Remembering Peg Spangenthal – Quality Early Care Advocate

Everyday I remember an early child care advocate who had a big impact: Peg Spangenthal. Back in the early 80’s, Peg approached ChildSavers with an innovative thought. This thought would impact years of service for the agency.

Peg was a petite woman with the fighting spirit of a warrior. Her cause? Early care and education. Her vision was to make sure that all children and families had access to quality early care. She spent her life working directly with early care programs and with state leaders. Therefore, when she came to ChildSavers, it was no secret that her passion was and would always be in early care.

But how did mental health and early childhood services fit together? Peg used her passion to help leaders understand. She knew that offering mental health services was not enough. If we truly wanted to impact children’s development and provide a prevention service, we had to focus on child care settings.

Why There Needs to be a Focus on Quality Child Care

Early care classrooms are where most of a child’s development takes place. Peg knew we had to change how we implemented early education. Her idea was to increase quality. By doing so, children would have the skills to help them thrive. She knew that if children faced negative experiences they would need resiliency. It would be easier for children to bounce back if they had support in quality early care settings. If mental health services were needed than the foundation for resiliency laid in early care would aid children when crises occur.

I had the honor of meeting and learning from Peg before she “retired.” However, she never really retired. She continued to work on state committees. She was also the push behind Governor Tim Kaine’s creation of a quality rating system for Virginia. Peg dedicated her life to young children and to early childhood education. She was an inspiration for those who worked with her. Although Peg passed away in 2011, I still feel her energy and commitment when I attend state meetings on early care. I know that we are where we are today only because of her tireless commitment to our youth.

Resilience Became a Focal Point

There was very little talk of building resilient children back in the ‘80’s. Many thought as long as children were in safe care that is all they needed. Although parents are a child’s first teacher, the time children spend with a caregiver cannot be ignored. Many children are in child care environments 50 to 60 hours a week. Peg viewed these hours as an opportunity to make every moment a child is in care count.

As the years passed, early care evolved. Things that our mentors knew were important for children’s growth then, have research and data to prove it now. The research on brain development alone supports why early care is so important.

In the early 2000’s we began to use the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS). This tool  helped us measure teacher-child interactions. We also trained in Devereux Early Childhood Assessment (DECA) and Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL). These tools measured and strengthened teacher’s strategies around social emotional development for children. Again, through research we knew that building a child’s social emotional skills and strengthening their protective factors equaled success. However, there are times that even with all the research, leaders refused to acknowledge the importance and the contribution that early care plays in our society.

Quality Early Care Today

What would Peg think about where we are today? Of course, I don’t know for sure. I imagine she’d say that we are headed in the right direction. She would also say we still have a long way to go. I know she would be proud that we are still fulfilling her dream of building quality care through all of our programs. In addition, I know she would want us to keeping fighting the fight. Virginia seems to take a few steps forward and then a few steps back. Despite this, the prize is worth every effort we put into it.

In the words of Peg Spangenthal, “Early childhood education is an idea whose time has come. Now, the goal is to make it the best it can be.”

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By Janet Burke, Director of Child Development Services

Janet Burke is the Child Development Services Program Manager for ChildSavers. She manages six core programs at ChildSavers: Child Care Aware of Central Virginia, Child Development Training, Child Development Associate Certificate Program, Virginia Quality Central Region, Voluntary Registration for the Central Region, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program. Janet joined ChildSavers in 1992 where she has worked as a trainer, supervisor, coordinator, and program manager. She has been a Master Rater and Master Trainer for Virginia’s Quality and Rating Improvement System since 2007 where she was trained in the first cohort of trainers. Along with 36 years of experience of working in early care and with early care professionals, she has a Certificate in Early Childhood and a Certificate in Supervisory and Leadership. She has been trained by the authors for CLASS, Environmental Rating Scale, Here, Now and Down the Road, MyTeachingPartner and DECA. She holds current certifications as a CLASS Observer, CLASS Trainer, and reliable in Environmental Rating Scale.      e.     

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