What is the Alcanza Project?
ALCANZA is an initiative sponsored by the Ángel Ramos Foundation and the Center for Educational Research in the College of Education at the University of Puerto Rico – Río Piedras. It was established to foster quality in early childhood education.
Alcanza’s goals are to implement and diffuse a program of professional development that is consistent with the Developmentally Appropriate Practices (DAP) established by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), as well as to promote the knowledge necessary for educators working with young children to be able to provide high-quality service and to create enriched environments and learning experiences that contribute to the holistic development of children in Puerto Rico. It also strives to raise awareness among educators, families, and the general public of the core principles of the NAEYC’s DAP. Other important points are the criteria that characterize a quality educational service and the necessity for educators to have formal training, be it an associate degree, a bachelor’s degree, or graduate studies in pre-school education so that they can offer a better experience to young children.
Overview of the Professional Development Strategy
Alcanza is a strategy based on independent learning geared toward adults, especially those whose role it is to care for and educate children from birth to six years old. This strategy consists of independent work and uses eight modules accompanied by videos that are accessible for free on the project’s website: http://alcanza.uprrp.edu.
Alcanza modules are based on the NAEYC’s Developmentally Appropriate Practices; these involve the following subjects:
- Early childhood growth and development: A holistic approach
- Learning communities: Environments for exploration, creativity and living
- An integrated curriculum
- Appropriate practices for language development
- Assessment of early childhood development and learning
- Early childhood educators: Promoting active learning
- Ensuring diversity in an inclusive environment
- Reciprocal relationships between the school, the family, and the community
- The family
- Infants and toddlers: Building positive relationships with the loved ones
- The importance of language development in early childhood
- Languages: Expressions of what we are, feel, do, and think
The strategy requires educators to meet with facilitators to read and discuss each of the modules. It is expected that during these discussions the participants clarify concepts, share ideas, and become familiar with NAEYC’s DAP and accreditation criteria. The aim is for these individuals to support one another in searching for strategies and resources to improve the quality of service offered while sharing success stories.
The modules have been designed so that the educator can determine his or her level of knowledge in each content area. Each module is composed of a text and a brief video that summarizes and highlights the module’s main ideas. The modules do not have a particular order, so each person can begin with the topic of personal interest. Each text begins with a pre-test, which we recommend taking before beginning the reading, so that the reader will have an idea of the themes that are covered and what his or her current level of knowledge is on each of those topics. Afterward, they should read the material and do the “reflection” exercises included under each section or topic; these can also be done with colleagues so that the work is shared. We would also suggest that time be spent with a facilitator to discuss the concepts, clarify ideas, and share strategies and activities that incorporate the DAP. Once the reading is finished, we suggest taking the test again (post-test), in order to determine how much has been learned.
Workshops and Resources Offered by the Center for Educational Research
The modules can also be used in structured professional development workshops. Those interested can contact the Center for Educational Research where there is staff available for hire. Once the workshops are completed, participants will be given a certificate of participation by the center. For more information, please call Dr. Yarimar Rosa-Rodríguez at (787) 764-0000, ext. 89045.
Developmentally Appropriate Practices
The Developmentally Appropriate Practices (DAP) developed by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) are quality standards that help educators select and plan appropriate and effective educational experiences independent from the focus of their existing curriculum. The DAP foster the following values in teaching:
- To tend to children depending on each individual’s current developmental stage (physical, social, emotional, and cognitive)
- To identify appropriate goals for the children, ensuring that all children may attain them, while still providing a challenge
- To recognize that educational goals will vary from one individual to the next in accordance with their developmental stage, experiences, knowledge, skills, and the circumstances in which their learning takes place (Copple & Bredekamp, 2006).
The DAP for early childhood education allow educators to make decisions about the teaching and learning processes, both of which will differ and need to be adapted to the age, experience, interests, and abilities of the children within a certain age group (birth – 3 years and 3 -6 years).
DAP for child development reaffirm that young children learn:
- When they interact with adults who care for and respect them and are capable of responding to them in a positive way.
- Having an active engagement with the objects and world around them: playing, exploring, experimenting, and interacting with others, as well as using and touching objects that will solidify learning experiences through the use of all the senses (sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch).
- Having practical experiences; children learn better when they can establish a link between what they know and new concepts.
- When they are allowed to construct their own knowledge: it is important that adults allow children the time to develop their own awareness.
- PLAYING: play is essential to learning, as it allows children to solve problems, make decisions, communicate, and adapt.
Furthermore, the DAP for child development outlines the following five points as guidelines for how we should inform our educational practices:
- Creating a community of learners in which everyone feels a sense of belonging, in a safe environment where everyone is equally important, where we can all learn together, where we use dialogue to find a solution to our problems, and where we achieve great things by working together in a collaborative way.
- Teaching to enhance development and learning. Good educators use a wide variety of teaching strategies. They show a positive response to children’s appropriate behavior, motivating them to continue behaving in this way. Additionally, they demonstrate appropriate behavior to the children, offer them specific feedback, provide them with structure and challenges, and give direction. They are capable of providing step-by-step learning, varying work between large and small groups, allowing for playtime, giving children work in each learning area, and offering structured activities on a routine basis while staying flexible, etc.
- Planning an appropriate curriculum. Educators establish clear, precise learning goals. They are able to plan in accordance with the following aspects of child development: emotional intelligence, language, mathematics, technology, scientific inquiry and knowledge, understanding themselves and the community, creative expression and art appreciation, and physical development of skills.
- Assessing children’s development and learning. Educators are familiar with alternative methods of evaluating and monitoring children’s learning and development. They use the results of these evaluations to guide and plan their lesson and decision-making. They analyze the results to detect and identify children who may need extra support or special services. They maintain communication with others (parents, specialists, health professionals) regarding the strengths and needs of the children so that they make meaningful contributions to the educational process.
- Establishing reciprocal relationships with families. Educators work with children, families, and the community to establish relationships based on mutual respect, cooperation, shared responsibility, and working out differences in order to achieve common goals.
To conclude, the DAP are guiding principles that allow us to make decisions about how best to foster learning, basing those decisions on an understanding of the stages of learning and early childhood development. Good educators recognize that offering a quality service and planning appropriate activities for children from birth to 6 years old requires in-depth knowledge of the traits, interests, and abilities of their children in accordance with their developmental stage.
The DAP represent a focus on education while recognizing children as individuals in constant development, as active beings who learn throughout their lives and are capable of constructing their own knowledge through interaction with other people (parents, caretakers, friends and relatives); as well as with the objects that constitute their environment. With this purpose in mind, NAEYC has developed criteria and established a voluntary accreditation process for those centers that wish to transform their classrooms into better environments that exemplify the highest quality standards. This accreditation system is a way to promote and recognize the excellent work of many development centers for young children.
Alcanza and Developmentally Appropriate Practices
As a strategy, Alcanza aspires to encourage educators to learn more about the quality and accreditation criteria so that they can improve the services they currently offer.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is an organization dedicated to the well-being of young children, especially emphasizing educational services and development for children from birth to age 8. NAEYC is one of the largest organizations in the world working for the well-being of children. Membership is open to anyone who wishes to serve and support the needs and rights of all children. For those interested, we recommend learning more about the NAEYC-supported accreditation process by visiting the following site: http://www.naeyc.org/accreditation/
In Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rico Association for the Education of Young Children (PRAEYC) is affiliated with NAEYC. PRAEYC’s mission is to work together to promote the care, education, well-being, and holistic development of young children (birth to age 8) through opportunities that strengthen professionals and programs. To contact PRAEYC, visit its website at http://praeyc.org