The 11th NAREA Summer Conference

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a city filled with bridges and with a strong history of change and innovation, greeted 220 participants to the 11th NAREA Summer Conference: Bridging Partnerships on the Path of Learning: Embracing History, Identity, and Culture in our settings. The conference was held in collaboration with Reggio Children and Reggio Emilia Pittsburgh Initiative at the beautiful Heinz History Center, Mueller Education Center. After a short walk from the Westin Conference Center and Hotel, participants entered through a museum focused on the history and current life of Pittsburgh- reminding us that we were in a special place at a particular time for a particular reason: “to build a diverse community of advocates and educators to promote and defend the rights of children, families and teachers of all cultures through the collaboration of colleagues inspired by the Reggio Emilia philosophy.” (NAREA Mission)

As participants arrived, they added to the collection of materials for the atelier session. The atelier facilitators, in prior communication, had invited them to bring the following:

  • Personal imagery such as photos, symbols, drawings and/or text such as quotes, poems, and excerpts that capture the essence of you and your community.
  • Materials and objects from your context to share with the group

The table soon became filled with an assortment of materials from across the North

American contexts. Teachers placed post-it notes on the donations to give a sense of

Identity. ‘What did you bring?” could be heard as participants walked to the collection table.

Barbara Acton and Margie Cooper, NAREA Co-chairs, opened the conference with a beautiful welcome. Carolyn Linder, Agency of Jewish Learning Director, Early Childhood & School Services and local host, extended her greeting saying,

“We are truly honored to welcome you here this morning and to have been selected as the host city for the 11th North American Reggio Emilia Alliance Summer Conference, Bridging Partnerships on the Path of Learning: Embracing History, Identity, and Culture in Our Setting.

We are equally honored and excited to be hosting The Wonder of Learning: The Hundred Languages of Children exhibition which will be opening next month at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center ~ as we look forward to these initiatives leading to an increased focus on the quality of early education programs in our community.   This is a critical moment in the United States in terms of how education is viewed, as we engage in a national debate around standards, testing and what kinds of educational programs best serve our children. The potential expansion of Pre-K programs in Pennsylvania has called attention to the value of early childhood learning and its influence on children’s development and future success.   We believe that the exhibition will reach beyond the two million         people who reside in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area, and will provide a vision of early childhood education that is deep, rigorous and relevant to all children.

Almost 20 years ago, a group of organizations and individuals formed a partnership to bring an earlier and smaller version of The Hundred Languages of Children exhibition to Pittsburgh. This group was composed of administrators and educators from early childhood centers of excellence that were studying the principles of the schools of Reggio Emilia, higher education faculty members of the broader education and arts communities, and others committed to bringing the highest caliber of early education to children and families.  The Reggio Emilia Pittsburgh Initiative is a new partnership dedicated to bringing The Wonder of Learning: The Hundred Languages of Children exhibition to Pittsburgh for the first time. This new initiative stands as a testament to the serious and long-standing commitment that Pittsburgh and the region has to a continued dialogue with the Reggio Emilia schools and principles. The number of organizations and individuals that have come together to bring this exhibition has grown considerably, and some of the original Reggio Pittsburgh Project members are also active members. At this time I would like to please ask members of the Reggio Emilia Pittsburgh Initiative to stand and to personally thank them for their on-going support and deep commitment to this work.

Pittsburgh is proud to rank among the top places to live, work, and visit in the United States. Our city is consistently recognized with accolades from major travel and financial organizations as one of the most livable cities with one of the most viable economies. We have been honored as a first-rate city for livability, culture, and economy for several years. For those of us who call Pittsburgh home, it is more than just a great place to work, is the place that we have chosen to raise our children and to build our future.

From the moment that you arrive, you can sense the excitement here ~ the energy of a steel town transforming itself into one of the hottest new spots on the business, innovation and technology map ~ and we strive to include education on that list.

The name Heinz is often associated with the city of Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh has been the global headquarters for the Heinz Co. for well over a century. Andy Warhol, Pittsburgh-born pop artist often depicted Heinz products in his iconic images. The Andy Warhol Museum, the largest museum in the country dedicated to a single artist is generously and graciously offering complimentary admission to the Museum tomorrow evening for all NAREA Conference participants.

It is particularly fitting then that we are gathered today at The Senator John Heinz History Center, an educational institution that engages and inspires a large and diverse audience with links to the past, understanding in the present, and guidance for the future by preserving regional history and presenting the American experience with a Western Pennsylvania connection. We can draw inspiration from Senator Heinz’s words, “What makes a society thrive are citizens determined to see shared ideals realized ~ realized not just for the select few, but as our pledge says, ‘for all.”

This conference is an opportunity for early childhood educators to gather and learn about the world of early childhood education inspired by the schools of Reggio Emilia, Italy and would not have been possible without the tireless and devoted work of many to whom we give our sincerest thanks, beginning with NAREA and especially to Margie Cooper, Standing Chair and to the other NAREA Board Members who join us this morning, Barbara Acton and Jennifer Strange for whom I have the distinct privilege of working together with through the Pittsburgh Jewish Early Childhood Education Initiative. A very special thank you to the Conference Coordinators, Patty Randall and Lauren Curling, to Leslie Murrow, translator. We would also like to thank, Jennifer Azzariti, NAREA Board Member and atelierista, coordinator of the ateliers for the summer conference. Jennifer has carefully organized the atelier sessions with the support of the Cyert Center for Early Education at Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA) studio teachers, Barbara Moser and Suzanne Grove, and the Journeys School (Jackson, WY) studio teacher, Erin Smith.  Together, they have been planning, gathering and organizing materials for the past several months and we all look forward to Saturday’s experience.

We would also like to thank Carla Freund, Director, Cyert Center for Early Education for organizing a devoted cadre of volunteers to assist over the course of the three days ~ and to all of our local volunteers, thank you!

A very special thank you to our esteemed speakers: Deanna Margini, pedagogista, and Filippo Chieli, atelierista, Preschools and Infant-Toddler Centers, Istituzione of the Municipality of Reggio Emilia who have graciously traveled to Pittsburgh to share with us their experiences and insights.

I would like to end with a quote from one of Pittsburgh’s most beloved neighbors, Fred Rogers,

“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”

With the warm welcome from NAREA and Pittsburgh, educators began the work of learning together. The first day was dedicated to plenary sessions given by Deanna Margini, and Filippo Chieli, as well as, NAREA co-chairs: Barbara Acton and Margie Cooper.

The plenary sessions included the titles:

The Reggio Emilia Approach to Education, its History, its Social, Cultural and Educational Context

Children and their Extraordinary Potentialities and Competence- part one and part two

Deanna Margini shared insight to Loris Malaguzzi as she spoke about The Reggio Emilia approach to education, “We could say that Reggio Emilia could be defined as having a vocation as an educating city. Along this path, entered Loris Malaguzzi with his particular intelligence. Loris Malaguzzi was a sort of non academic educator who rolled up his sleeves and worked side by side with teachers in the schools, who discussed and sometimes argued with administrative people on the rights of children and the rights of teachers and parents.”

A strong thread wove throughout the plenary sessions on the first day. Deanna and Filippo’s words identify the thread for us:

“ It is not enough to just offer care and affection. Added to that must be a learning context that is varied and rich. The adults have to start from curiosity-about the curiosity of the children to understand- areas where children’s cognition is manifested.”   “ It is not enough to observe and document. The teacher has to ask: what am I going to do next? What choices will advance the situation? Teachers over time, offer different opportunities to advance.” Deana Margini

Filippo referenced Loris Malaguzzi’s words:

“Teachers are like explorers using maps and compasses; they know the direction, but they know that every year the terrain, climate, season and the children add new ones and that the order of times and problems can change. Destinations are important and will not be lost from sight: but more important is how and why I reach them. That is precisely why it is essential for both adults and children to be able to re-trace their steps, or rather their knowledge processes through an attitude of re-cognition made possible by observation, documentation and interpretation.”

Deanna Margini, pedagogista and Filippo Chieli, atelerista, educators from Reggio Emilia, established an open dialogue with the participants on the first day that continued throughout the three days of the conference. During the course of the plenary sessions, the speakers requested comments and wonderings. These were collected throughout the day. Deanna and Filippo challenged themselves to address the wonderings as they presented through the duration of the conference.

The first day was a “deep dive” into the work of the schools in Reggio Emilia. One participant shared, “The passion in the room was amazing. It was impressive to hear from the educators from Italy and hear about their schools in their own voice.” Another commented, “I absolutely sponged up whatever Deanna and Filippo shared with us and I am in awe with what they offer children!”

Day one concluded with the largest NAREA Dine-a-round to date. 40 participants gathered at a local favorite, Lidia’s for Italian fare and fellowship. It was a night filled with interesting conversations and new alliances. From this time together, new ideas for educators of school age children to meet emerged.

The beginning of the second day focused on the session by the Reggio educators entitled, The Hundred Languages of Children, Creative Processes of Learning, Educational Documentation, and Research. During his presentation, Filippo Chieli shared, “The metaphor of the hundred languages developed by Loris Malaguzzi speaks of the hundred ways children come to know and urges us to expand and broaden the expressive horizons- always searching for the expressive side of languages. The metaphor has more to do with developing ways of relating with other people and other things.”

The rain held off and participants were able to take lunch onto the patio where they had time to network with other educators. Educators of school age children, many who had been at the Dine-a-round the night before, requested a moment to gather together for the purpose of seeing if there was interest in discussions tied to the Reggio approach beyond the preschool years. The group from The Sturgeon School Division expressed the desire to be involved in future “school age” initiatives. The time together was appreciated:

“ Thank you for the wonderful opportunity to learn, work and share with NAREA members!” Andres

Following lunch, the co-curators of exhibits in the Heinz History Museum, gave presentations as a cultural offering from Pittsburgh: How Pittsburgh Changed the World, Pittsburgh a Tradition of Innovation, Glass; Shattering Notions, and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. After which participants were free to visit the exhibits in the museum.

As educators visited the Heinz History Museum exhibits, the educators from Reggio were busy being video taped.   Deanna reflected on her experience on the pedagogical team in Reggio as well as discussing the responsibility of a city, in a diverse population of citizens, as it relates to education. Filippo gave his perspective, as an atelerista, on the efforts to bridge history, identity, and culture through the schools and city ateliers in Reggio Emilia. Later, participants joined in the experience by sharing reflections on the conference and their anticipation of the upcoming school year.

Participants and speakers were delighted to discover that the Warhol Museum gave complementary evening admission to attendees of the NAREA conference. A few were lucky enough to see Rolling Stones, guitarist, Ron Wood, enjoying the museum.

The last day began early for the atelier facilitators who continued the work of the atelier sessions. Wagons full of materials traveled from the Heinz History Center and the Cyert Center for Early Learning at Carnegie Mellon University to the University Center at Carnegie Mellon. Once in the space, Jennifer Azzariti, Erin Smith, Suzanne Grove, and Barbara Moser beautifully organized and presented the collected materials along with resources from the Center of Creative Reuse for the summer atelier sessions.

Meanwhile, Deanna and Filippo continued to share their work in the plenary session: Making Learning Visible: Responsibility, Inclusion and Participation in the Life of the School and Community.

As the morning drew to a close, the group took the remaining minutes together to reflect on the experience: “This was a superb conference. It gave my fellow teaching partners a starting point from our journey into becoming a Reggio-inspired school.”

“The Reggio Emilia presentations were inspirational. It can transform the way we educate in this country, through sounds, music, and all art languages-opening the eyes of the community as we enjoy life and learn together.”

“This was one of the most informative conferences I’ve attended. I enjoyed the rich, cultural experiences and hearing directly from Pedagogista, Margini and atelerista, Chieli.”

We had an early departure for the afternoon experiences which included the summer atelier sessions, a school visit to the Cyert Center for Early Education at Carnegie Mellon University, and the opportunity to visit and tour the Carnegie Museum of Art, She Who Tells A Story exhibit.

The school visit and atelier sessions offered opportunities to be together and to reflect on history, identity, and culture in our settings.

The three days came to a conclusion with a lovely reception held at the Cyert Center for Early Education at Carnegie Mellon University. Margie Cooper toasted to, “a place of love and effort, of optimism, of research, and of innovation that shows us all- children matter, adults matter, the future matters, and the care we affect with one another is what will take us to the future we all dream of!”pittsburgh-at-sunset-28601278778666hvKT

It is with special gratitude that we thank our colleagues from Reggio Emilia, Italy Deanna Margini and Filippo Chieli. We are grateful for The Reggio Emilia Pittsburgh Initiative and their work in hosting the conference. We further extend our appreciation to the educators and families from The Cyert Center for Early Education at Carnegie Mellon University for all they have to shape and host the 2015 NAREA Summer Conference. It was a pleasure being with educators, from a variety of contexts, for three intensive days dedicated to building a new future based on a strong and competent image of children, their families, and their teachers

 

 

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