Inaugural Early Childhood Policy Fellowship Empowers Leaders to Advance Equity in Education

This June, 15 early childhood leaders will complete Learning Starts At Birth’s inaugural cohort of the Early Childhood Policy Fellowship empowered and ready to make a greater impact in the field. Launched in September 2022, this 10-month professional learning opportunity supports leaders committed to building strong early childhood education systems that center quality and equity.

The fellowship is an investment in leadership aimed at creating new possibilities for early childhood education and generating innovation and progress toward high-quality, equitable early care and education experiences. Throughout the program, fellows—who hold positions at various government agencies and organizations that support governments—engaged in a range of cohort-based learning experiences, including monthly virtual meetings, personalized coaching sessions with an experienced mentor, and professional development workshops.

One of the primary goals of the fellowship is to support the personal and professional growth of participating leaders and serve as a catalyst for the development of new approaches that better promote equity and developmentally meaningful experiences for all,” said Demetria Joyce, Program Director, Bank Street Education Center. “We are proud to provide our inaugural cohort with the space they need to engage in transformative work and we look forward to seeing their continued impact.”

The cornerstone of the fellowship is a capstone project, which enables fellows to apply new skills from the program to their own work in real-time and leverage their existing roles to facilitate change within their current sphere of influence.

For example, a fellow from North Carolina is working on a capstone project that focuses on children and families who are currently experiencing or are at risk of homelessness. Through the project, the fellow examined homeless shelter policies and identified gaps in resources available to families with young children. The ultimate goal of this project is to ensure that equity is embedded in program design, practices, and evaluation to provide support to the most vulnerable groups as they navigate poverty and essential services.

Throughout the fellowship, coaches provided support to participants, especially as they applied new learnings to their capstone projects. One fellow said, “I appreciate having [my coach] push me to go to the next level in thinking through challenges of my capstone work. She holds in mind my goals and reflects back on how I’m working toward those and where I have room to make progress.”

In addition to the capstone project, fellows engaged in activities and discussions that examined problems of practice, analyzed root cause analysis, surfaced and tested assumptions through text-based analysis, and explored case studies. One highlight was the conversation about the adaptive leadership framework, which the fellows found crucial in transforming their approach to leadership.

“Everyone is on a journey and at a different place on their continuum, so the [discussions highlighting] problems of practice are valuable and vulnerable, which builds each and every person. It is an honor to be a part of this inaugural fellowship,” one of the fellows said.

In a mid-year survey, 100 percent of the leaders who participated reported that the fellowship was a valuable professional learning experience. They also found the content relevant to their roles and noted that their coach was helping them achieve their leadership goals.

Emily Sharrock, Associate Vice President, Bank Street Education Center, said, “We launched this fellowship program during the pandemic when the early childhood field was receiving significant attention. Our goal was to take the moment and generate an important opportunity for long-overdue systemic change. The Early Childhood Policy Fellowship has provided leaders with support during what continues to be a critical time and has allowed them the opportunity to build on their strengths, expand their early childhood policy expertise, and deepen their leadership skills.”

In September, Learning Starts At Birth will welcome its second cohort of Early Childhood Policy Fellows. Leaders at the federal, state, county, and city levels are encouraged to apply by the May 15 deadline. To align with Bank Street’s commitment to inclusion, equity, and representation, the selection process will prioritize those who have been historically excluded from policy leadership positions, especially leaders of color, including those who identify as Black, Indigenous, Asian, Latinx, Pacific Islanders, and other people of color.

To learn more and apply, visit the Early Childhood Policy Fellowship webpage, or read highlights about the fellowship experience in this article by Early Learning Nation.