This year’s conference is open to all community members interested in learning more about early childhood education’s key role in building a promising future for our community. Conference training sessions are Missouri clock-hour approved professional development hours for early childhood educators. At the conclusion of the conference, we will host a networking event. The networking event’s main program will be two keynote speaker addresses. Please see additional details below.

This year’s conference theme is Thriving Through the Times — Navigating Early Childhood Programs. Our conference sessions below focus on Partnering with Parents, Staff Recruitment and Retention, and Rebuilding Quality Programming.

Wednesday, August 17

Welcome and Kickoff: Effective State Policies that give children and families the foundation to thrive

9:30-11 a.m.

Dr. Cynthia Osborne | Prenatal-to-3 Policy Impact Center

The prenatal to age 3 period is the most sensitive and rapid period of development. Children who experience safe, nurturing, and loving environments are placed on trajectories toward optimal development; whereas children who experience chronic trauma in these earliest years are likely to incur adverse neurological, physiological, and social impacts on their healthy development. This session discusses the conditions in which children thrive from the start, and the most effective state level policies that help to create these conditions.

Life off the Screens-Unplug to Reconnect | 1-2:30 p.m.

Tina Closson | Belle Children Services of St. Louis Arc

Most of us overuse social media and technology for ourselves and our children. Learn how to unplug and reconnect curious minds with hands on experimental activities. Learn how to create a healthy balance of hands-on learning while incorporating technology to promote growth and development.

Employee Wellness: A Supportive Approach for Providers | 1-2:30 p.m.

Moriah Joplin | FCC Behavioral Health

As a behavioral health clinic in the midst of COVID-19, we recognized the need for additional support for our staff to minimize burnout, support wellness, and retain employees. Along with other agency initiatives, we created a weekly virtual space that not only focuses on wellness but utilizes the evidence-based practices we already use in clinical care to support ourselves, such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, mindfulness exercises, yoga, and more. Through this shared experience, we work in various ways to stay connected and are committed to supporting the health and wellness of one another.

Positive Behavior Intervention: Tools that Challenge the School to Prison Pipeline | 1-2:30 p.m.

Carrie Ragsdale | Missouri Parents Act (MPACT)

More often than not behaviors are a form of communication. With this training, participants will learn the significance of using interventions to prevent problematic behaviors before they occur; the benefits of a Functional Behavioral Assessment; and using simple and basic behavior management techniques in the educational setting to reinforce positive behaviors.

Doulas Matter | 2-3 p.m.

Robin Lloyd | Parents as Teachers National Center

Embracing the power of Doulas in the community and its impact on Black Maternal Health. The Black Maternal Health crisis has taught us that having access to education, being empowered, and having a birth plan are vital tools in changing birth outcomes. What we do matters; impacting birth outcomes and strengthening confidence is essential to change. Participants will have the opportunity to learn about What a Doula is and understand how Doulas’ support during pregnancy can improve outcomes for mothers and babies.

Early Literacy – the Foundation of All Learning | 2-3 p.m.

Sheila Oliveri | Ready Readers

Parents, teachers and caregivers are the most important influencers in children’s lives, and early literacy is the key to school readiness. Learn what constitutes “early literacy,” and how instituting a daily read-aloud time is the best investment in children’s futures (at school and at home). We’ll discuss using books as mirrors and windows, and talk about the importance of children’s access to multicultural titles. A list of diverse books will be shared with participants, as well as hearing excerpts from’ favorite read-aloud titles.

Resilient Leadership: Empowering Staff’s Wellbeing and Resilience | 6:30-8:30 p.m.

LaDonna Ellis | ARCHS

Using the Devereux Resilient Leadership Survey (DERLS) participants will learn concepts and strategies to promote well-being and resilience for themselves and those they lead. Participants will understand differences between compassion fatigue and burnout and strategies to help with staff well-being and retention.

Getting Parents and Educators On the Same Page, For Everyone’s Sake & Sanity | 6:30-8:30 p.m.

Bolanle Ambonisye | U&I-RISE

This workshops respects and addresses all 3 categories of our theme. Participants will:
1. Partnering with Parents – come away with basic information and tools that help us provide home environments that support our children’s kindergarten readiness and catapult their academic success
2. Staff Recruitment and Retention – acquire additional insight on a “heart reason” staff retention is a struggle (along with the pay, I mean), and how to address it (along with the pay, I mean)
3. Rebuilding Quality Programs – gain a deeper understanding about why treating parent involvement as an option is biting us in the behind, and how to make involvement something parents are willing to do, even if they don’t feel like it…Yes, all in the same 2-hour workshop!
Because we intend to thrive through the times, it’s critical for us adults to get the same information. And it’s in our children’s best interests that we get it at the same time. Please come.

Breaking Bad News: Discussing Developmental Concerns with Compassion and Empathy | 6:30-8:30 p.m.

Wendy Cornell |

University of Missouri – School of Medicine – ECHO Autism  You have just had a meeting with a family about developmental concerns. Or, maybe you have a child who is diagnosed with a developmental disability. You want to help but you may not know where to start. In this session you will learn how to support these children and families so they can achieve their best life.

Thursday, August 18

Using education and compensation to recruit and retain early childhood educators | 1-2 p.m.

Amanda Schwarz | Child Care Aware of Missouri

Making Observations & Assessments Manageable: Tips & Tricks | 2-4 p.m.

Becky Vogel | United 4 Children

Early Childhood Literacy and Language | 6:30-8 p.m.

Beverly Colombo

Families Take The Wheel: Navigating Family-Centered Practices in ECE Programs | 6:30-8 p.m.

Dr. Jami L. Swindell 

How do you champion recruiting success? How do you take time to build into your employees? Child Care Aware of Missouri can help in using education and compensation to recruit and retain early childhood educators. Come and find out strategies to recruit, hire and retain staff. Recognize the connection of investing in employees who will continue to invest in the work they do.

Early Childhood Professionals are responsible for observing, recording, and assessing young children’s development in the classroom. Teachers can use a variety of methods for observation and assessment, in this session we will introduce strategies and systems for making observation and assessment manageable in the classroom setting. We will look at objective observations, organization of observation notes, note taking, creating children’s portfolios and administering assessment tools in the early childhood classroom.

How can we ensure that all educators are prepared to provide high quality instruction in literacy and language?  Join us in a discussion of the professional development and learning needed to boost the knowledge and skills of all educators.  An overview of Early Childhood LETRS will be provided as a framework for providing effective professional development in all areas and focusing on literacy and language.  We will also engage in some of the LETRS activities.

Who is the driver’s seat in your ECE program? Are professional-family relationships a ‘two-way’ street? Are families guiding the direction of their child’s education and development? Are families active partners or ‘back seat drivers’ in your program and classrooms? In this session, we will use the DEC/ECTA Family Centered Practices Checklist to reflect on current family centered practices, identify strengths in promoting family partnerships, and create an action plan to increase family centered practices within our ECE program or classroom. Participants will engage in self-reflection, small group discussion, and share effective family-partnership practices to support families as active decision-makers and participants in their child’s education and development in the ECE program, at home, and in the community.

Friday, August 19

Finding Freedom in Yoga & other holistic therapies! | 1-2 p.m.

Cheryl Killilea 


Impact of vision on learning – how vision screenings support classrooms and families | 1-2p.m.
Anne Silea and Noreen Conte

Building Better Partnerships: Supporting Families Who Have a Child with a Disability | 1-3 p.m.

Wendy Cornell |

University of Missour -ECHO Autism Center

Rebuilding Quality Programming Navigating Early Childhood Programing as External Regulators | 2-3 p.m.

Gina Watkins | Nine PBS

We will discuss therapeutic approaches using Yoga philosophies and other holistic healing modalities. Demonstrate and practice yoga postures (chair or standing), breath work, meditation, and other holistic therapies to showcase benefits. Creating a plan to integrate holistic skills into daily life that assist in our overall wellness.

Did you know that 80-90% of learning is through your vision? Young children are learning so much during the early years that unidentified vision problems can cause delays in their development. Because young children cannot communicate or think what they see is normal, childcare providers are in a unique position to promote early identification through vision screenings and parent education. Learn more about the importance of vision to development, indicators of vision concerns and resources available to childcare providers and families.

Have you ever had a child that was behind and just not meeting developmental milestones? You know, that child that just can’t keep up with the rest. Or perhaps, you have had a child that just could not follow the rules and norms in the classroom? Perhaps you have a child that cries all the time or possibly cannot play appropriately with the others. You know there is a concern, but you are not sure how to break the news with the family because you are worried about how this family might react. In this session you will learn how to use reflective practices to examine your own attitudes, biases, and beliefs to form a strengths-based perspective of the family. You will learn how relationships-based strategies with these families can help communicate developmental or behavioral concerns to families, while enhancing family participation and engagement during these difficult conversations.

Trauma informed Care is more than just understanding the effects of Trauma, more importantly its knowing how to help heal trauma. Although there is no “cure” there are things that early childhood educators can do to help ensure that those affected by trauma can have a chance to succeed in life.

Saturday, August 20

Addressing Trauma in Early Childhood | 8:30-10 a.m.

Melissa Nevrels 



Parents, Parents, Parents | 8:30-10 a.m.

Dr. Tango Walker 

The last few years have been filled with unpredictability for families. Many families have been isolated, had limited resources, and experienced lots of change within their families. This presentation will discuss trauma and how it impacts the development of our youngest learners. In addition, it will provide practical resources and play-based activities that will help build a sense of community and safety in your classroom.

Partnering with parents is all about building positive, engaging relationships with parents even when we must have those not so comfortable conversations! How do you recruit and retain staff? What has worked, what hasn’t worked, and what are you willing to do to make it work?

Panel Discussion: Thriving Through the Times – Navigating Early Childhood Programs


10:30 a.m. to Noon Saturday, August 20 

Meet the Panelists:

  • Julius B. Anthony, president of St. Louis Black Authors of Children’s Literature;
  • Cortaiga Collins, founder of Good Shepherd Infant and Toddler Center;
  • Beth Csengody, the diverse client segment leader at Wells Fargo Advisors and a member of United 4 Children’s Board of Directors.

Networking Event


1-4 p.m. Saturday, August 20

The Schlafly Tap Room, located at 2100 Locust St, St. Louis, MO 63103

Tickets: $50 

Meet the Keynote Speakers:

Adam Layne

Adam Layne

St. Louis City Treasurer

Treasurer Adam Layne was appointed in April of 2021 to succeed the former Treasurer, Tishaura O. Jones, after she won a historic election becoming St. Louis’ first Black woman Mayor. A familiar name, many came to know Treasurer Layne from his service on the St. Louis School Board as he finished first in his 2019 race. During his time on the Board of Education, Treasurer Layne advocated relentlessly for every school to be a quality school, while always centering equity and seeking to dismantle historically oppressive systems. One of his greatest successes was creating and chairing the Standing Committee on Budget Equity & Transparency.

Treasurer Layne originally joined the Treasurer’s Office as the Deputy Chief of Staff, spearheading projects that proved to be especially needed amidst the economic challenges of the pandemic. He worked tirelessly throughout 2020 to improve systems and deepen community engagement with the work of the STLTO. One of his most notable efforts include his leadership and launch of the Parking and Towing Assistance Program (PTAP), a program that creates payment plans for St. Louisans with multiple fines, allowing them to freeze their fees, pay off their balances in smaller amounts, and climb out from under the financial burden of parking fees.

A native of Boston, MA, Treasurer Layne established his professional career in 2011 as a high school math teacher in St. Louis Public Schools then went on to launch, develop, and direct education access programs at InspireSTL before becoming independent consultant, developing, designing, and implementing curriculum and diversity training for organizations in St. Louis and across the nation. An avid writer, he launched his own nonprofit program, The Young Griot Society, which seeks to increase youth literacy through their love for creative writing. In 2019, he joined Washington University as a research associate, supporting the launch of the Academy for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

A proud graduate of the George Washington University School of Business, Treasurer Layne received his Bachelor of Business Administration in Finance and went on to earn a Master of Education from University Missouri St Louis.

Carmen D. Ward

Carmen D. Ward

Director of Development and Community Engagement at The Bailey Foundation

Carmen Ward is a native of St. Louis who lives in the heart of North city. Carmen is a product of the public school system but graduated from an alternative high school in Macomb, Illinois and then received a Double Bachelor Degree from Western Illinois University in Sociology and Law Enforcement Justice Administration.  Carmen has always believed that she was supposed to be doing something radical to shift the paradigm of her community that is why she accepted the position as Director of Development and Community Engagement at The Bailey Foundation.  Carmen believes that collaboration and holistic resources are just as critical to the upward mobility of communities and its people. Opportunities to nurture and develop authentic community engagement on an executive level is imperative to the health and wellness of communities like Penrose Park Carmens’ neighborhood.  Carmen has been building her own business Becomingcarmen LLC and aspires to start a nonprofit to support her region that she believes lives in silos by design.