Listening to Babies professional training series concludes with 10th anniversary

The 10th-anniversary and final session of the professional development training known as Listening to Babies opened with a greeting and comments on community-led early childhood efforts from Mayor Ken Welch. It was themed around the concept of Sankofa, which is an African word from the Akan tribe in Ghana, meaning ‘it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.’

ST. PETERSBURG — Celebrating its 10th anniversary and final session in the series, the professional development training known as Listening to Babies reflected on meaningful community progress and lessons learned to support the social, emotional, and learning development of young African American and Hispanic children. It will also look ahead to where future gains can be made to fulfill unmet goals.

Organized by the Concerned Organizations for Quality Education of Black and Brown Students (COQEBS) and USF St. Petersburg campus’ Family Study Center, Listening to Babies targets a broad audience of professionals who work in education, child welfare, and healthcare serving families in Pinellas County. The training took place on Feb. 25-26 at Pinellas Technical College and was part of the week-long Baby Talk initiative.

“I have participated in Baby Talk since 2012, and it has been encouraging to witness the participation and expectations that parents have for their children,” said Jackie Lang, owner and director of the learning center Imagination Station in south St. Petersburg. “I believe that investing in our learners of today gives hope for our leaders of tomorrow.”

The 10th-anniversary event, which opened with a greeting and comments on community-led early childhood efforts from Mayor Ken Welch, was themed around the concept of “Sankofa.” Sankofa is an African word from the Akan tribe in Ghana, meaning “it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.”

Event organizers hope what permeates this year’s gathering is a quest for knowledge derived from a critical examination of the past and intelligent and thoughtful investigation that will serve to guide and ensure a better future.

The spirit of Sankofa is already at work on multiple fronts in the St. Petersburg community. The Sankofa Project, one component of the city’s Deuces Rising vision to revitalize the historic 22nd Street corridor, was purposefully designed to be community-centered and equity-focused in every facet.

This year’s event featured Maureen Joseph, president of New Orleans-based Transpire LLC, who will serve as lead facilitator for the event’s community conversations. Joseph was also the plenary speaker during the 2020 session and helped audience members examine how historical trauma and implicit bias affect professional practices and how to strengthen culturally responsive service delivery.

Listening to Babies revisited other seminal themes throughout the decade-long series, including a feature presentation led by directors from two high-quality learning centers operating in south St. Petersburg. Lang and Twanna Monroe, owner and director of Infinite Potential Learning Center, discussed what parents should seek in center-based care for their children and addressed critical factors in providing quality care for even the youngest children. Their presentation touched on topics including principles of respect, relationship-based caregiving, and authentic connection with parents and caregivers.

“This talk will reflect what Listening to Babies looks like to me and how we implement respecting young children at our school. Not speaking at or towards them but taking the time to stop and listen and pay attention to their cues,” Monroe said. “In this training, I plan to help them see life through a child’s point of view and how each is different and their own individual.”

The event also featured:

  • A lunchtime parent panel conversation, led by Russia Collins, director of USF’s Infant-Family Center, on the experiences of young Black children as they transition from preschool environments to take on the challenges of the formal school system
  • A retrospective look at the aims and ambitions behind the ten-year run of the Listening to Babies series by Family Study Center Director James McHale
  • Breakout groups where attendees contributed to one of three discussions centered around major themes that have emerged over the past decade from the COQEBS School Readiness Committee meetings and deliberations
  • Lessons learned from the past decade to inform the next steps on the decade ahead

Organizers of the event feel candid conversations about the experiences of Black and Brown children are vitally important for communities to have now more than ever.

“There are nuances between cultures that pre-K providers, public school teachers and administrators need to understand to have a better relationship with their students, regardless of what background they are coming from,” said Ricardo (Ric) Davis, president of COQEBS. “We want to work with them while also providing the latest information to parents and caregivers so we can work as a community to eliminate the disparities in educational outcomes.”

In recent years, slight progress has been made to close the achievement gap between Black, Brown, and white students in Pinellas County’s K-12 system due to systematic planning and implementation of the “Bridging the Gap” plan. That initiative, a response to decades-long legal efforts and advocacy by COQEBS and its diverse and broad-based community coalition, has benefitted from careful examinations and regular monitoring of real-time data and has had a material impact on the community to date.

As in prior years, the Listening to Babies training was preceded by the 12th annual Baby Talk celebration for parents entitled “You Are Not Alone.” The Thursday evening event, also at Pinellas Technical College, provided parents with the opportunity to share their own experiences and perspectives.

The critical information gathered across the three days was collected and shared with stakeholders so that future planning can be guided by the voices and perspectives of the community. Parents will also be invited back to look into future conversations and proceedings.

“All parents want the best of their child, irrespective of their circumstances,” Davis said. “But we must understand parents’ situations better, and if need be, provide more resources to those who have unique kinds of needs.”

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