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Early Learning and Childcare Conference Returns with a Hybrid Model

It’s the best format for community events – offering a hybrid model. The local Early Learning and Childcare (ELCC) Conference committee has done just that for attendees with in-person attendance at the Quality Inn on Saturday, September 24, and the choice to partake virtually.

Registration for this event is closed and over 115 participants are expected at the 12th annual event.

The conference is geared for those working with children 0-12 years in facility-based care, preschool, out of school care, licensed day homes and private operators. Janet Huffman, one of the lead organizers, notes, “we are grateful to be able to host this conference yearly in our own community. The solid numbers of expected attendees speak to how strong our early learning and childcare community is in Fort McMurray and it is continually growing.”

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Discussing conference goals, Huffman explains.

“We plan to build community within our sector. Our closing keynote is: “Reconnecting with my Why.” We recognize early childhood educators have faced many unique challenges in the last two-and-a-half years due to the pandemic and many other factors. Many of these challenges had to change the way we interact with children and families…so educators may be seeking to reconnect with others and to reflect on why they choose to work in this field.”

Recalling the beginning of this initiative, she says the ELCC conference was started by a “small group of directors and support from Children Services to offer professional development to educators in our region as most professional development opportunities would have involved closing down childcare centres to allow staff to travel to Edmonton or Calgary on a Friday to attend Saturday.”

“We knew in those days – 2009 – that closing care was not an option with the boom that Fort McMurray was in. One of the side benefits was the breaking down of silos and competitiveness in the childcare sector. We watched the first conference with approximately 75 attendees and now grown to over 200 at our last in-person. We have watched directors come together to support each other, but more importantly to support the children and families in our community. We have seen educators connect through their different cultures and beliefs at the conference and friendships begin.”

“In the past years we have created a larger conference than this year with more options for break out sessions, however with the pandemic not really gone, and most educators working with our youngest and most vulnerable population many of whom are not yet vaccinated, we believed we needed to keep it small enough to easily switch to a virtual conference if needed,” continues Huffman, whose ELCC career began in 1999. She was also the Director of Willow Lake Tiny Tots Childcare in Anzac from 2017- 2019. This was part of the first 22 Early Learning and Child Care (ELCC) Centres pilot project, commonly referred to as the $25/day project.

She adds, the event is beneficial for early childhood educators on multiple levels.

“This is a time of change in Alberta and Canada as we work towards building a system of childcare and moving away from being a sector. One where children are considered citizens from their entry into this world and not when they reach school age. Creating a system will allow parents to work in their desired field, or to return to school because they have access to quality childcare, with qualified educators. Where children of all abilities are welcomed and supported in centres and schools and hopefully where parents don’t have to wait years on waiting lists to access care.”

About the author

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Kiran Malik-Khan

Kiran is a national award-winning communications specialist, freelance journalist, and social media consultant. She loves telling community stories, and is a strong advocate for inclusion, diversity, women’s rights, and multiculturalism. Got story ideas? Contact her via Twitter: @KiranMK0822.

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