people we’ve met and call or pull out the literature and review it.”

On the bus ride back to San Antonio, students talked about their experiences.

Before the trip, only two of the 18 students had visited the Capitol, said Ann DeHoyos O’Connor, early childhood studies professor, in an interview March 26.

O’Connor, who oversaw the logistics of this trip, said it was planned and paid for in under two weeks.

Funding for the trip was provided by the office of student life through the pathways program for the Institute of Public Service. The trip cost just under $2,000.

The funds covered the bus rental, breakfast and lunch for those from this college.

“Our students got to meet other students that are working on their B.A. and they had lunch together and had conversations,” O’Connor said in a followup interview April 5. “From that, we have two students who are going to the transfer center (because) they felt empowered to continue their education.”

The early childhood studies program puts an emphasis on student involvement as participating members of the profession, which includes advocating for children, said Terri Sinclair, early childhood studies professor and program coordinator, in an interview Feb. 18.

“Not all learning is going to take place in a classroom,” said Dr. Jonathan Lee, program chair for Mexican-American studies, early childhood studies, sociology, social work and history, in an interview April 5. “This was good exposure for them (students in the program) to learn that in their field, they have to be advocates.”

Throughout the event many students echoed the same sentiments.

“I need to be an advocate for my future students and for the students I have now,” said Brianna Sanchez, early childhood studies sophomore, in an interview March 26.

This isn’t the first time the center has scheduled trips to involve students in what Lee calls “experiential learning.”

“We try to get them to go to conferences with us,” Sinclair said.

In these conferences students are encouraged to make presentations on subjects they study in the classroom.

At a San Antonio chapter of the Texas Association for the Education of Young Children conference, two students completed a literature presentation using storytelling methods, Sinclair said.

These conferences are also helpful to the faculty.

“Often times when we go to conferences as faculty members, we’ll come back and start making changes to our classes right away,” Sinclair said.

“I went to the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development this summer and I learned a lot of active learning techniques,” Sinclair said. “So, for example, I bought a couple of soccer balls and made an ice breaker game.”

The program has trailblazed the pathway for others by being the first in the state to become accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

The association is also leading a movement called Power to the Profession.

According to NAEYC.org, “Power to the Profession is a national collaboration to define the early childhood profession by establishing a unifying framework for career pathways, knowledge, and competencies, qualifications, standards, and compensation.”

As a token of their appreciation, the students have signed and sent thank you cards to the representatives and the staff who took the time to meet with them during the trip to the Capitol.

“Everyone who went, loved it,” O’Connor said. “Students were hugging me in the hall.”

For more information, contact the early childhood studies program at 210-486-0521.

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