This Winter Conference was one of complexity, in the organization and planning of the conference and in the work shared by the Reggio educators. Because we were in New York, and traveling throughout the city, metro tickets for the subway were available, along with Metro guides for those who indicated the need on the registration form.
The Broad Street Ballroom, located in the financial district next to Ground Zero, served as the venue for the majority of the participants. 450 educators filled the ballroom each day to hear plenary sessions from four Reggio Emilia educators: Vea Vecchi, Marina Mori, Chiara Spaggiari, and Claudia Giudici. The speakers from Reggio took great steps to be equitable with their time to participants in each venue. A complex system of sharing took place over the course of the conference so that all participants heard the voices and saw the work of all the Reggio educators.
St. Francis College, in Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn, was the second venue. A smaller group enjoyed the intimate setting as the Italian educators and participants exchanged comments, questions, and ideas each day.
During the three days of the conference, we encountered presentations, which included:
“The Reggio Emilia approach to Education: Children seen as citizens and active protagonists of their growth and development” (Claudia Giudici and Marina Mori) (Vea Vecchi and Chiara Spaggiari)
“The Hundred Languages of Children: Educational research and educational documentation” (Claudia Giudici and Marina Mori) (Vea Vecchi and Chiara Spaggiari)
“An Active action of listening as the premise and context of every educational relationship” (Claudia Giudici and Marina Mori) (Vea Vecchi and Chiara Spaggiari)
“ Participation as an attitude that generates a culture of solidarity, responsibility, and inclusion” Claudia Giudici, Marina Mori, Vea Vecchi and Chiara Spaggiari
The participants at Broad Street Ballroom began the conference with a welcome by NAREA board co-chair, Margie Cooper. This was followed by a session by Reggio educators Vea Vecchi and Chiari Spaggiari. After lunch, we traveled to the exhibit venue, Williamsburg Northside School to encounter the exhibit, “The Wonder of Learning: The Hundred Languages of Children”. In addition to the exhibit, two breakout sessions were offered for those who had encountered the exhibit multiple times. Mara Krechevsky, from Project Zero gave a session entitled “Making Learning Visible: Understanding, Supporting, and Documenting Children as Individual and Group Learners” to a standing room only crowd. Harold Gothson, Reggio Emilia Institute Sweden, shared his work in “What can you learn from Reggio Emilia and the Swedish experience” to a devoted group who stayed late into the evening. A lovely reception, given by the New York hosts, was held in the gymnasium. It was at this time that folks could browse and buy books from Learning Materials Workshop and College Press featured Lella Gandini in a book signing.
In the evening, the first ever NAREA Dine-A-Round was held in a local restaurant. Fabbrica, in Brooklyn, was the gathering spot for 30 educators who spent the evening enjoying the fabulous food and discussing quality in education. Participants appreciated the lovely surroundings, the food and wine, and the opportunity to be in dialogue together.
The second day began with visits to local Reggio-inspired schools, which included Beginnings Nursery School, Blue School, TriBeCa Community School, Stephen Wise Free Synagogue Balfour Brickner Early Learning Center, and Williamsburg Northside School. In addition to the the school visits, the Children’s Museum of The Arts was open for the educators who identified themselves as studio teachers. After a busy morning, participants returned for lunch and the afternoon began with “The Story of NAREA” which was followed by Vea and Claudia’s presentation.
The final day began with a special treat of mimosa’s and “A Taste of New York: Story Pirates” entertained the Broad Street Ballroom crowd. Vea and Chiara’s session focused on the action of listening. After lunch, participants had the option to stay in the ballroom and hear all four educators from Reggio speak on participation as an attitude, or join in “open house” of schools, which included Blue School, Williamsburg Northside School, Beginnings Nursery School, and TriBeCa Community School.
On the first day participants at St. Francis College in Brooklyn were welcomed by NAREA Co-Chair Barb Acton and LeeAnn Valvano, Director of Parent Relations and Special Events at Beginnings Nursery School and the Wonder of Learning NYC Exhibit Liaison. The morning was spent in a plenary session with Claudia Giudici and Marina Mori. After a delicious lunch, participants traveled to one of three school visits: Beginnings Nursery School, Williamsburg Northside School, and Plymouth Church Preschool. Participants were “assigned” a school but had the opportunity to exchange the assigned school for another. An exchange table was set up during lunch, offering participants a choice in school visits and another opportunity for meeting and dialogue. The St. Francis group also had people who joined in the Dine-A-Round experience in the evening.
On the second day, the St. Francis group began the day with the “Story of NAREA” which was followed by sessions given by Marina and Chiara. Partipants traveled after lunch to the exhibit venue at Williamsburg Northside School. Once there, participants had the same options as the Broad Street Ballroom group when they visited the exhibit venue.
The final day began with “A Taste of New York” as the Story Pirates delighted the group. The morning held plenary sessions while the afternoon held the option of school visits in an open house format or attend the session at the Broad Street Ballroom.
Participants from St. Francis joined colleagues at Broad Street Ballroom to hear from all four educators – Vea, Claudia, Marina, and Chiara. The educators from Reggio Emilia, Italy shared current work being developed for the Milan Expo. Vea Vecchi reminded the crowd, “ Never divide the emotional part from the cognitive part. Children don’t do it; artists and scientists don’t do it. We don’t do it-if we continue to see a puddle as full of stars!”
The conference concluded with participants sharing comments and questions with the panel of Reggio educators and in that exchange, the Lella Gandini,Vea Vecchi, Marina Mori, and Claudia Giudici shared personal memories of Loris Malaguzzi.
The following comments sum up the spirit and richness of the conference:
“I appreciate listening to Reggio educators share their experiences and insights through photos and narrative. Every presentation leaves me breathless in one way or another.”
“ It was a privilege to be able to participate and learn from the remarkable women from the schools of Reggio Emilia as they shared their experiences and called us to share their vision of young children.”
“I have been very fortunate to have participated in several NAREA Winter and summer conferences. What I appreciated most from this year was the addition of Chiara. I thought she brought a unique perspective from a new educator. It brings hope to systems that are already established, but face the ongoing reality of welcoming a new faculty member.”
“ I am always inspired by the words and passion brought forth from the “matriarchs” of this beautiful educational culture. I also appreciated that from day one, the conference began with intentional richness.”
“I loved, and felt inspired by all the presentations by the Italians, specifically Vea Vecchi and Chiara Spaggiari. The both have an amazing ability to share the big ideas and to present projects and explorations that felt accessible and inspiring.”