First summit of the Mennonite Early Childhood Network

MEA_Summit_2013March
Front, left to right: Tracy Hough, assistant professor of education, Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Va.; Kathryn Aschliman, MECN coordinator and emeriti professor of early childhood education, Goshen (Ind.) College; Linda Martin, former director, Salford Mennonite Child Care Centers, Harleysville, Pa.; Standing, left to right: Louise Matthews, director, The Lion and Lamb Peace Arts Center of Bluffton (Ohio) University; Tami Keim, professor of early childhood education, Hesston (Kan.) College; Elaine Moyer, senior director, Mennonite Education Agency; June Hershberger, founder of Early Childhood Innovative Connections and executive director, Diamond Street Early Childhood Center, Akron, Pa.; Linda Taylor, assistant professor of early childhood education, Ball State University, Muncie, Ind.

by Louise Matthews, Mennonite Education Agency

Eight women, six of whom were current members of the Mennonite Early Childhood Network (MECN) Council, gathered in the home of Linda and Vernon Martin of Salford congregation (Harleysville, Pa.), March 15-17, for the first summit meeting of MECN. Since 2006, members of the MECN Council have been meeting through monthly conference calls to provide information and support for parents and early educators of children, birth through kindergarten, primarily through e-mails to members and on its website.

Kathryn Aschliman, MECN coordinator, and Elaine Moyer, Mennonite Education Agency (MEA) senior director, former principal of Christopher Dock Mennonite High School, and a member of Salford congregation, planned the agenda and facilitated the event for early childhood professionals from Indiana, Kansas, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. The three-day summit included time to reflect on the mission statement, to explore current trends in care and education of young children, and to brainstorm about ways that MECN can continue to provide support for others in the early childhood field. The need for additional funding for MECN initiatives and resources was also discussed.

For a glimpse of local programs, Linda Martin provided an opportunity for attendees to visit Salford Mennonite Child Care Centers (SMCCC) in two locations: Salford Mennonite Church and the intergenerational child care program located in the Dock Woods Retirement Community in Lansdale (Pa.). Linda was the director of SMCCC for nearly 20 years and is currently serving on the board.

As an initial outcome of the summit, MECN will invite responses from churches, child care and education programs, and parents through a needs assessment survey to learn how MECN can best serve young children through the adults who teach and care for them. Responses to the survey will clarify the needs and help determine direction for future MECN initiatives.

According to Moyer, “MECN continues to support the very important future of the church—young children. It was a privilege to be with a group of educational leaders dedicated to early childhood education, wondering how MECN can best network and support parents, churches and early childhood centers.”

Louise Matthews, director of The Lion and Lamb Peace Arts Center of Bluffton University, led the Sunday morning worship. Reflecting on the message highlighted in the picture book, Different Just Like Me by Lori Mitchell, she said “We are gifted differently and have unique opportunities to be advocates for young children in direct and indirect ways through our various roles as educators and directors.”  Inspired by her involvement with MECN, Louise is in the early phase of creating an online resource called “Books & More” in the form of short video clips to highlight books and follow-up activities for those who work with young children. These YouTube videos will be accessible at www.bluffton.edu/lionlamb in the near future.

June Hershberger, founder of Early Childhood Innovative Connections  and executive director of Diamond Street Early Childhood Center in Akron, Pa., commented, “As a center director, I would like teacher resources and classroom resources that relate specifically to Anabaptist views on issues such as peaceful reconciliation of conflict, nonviolent classrooms and the use of technology with young children, as well as faith-indicators for MEA accreditation at the prekindergarten level and possibly endorsement of age-appropriate peace and Bible curriculum.”

Aschliman summarized the summit well: “What a memorable weekend it was!—such hospitality of caring for body and soul; such group synergy; such long-term visioning; such inspiration, such passion for young children, their families, and the church.  We departed with the assurance that ‘The God of love and peace shall be with you (II Cor. 13:11).’”

For more information about MECN, visit www.MennoniteEducation.org/MECN.

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