Blog: Humans of OCAEYC

OCAEYC would like to celebrate and honor the work of early educators in our membership. The stories below have been gathered from the field and include a wide range of early learning professionals who are dedicated to making a difference in the lives of the children and families in our communities. Learn about what inspires them and how they became part of the Early Childhood Education (ECE) profession.

If you have a story to share we would love to talk with you! Please email us to arrange an interview. Thank you for your valuable and essential work!

OCAEYC Book Club on Inclusion

OCAEYC’s June reading group delved into NAYEC’s Early Childhood Inclusion Position Statement. To help us understand what inclusion means and how we can implement it into our practices, Darcie Kass (A Child’s Place Learning Center) and Wendi Evans (Catalyst Kids, Inc.) joined us with an engaging and insightful presentation. They guided participants (myself included!) to understand that the term Inclusion does not just apply to children with ‘special needs.’ Special populations they highlighted include: Children with Developmental Disabilities; Migrant; Military; English Language Learners, Children who require Incidental Medical Services; Homeless; Children and Families from the LGBT Community; Children Exposed to Trauma; and those with Challenging Behaviors.

They also shared useful resources to support providers. For example, this Inclusion Pathway Padlet offers a curated set of resources. There are also Inclusion Pathway Self-Assessments available for teachers/caregivers and directors/program administrators that can be used to identify where you are in your practice and areas for growth.

Their presentation shared information about exciting work happening right here in Orange County to promote truly inclusive practices. For instance, did you know there is an Orange County Inclusion Collaborative? A committee of the Orange County Child Care and Development Planning Council, their Mission Statement states: “The Inclusion Collaborative of Orange County is committed to ensuring equal access to high quality programs for all children; by providing support, training and resources for all programs”. The Inclusion Collaborative recognizes the importance of the Orange County Early Childhood Policy Framework and that ‘Special populations need special attention and that all families have help to access preventative, timely and coordinated services and supports according to their needs, including high-need children and families and special populations.”

Contributed by Melissa Dahlin, OCAEYC Member Services Chair, June 2021

Darcie M. Kass

BSHS/MGMT, M.A.Ed. | Owner/Executive Director | A CHILD’S PLACE LEARNING CENTER, INC.

Wendi Evans | She, Her, Hers

Assistant Site Supervisor | Catalyst Family, Inc.

Meet Julie Bookwalter

LCSW and Director of the UCI Extended Day Center

Julie attended the University of California, Irvine (UCI) as an undergraduate. While there she worked as a teacher assistant at the UCI Infant-Toddler Center. After completing her undergraduate studies she decided to pursue a career in social work and earned an MSW degree. She worked with kids from birth through adolescence in a variety of settings including foster care, and with families in homes where children were at risk for abuse or neglect. Julie found herself missing time spent with kids in an all day setting. She worked in a couple of schools as a social worker and did grant writing, but wanted to be part of a school environment as a teacher. She had kept in contact with her supervisors at UCI, and one day she received a call that the director position at the UCI Extended Day Center was available. That was 26 years ago, and Julie still loves it! She gets to use her social work skills every day, loves being with kids, and enjoys doing some administrative work. Julie is an "on the floor" director and likes to be involved in classroom learning projects and activities. She and her staff are very engaged in the outdoor classroom approach. In fact, they became the first after school program to be certified as an Outdoor Classroom Demonstration Site and now as a Certified Nature Explore classroom. Julie has also written two articles for Child Care Exchange Magazine. Julie is passionate about outdoor play! They transitioned to a full day program when they reopened and are doing distance learning with the K-6th graders, but they spend every minute they can outside!

Meet James Betts

Early Educator with Catalyst Kids

I was in construction and volunteering in my niece's classroom; hanging around with her. One of the teachers said, "You can actually stop doing construction and make a living out of this." I moved back home and started going back to school. Because of a learning disability it took me 3 1/2 years to get my Administration and Teaching Certificate through Orange Coast College (OCC). It was a huge difference from construction. I didn't have that construction mentality. I am a big softy. I found the ECE field and feel that I belong here. One of my niece's teachers said, "If anything, just do it for a year - you are going to make a huge difference." Going from 26 in a class this year to 16 in a class has made a huge difference. I know all of their little personalities; it was more difficult before with so many children. I would like to see advocacy for more men to be in the ECE field, and for all of us to receive a worthy wage and compensation.