Early childhood educator Robin Hancock was disheartened when she discovered the lack of professional development courses for early childhood caregivers in East New York. As the director of the Guttman Center for Early Care and Education, which is part of the Bank Street College of Education, she launched a free five-month-long development program to change that.

“Early childhood educators who open up small, private programs in their homes, they are the owners, directors, the lead teacher, the family point person, the nutritionist — they carry all of these roles, and it was difficult to find quality professional development,” Hancock said. “We wanted to create something that spoke to that need and to make sure that the family child care providers that we worked with felt that their work was respected.”

Robin Hancock. Photo courtesy of the Guttman Center.

A group of Bankstreet alumni, who grew up in East New York, offered their connections to get the program started, Hancock explained.

“We spent a lot of time in the community talking to them, hearing their successes and challenges,” she said. “Then we built a curriculum around the needs that we learned about.”

The program, which launched in 2016, includes monthly classes taught by Bank Street faculty members. Additionally, an early childhood development coach meets with the caregivers individually to help them implement new techniques and to achieve individual goals. At the end of the course, participants receive a certificate from Bank Street, access to its alumni network and resources including workshops, conferences and other networking opportunities.

In a neighborhood that is rapidly gentrifying, Hancock hopes her program also returns agency to the community.

“Gentrification is a deeply disempowering example of residents not having a say in what happens to their neighborhood,” Hancock said. “A program like Guttman provides a space for caregivers who are also business owners, mothers and fathers, and community members to feel like they have agency in their lives.”

Now accepting applications for the fifth cohort, Hancock said interested caretakers should contact her via email. The only requirement? That the participants are early childhood care providers for children under the age of three.

Early childhood care providers meet with Bank Street faculty one Saturday a month.

“It’s when children’s brains develop the fastest, and when they learn how to trust and build relationships,” Hancock said. “We’re driven to support the caregivers’ development in these crucial years. The relationships they build with their children are going to facilitate the children’s’ learning and well-being in the future. The caregivers from the Guttman program will tell you that they really don’t make a distinction between their own children and the children that they provide for. And that says a lot about the power of community.” 

The next cohort will start in January and take place at the United Community Center at 613 New Lots Avenue.

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Miranda Levingston

Covering everything Brooklyn. Twitter: @MLevNews

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