Conference attendees hold hands during a doxology at the 6th annual Hawaii Island Early Childhood Conference at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott on April 20. PHOTO BY CATHERINE TARLETON FOR NHN
Dr. Steven Choy gives Friday’s keynote speech at the conference on April 19. PHOTO BY CATHERINE TARLETON FOR NHN
The conference team poses for a photo. (PHOTO BY CATHERINE TARLETON FOR NHN)
About 400 educators from across the island came together last weekend for the 6th annual Hawaii Island Early Childhood Conference at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott. The two-day event included veteran keynote speakers, breakout workshops, a marketplace and numerous networking opportunities. This year’s theme, “Be the One,” focused on ways to reach out, connect with and support children—particularly those who may be subject to abuse or neglect.
Saturday’s keynote speaker Mervyln Kitashima, of Kamehameha Schools, brought the message home in a very personal way in her talk, “No More ‘Children at Risk’: ‘Children at Promise.’” Kitashima grew up in rural Kauai in the 1950’s, in a large, inter-racial and blended family with an alcoholic father. She became accustomed to poverty, hunger, hard work, shame at school, and was branded as a “child at risk.”
During that time, Emmy Werner, PhD, was conducting her well-known “Kauai Longitudinal Study on Resilience” of 700 babies. A logical location because people tended to stay in place, or at least in touch, Kauai made it possible to track progress of the children studied across 40 years of their lives. Without realizing it until much later, Kitashima was one of those children in the Werner study.
Kitashima credited her grandmother with helping her through times of adversity. She remembered her grandmother being the only one who would bathe her and wash her long hair, then spend time patiently combing all the tangles out, through her tears and objections.
“I felt clean,” said Kitashima, “For a while I felt pretty. I felt like somebody cared about me.”
In addition to caring adults, she also talked about work and responsibility, broadening of her vision (through travel, for example), a sense of hope and the perception of children not “at risk” but “at promise” as powerful protective factors.
“Protective factors are people, places, and life experience that have so much positive power they eliminate the junk,” said Kitashima. Today she is an acclaimed motivational speaker, mother of seven, and grandmother of 14. In 2003, she was named State and National Mother of the Year by American Mothers Inc., of which she now serves as Hawaii president.
Friday’s keynote speaker, Dr. Steven Choy, took a more scientific, but also fun, approach. Choy, a psychologist, university professor and consultant to Hawaii Health Department and Juvenile Drug Court, cited 12 specific ways parents, teachers and other adults can help a child’s brain develop during different growth stages. Along with attention and organization skills, motivation, good sleeping, eating and exercise habits, he used humorous anecdotes and audience games to encourage “play” as another way to stimulate the brain.
“Healthy brains make healthy children, and healthy children make a healthy world,” said Choy, “So listen to your children.”
As an energizing kickoff, Choy’s talk set the pace for an outstanding conference, packed with resources, ideas, information and support. Saturday’s 10 varied breakout sessions explored opportunities to “be the one” for children through language, dance and physical activity, family engagement, conflict resolution and more.
In “The Power to Inspire: The Asset Approach,” Kaulana Iokia and Alice Bratton presented the Search Institute of Minneapolis’ “40 Developmental Assets,” values, experiences, and qualities that help kids succeed. Participants went through the list, marking assets in their own teenage years, for example caring school climate, creative activities, reading for pleasure, cultural competence and resistance skills. The Search Institute surveyed 90,000 youth to determine the 40 assets that contribute to healthy development.
HIECC was organized by Angela Thomas, Gail Judd and the team of Baby STEPS to Stronger Big Island Families, with partners PATCH, the Atherton Family Foundation, Parents and Children Together, Hawaii Careers with Young Children, the Kamehameha Schools, Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort and Spa, Waimea Elementary School, Honokaa P-3 Demonstration Site and the County of Hawaii.
Baby STEPS stands for: support for families, transitions for children, excellence in programs, professional development for practitioners and safety and health for families. For more information, visit www.babystepshawaii.org or call 885-1228.