Gray at our vendor table.

Our Recruitment and Engagement Associate, Gray Robinson, documented his first time at the NYAEYC Annual Conference. Read  highlights from his experience as a member of the QUALITYstarsNY team attending the conference and all the valuable professional development and networking opportunities provided throughout the three-day event. 

NYAEYC photo wall complete with props!

Arriving at Turning Stone

I could feel the electricity in the conference halls when the QUALITYstarsNY team arrived Wednesday night to set up our vendor table. The New York Association for the Education of Young Children (NYAEYC) Conference veterans in our group were sharing stories of prior years’ events and what they were looking forward to this year. First-timers like myself were excitedly exploring the halls of Turning Stone, anxiously awaiting the following three days’ events. The weeks of preparation planning meetings were over – the 2024 NYAEYC Conference was upon us.

NYAEYC photo wall complete with props!
Hands raised for playtime!

Working Hard, Playing Hard

The morning of the first day was full of hustle and bustle. At 11:00 a.m. conference attendees lined up to receive their badges and began investigating the 43 vendor booths that snaked their way through the halls. We spoke to an endless amount of newly-badged attendees at our table, many of them from QUALITYstarsNY programs who were able to attend due to their participation. We had a blast greeting old and new faces, feeding off the excitement for the day ahead. 

Our Quality Improvement Specialists led many sessions throughout the day. We provided two separate QUALITYstarsNY Tracks for conference attendees, one in English and one in Spanish.

Out of the sessions I attended, one that stood out for its uniqueness and participation was Sarah Gould-Houde and Dr. Stephanie Straker’s “Play and Diversity”. 

In this session, participants examined how play can be used as a teaching tool, and what role cultural background takes when considering what type of play to engage in with the children in their care. To demonstrate this, there were games and activities from different cultures set up around the room, and participants were encouraged to play with their group. Learning a new game involves teamwork, reading comprehension, and listening to other members of the group who may be experienced in the game due to their cultural background. The atmosphere in the room was light, happy, and full of laughter. 

Attendees played hopscotch, mahjong, and other games.
Stella, Carmelita and Joselly.

Action-Packed Second Day of Workshops

The second day of the conference was full of action. Everyone was in early, coffee in hand, to make sure they made the most of the full slate of the day’s events. QUALITYstarsNY Specialists hosted seven sessions, three being conducted in Spanish. This year was the first time we had a fully dedicated Spanish Language Track. One of our providers remarked after the conference that they were able to log 8 hours of professional development conducted entirely in Spanish.

Many thanks to NYAEYC and the other presenters for their continued work in providing high-quality trainings for the many Spanish-speaking early childhood professionals across New York. Kudos to Specialists Stella Lundie, Carmelita Bota, Joselly Santos, and Emily Torres Marrero for their excellent work!

Meeting ECE professionals at our vendor table.

Connecting with the QUALITYstarsNY Community and New York ECE Partners

When our team wasn’t busy presenting or supporting our partners, we had lots of meaningful interactions with participants from across the state. QUALITYstarsNY was thrilled to be able to sponsor 200-plus participants to attend the conference, and our vendor table was a space of excitement and gratitude for the work we have been able to accomplish together.

We celebrated our participants at the conference by giving them a special “QUALITYstarsNY Participant” ribbon to attach to their conference badge, one of our “participating program” magnets, and plenty of swag. In turn, our participants had the option to write a note of thanks on a gold star to share with the Quality Improvement Specialist they work with. We left the conference with dozens of such stars praising our team, and more importantly, heard in person dozens more stories of success due to the relationship our Specialists are able to build with the programs they work with. 

The Champions for Children Dinner

The second day closed with perhaps the most meaningful event for our team. Mira Berkley, a beloved member of the QUALITYstarsNY and New York’s early childhood communities, sadly passed away this year and was honored posthumously at the Champion for Children” dinner with the Member Leader award. Mira was a Quality Improvement Specialist with QUALITYstarsNY supporting programs in Western New York from 2015 until her retirement in 2020. Mira’s family was in attendance to celebrate her memory along with many of her friends and colleagues. The impact Mira had as a leading expert on the field as well as on the lives of the professionals in the room was palpable. There were many stories of Mira’s kindness, thoughtfulness, and joy in her work by those who knew her best, and more than a few not-so-dry eyes in the banquet hall as her son and husband accepted her award. Thank you to NYAEYC and everyone who shared their memories of Mira during this special event.

I would also like to recognize Tami Callister and Gladys Jones, honored with the Early Childhood Leader and Early Childhood Supporter awards, respectively. Tami Callister is the Director of Kids Express and Achievements at Maplewood School, a 4-Star Rated program in QUALITYstarsNY. Congrats to Tami and Gladys, your contributions to the early childhood field in New York State are greatly appreciated!

QUALITYstarsNY at the Champions for Children dinner.

Reflecting on a Memorable First NYAEYC Conference

Every year, the NYAEYC Conference brings together passionate early childhood professionals from across New York State for three days of learning, connecting, and growing. The opportunities provided to help bring greater quality of care to New York’s children are numerous, as are the moments of in-person interaction that seem so rare in these days of virtual meetings. QUALITYstarsNY is thrilled to have played a part in such an impactful event, and we look forward to seeing many of the same faces next year!