Giving Thanks: Early Childhood Leaders and Educators Express Their Gratitude - Early Learning Nation

Giving Thanks: Early Childhood Leaders and Educators Express Their Gratitude

Illustrations: Art Hondros

What are you most thankful for in the early learning world? We put the question to Early Learning Nation’s community of educators, experts, advocates and leaders. And by the way, we’re grateful to you for reading, sharing and caring all year round.


“I’m thankful for Cynthia, the crossing guard outside my younger daughter’s elementary school who greets every single child every day with a hug or a high-five. These everyday acts of kindness and connection are what keep us going and after the pandemic, I’ll never take them for granted again.”

—Anya Kamenetz, author, The Stolen Year and advisor to the Aspen Institute’s This Is Planet Ed (read “Chronicling a Social Catastrophe”)


“I am so incredibly grateful for the stewards of humanity, who over the years have continued to challenge, call out, and work in the spirit of advancing science, truth telling and justice so that society—including our youngest and those who are marginalized—are set up to thrive now and in the future.”

—Chrishana Lloyd, Senior Research Scientist, Child Trends (read “Squaring Up with History”)


“I am so grateful for the early childhood champions all around the world, from Delhi to Denver, from Dhaka to Detroit, who are standing up for young children, families and those who care for them. Despite the odds, hope remains as communities come together and work for change.”

—Joan Lombardi, Chair of the Leadership Council, Stanford Center on Early Childhood (read “Six Takeaways from the Stanford Center Launch”)


“I am thankful for life, treasured memories, my supportive family and friends who surround me with love, hope and joy. I am also thankful for following through with God’s plan for me to be a ‘Guiding hand to H.E.L.P.’ families, educators and my community.”

—Marcia Gadson-Harris, owner and operator, Marcia’s Little Rascals (read “Free Anti-Stress Kit Brings H.E.L.P. for Stressed-Out, Burned-Out Educators and Families”)


“I am incredibly grateful that the spotlight is finally on early care and education, specifically the workforce behind America’s workforce—those who directly impact children, families and communities. Although there is work to do, there is traction on professionalizing the field and appropriately compensating those who do one of the most important jobs—caring for and educating our future leaders.”
—Erin Arango-Escalante, fellow, Ascend at the Aspen Institute (read “Ascend Fellows Catalyze Change”)


“I am grateful for all the caregivers, many facing social isolation, financial strain, grief, stress and illness, who helped their children feel loved, safe and hopeful about their future.”

—Dr. Stephanie Reich, professor, University of California, Irvine (read “Reading Their Way to Better Parenting”)


“At KidVantage, we are grateful for all the people who believe that one person can make a world of difference. Every person who shares the clothes or toys their children no longer use, every person who gives a couple or 20 hours a week to sort items or package bundles, every quilt or toy maker who gives of their talent, every donor who gives financially, every dedicated staff member who has worked untold hours to fill every request, has made a difference in the life of a child. What you do may seem simple and small, but together, the impact is profound.”

—Helen Banks Routon, Director, Development & Community Relations, KidVantage (read “At Work for a World Where All Children Are Safe, Healthy and Have What They Need”)


“We are grateful for the dedication and persistence of early childhood education advocates that spend their time and energy making sure the youngest members of our society are being cared for and represented, laying the foundation for a better future. Thank you for ALL that you do!”

—Helen Shwe Hadani and Rachael Katz, authors, The Emotionally Intelligent Child (read our review)


“I am thankful for our heroes and champions—the parents, grandparents, caregivers, educators, innovators, advocates, researchers, funders and policy makers—who are building a bright and joyful future for each and every little learner.”

—Isabelle Hau, Executive Director, Stanford Accelerator for Learning (read “The Imperative of Investing in Early Childhood”; and subscribe to her “Small Talks” Substack)


“I’m thankful for the tireless energy and dedication of parents, who I see in both my surgical practice and my research center doing everything in their power to make sure their children get a shot at reaching the promise of their promise—often against tremendous odds. And when I say parent, of course, I mean any caring adult invested in the raising of a child—grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers: We all parent.”

—Dr. Dana Suskind, pediatric surgeon and co-director of the TMW Center for Early Learning + Public Health (read “Extreme Situations Can Be Clarifying”)


“I am thankful for all of our parents, educators, social workers and community leaders who advocate for early childhood systems-change. Each day, our partners provide direct services and support to families with young children, while tirelessly advocating for equitable and high-quality programs to improve health and educational outcomes.”

—Charrise Hart, CEO, Ready for School, Ready for Life (read “An Early Childhood ‘Backbone’ in North Carolina”)


“I appreciate the child care providers that put their trust in Wonderschool and allow us to assist them in improving their businesses. I appreciate our government partners’ commitment to enhancing child care infrastructure. I’m also grateful to the dedicated Wonderschool team that works hard to realize our company’s vision each and every day.”

—Chris Bennett, CEO, Wonderschool (read “Ascend Fellows Catalyze Change”)


“I am thankful for the empathic and caring support that my Head Start teachers, Yolanda and Ramona, gave me when I was a vulnerable child growing up in tenement housing in New York City’s Chinatown. Through the power of their quality care, Yolanda and Ramona formatively re-aligned my life trajectory in a profoundly positive way.”

—Kelvin Chan, Ph.D., Managing Director of Early Childhood, Robin Hood (read “Turning NYC into an Early Learning Metropolis”)


“I am thankful for my daughter. She has been my light through the hard times like the pandemic. I am thankful to be able to watch her grow and be happy. I am thankful for every opportunity that comes my way that allows me to speak on and improve student parents’ journey to education, and I am thankful for each and every day that I wake up.”

—Mikah Jorgensen, 2023 Parent Advisor for Ascend at the Aspen Institute’s Postsecondary Success for Parents initiative. (read “5 Ways Colleges Can Assist Students Who Are Parents of Young Children”)


“I am thankful for the many early learning practitioners, caregivers and leaders who have dedicated their lives to strengthening early learning and care systems alongside Indigenous children, families and communities. I am especially humbled by the transformative contributions of the Indigenous Early Learning Collaborative —Wiikwedong ECD Collaborative, Wicoie Nandagikendan, Daybreak Star Preschool and Keiki Steps—for taking their place in the work of community-based inquiry. I celebrate their/our visionary ideas, courage, distinct voices and clarity for grounding change in our own questions and cycles of living. Informed by Indigenous knowledge systems, we create, build and learn, so that our children, for generations to come, can be their full Indigenous selves.”

—Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz (Diné), Co-Founder, First Light Education Project (read “The Indigenous Early Learning Collaborative’s Change Mentality”)


“I’m thankful for my good fortune to live in the United States, that our republic endures, and our constitutional government persists. I’m thankful, for these are the conditions that enable us to do the work of perfecting our union and promoting the welfare our people, beginning with our youngest citizens.”

—Joe Waters, cofounder and CEO, Capita (read “Innovating for Long-Term Resilience”)


“I’m thankful for every single early childhood educator, director, advocate, organizer and champion. In some ways 2022 has been harder on the sector than 2021 because of the staffing shortages and lack of federal child care action, yet these individuals have been working tirelessly on behalf of kids and families, notching some big wins at the state level, and continuing to lay the groundwork for America to finally have an early care and education system that works for everyone.”

—Elliot Haspel, Senior Fellow, Capita (read “Building Bridges between Early Childhood and Climate Change” and subscribe to “The Parents Aren’t Alright” newsletter)


“I’m grateful to have the privilege of working with so many talented and passionate colleagues at Start Early and across the field who work every day on behalf of our country’s youngest children and their families. I’m also grateful to live in a country that values free and fair elections!”

—Diana Rauner, Ph.D., President, Start Early (read “For Children and the Climate, the Future Is Now”)


“I’m thankful to the support for creating quality early learning settings in vulnerable communities in Egypt. Every child should have access to pre-K to unleash their potential and to drive systemic change.”

—Amina Elgamal, Cofounder, Net3allem (read “Three Zaentz Fellows Look Forward to Sparking Systemic Change”)

Early Learning Nation columnist Mark Swartz writes for and about nonprofit organizations. Author of the children's books Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, Lost Flamingo, Magpie Bridge and The Giant of the Flood as well as a few novels, he lives in Takoma Park, MD, with his wife and two children.

Illustrator Art Hondros received wrist-slappings for his cartooning activity in both high school and the US Navy. His sequential features have appeared in the Washington Post Sunday Magazine and Packingtown Review in Chicago. He produced a graphic novel based on a lost 1920s silent film in 2018. He is a member of the collective known as DC Conspiracy that publishes the free comics newspaper, Magic Bullet.

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