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Early learning ‘action network’ taps Lastinger Center specialist for national fellowship

Valerie Mendez-Farinas

Valerie Mendez-Fariñas

Valerie Mendez-Fariñas of the University of Florida Lastinger Center for Learning didn’t have to think twice about joining a vibrant national movement over the next three years to improve early learning opportunities and resources for our youngest children.

Mendez-Fariñas, a professional development specialist, is one of 38 American leaders in the early-childhood arena recently selected to fellowship posts with the newly formed Equity Leaders Action Network (ELAN). The network brings together state, county and national experts who seek to reduce racial disparities in early learning systems.

The ELAN group evolved from a program called BUILD, created over a decade ago by the national Early Childhood Funders Collaborative. The BUILD program’s purpose: to support states’ efforts to build high-quality early-childhood systems that ensure all children have an opportunity to develop and reach their full potential without discrimination or bias.

Mendez-Fariñas will work with other ELAN fellows to help states identify and eliminate inequities based on race, ethnicity, language and culture in our early childhood state systems. They also will help build support and influence states’ policies in the areas of health, early learning and family support.

“I’ve always believed in the power of collaboration, and now I have 37 new critical-thinking friends in the network who will help strengthen my work, fuel my passion and push my thinking,” Mendez-Fariñas said.

She has worked for more than 23 years in education, including positions as a special education teacher, adjunct professor and quality improvement specialist.

Part of her work as an ELAN fellow will involve studying data from the UF Lastinger Center’s groundbreaking Early Learning Florida program, which blends online and face-to-face professional development for thousands of early childhood practitioners who work with infants, toddlers and preschoolers in Florida centers, schools and family child care homes.

Her main focus, though, will be on training certified early learning coaches in Florida’s 30 early learning coalition districts, working through Early Learning Florida. The eight-month, job-embedded process equips the coaches-in-training with new skills for helping fellow practitioners learn and implement new, equitable teaching methods.

“Coaching creates opportunities for reflective discourse that may include conversations about key issues, practices and policies that create disparities between groups of children,” Mendez-Fariñas said.

Since 2014, the Lastinger Center, the R&D innovation hub for the College of Education, has built a statewide network of over 200 certified Early Childhood Coaches and 280 Community of Practice facilitators who are improving the quality of early learning programs throughout Florida.

SOURCE: Valerie Mendez-Fariñas, (c) 305-490-7825
WRITER: Katelin Mariner, communications intern, 352-273-4449
MEDIA RELATIONS: Larry Lansford, director, news & communications, UF College of Education,   352-273-4137