Tuesday, Sep. 29th 2020

Exceptional ideas in an unconventional year: Family Engagement Conference speakers model new approaches

Region 9 Head Start
Family Engagement Conference Speakers

Exceptional ideas in an unconventional year:
Family Engagement Conference speakers model new approaches

An unconventional year makes it clear that the 2020 Family Engagement Conference should lean to the exceptional for intelligent and innovative methods to assist children and families—especially those experiencing poverty.

In presentations that are insightful and inspirational, keynote speakers Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, DHHS Assistant Secretary Lynn Johnson, policy change agent Anthony Barrows and Office of Head Start Director Dr. Deborah Bergeron, will challenge attendees to take a second look at their own systems to find a better way.

As Assistant Secretary Johnson says, “Our safety net, just like it does with fish, keeps people caught sometimes, and our goal is to get them unstuck and move them to success.”

The 2020 Conference this year will address Family Engagement through four lenses: Health and Well Being, Economic Opportunities, Culture and Equity, and Civic Participation. Each day begins with a thought-maker keynote speaker with perspectives on addressing family engagement.

Their points-of-view spring from the unexpected. Pediatrician Navsaria is a children’s librarian. Secretary Johnson served as a parole officer. Policymaker Barrows is an accomplished artist. Former School Administrator Bergeron is a successful entrepreneur. They all have one thing in common—social work experience, especially centered on children and families.

Children’s doctor Dipesh Navsaria emphasizes how important it is for a toddler’s brain development for parents to read to them—starting almost after birth. At the doctor’s checkup, he gives directly to 6-month-olds, their own children’s book (age appropriate). He advises parents to talk, to sing and to read together with their child.

“Their brains are wiring together in ways they will never wire together again,” he says. “We really believe that reading is so important to a child’s cognitive, emotional and social health.” These experiences will make the children ready to learn when entering school.

The challenge: Given the unusual conditions surrounding our families’ lives, how can Head Start assist parents to provide comforting and supportive environments for learning to take place.

Dr. Navsaria’s live keynote address is set for Tuesday, Oct. 27, noon to 1 p.m. PDT.

Besides being a former parole and probation office, Assistant Secretary Lynn Johnson headed up the Jefferson County Head Start program in Colorado. She is passionate about helping kids—especially foster children.

Years of working with the neediest of people convinced her that they want dignity—and not always a hand-out. Her point-of-view is “how to use government to get things done quickly.”

Johnson says bureaucracies are often good getting compliance, but not success. She thinks accountability should be “smart.” People are “hungry, homeless and beaten” and the program should focus on the outcome: “Move them to dignity.”

The challenge: How can Head Start streamline paperwork and access?

Johnson’s live keynote address is set for Wednesday, Oct. 28, noon to 1 p.m. PDT.

Speaker Anthony Barrows agrees with Secretary Johnson that social service programs are designed for compliance over access. He worked in social services for years and now works to improve their systems.

More amazingly, he has personal experience with social services, having himself lived in a group home and being caught up in the court system. Barrows understands the life-changing and life-threatening roles that government can play. Asked by a judge once, what he wanted—and this was after all the officials had their say: His desire—to stay in the same city and school. The judge listened.

Barrows, who is managing partner of the Harvard University-affiliated behavioral science firm ideas42, makes the same point: “We have to center the voice of the people we are trying to serve…There are things you can do to listen and act on the voice of the community…Ask the people what they need and do everything in your power that you can to make it a reality.”

The challenge: How can Head Start better listen to what clients want.

Barrows’ live keynote address is set for Thursday, Oct. 29, noon to 1 p.m. PDT.

The conference this year is honored to also hear from the director of the Office of Head Start. Dr. Deborah Bergeron has moved the community forward by challenging us to expand our relationships with our public school partners, serve vulnerable populations, such as homeless and foster youth, and most importantly, to struggle and succeed in the face of COVID-19 by serving families by any means possible.

She frames Head Start’s work this way: “The beauty of being in the business of growing kids is that you have plenty of opportunity of to have a significant impact on individual people, on your specific community and ultimately on the world.”

The challenge: How can Head Start develop closer ties with educators who will eventually be teaching Head Start children.

Bergeron’s live keynote with special guest Cynthia Yao is set for Friday, Oct. 30, noon to 1 pm PDT.

“Our nation is the land of second chances where people have the freedom to change their lives and to start again—and there’s a lot of help for that,” said Edward Condon, Executive Director of the Region 9 Head Start Association. “But we must make getting that help to folks much easier. We are Head Start. We have always found the creative, the innovative and the intelligent way. The current pandemic is challenging us anew. Our trio of keynote speakers model how that can be done.”






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The Vision

All children, regardless of their circumstance at birth, deserve a full and prosperous life.

The Mission

  • Support high-impact Head Start programs for children and adults by creating opportunities for collaboration, networking and information sharing.
  • Unite with state and national Head Start organizations to ensure regulatory and budget outcomes that support our work.
  • Champion the message that every child and family who succeeds makes their community a better place.
  • Provide resources to assist our members in compliance and professional development.

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