Jane Krill Thompson has 25 years of experience supporting families and their children with special needs. In the United States, she has worked with the Montgomery County Public Schools in the Infant and Toddler Program, the Preschool Education Program, and Adult Education. While abroad, she has had the opportunity to work with various NGOs, and American- International Schools. Jane is a qualified examiner in the area of developmental assessments and has expertise in child development, early intervention strategies, and parent coaching. She provides seminars and workshops for parents, professional development for educational staff and often mentors students and novice early interventionists. She has a BS in Child Development and an MS in Early Childhood Special Education and Early Intervention.
Jane and her husband, Dean Thompson, Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy, have three children and two dogs. They have been privileged to live in several different countries and are delighted to be currently serving in the beautiful and gracious country of Romania.
• Is early education important?
Absolutely. Early childhood is the most rapid period of development in life. There is no other time in education that can have such a significant impact on intellectual skills, language development, literacy, social emotional capacity, and resilience. Helping children develop this strong foundation early on can change the trajectory of their life path and mean less need for future interventions.
• Would it be right to say that gradinita is even more important for the children at risk? Why?
Children at risk get added benefits from early childhood programs. Trained early childhood teachers are able to use appropriate activities and instruction for nurturing developmental areas that may have been neglected as part of an at risk environment. There are several factors that put children at risk for future success; poverty, discrimination, very young parents and special needs are just a few. Quality early childhood programs and teachers can assess areas of need and help these youngsters to fill in developmental and learning gaps.
• Which are the main benefits a poor child may have by attending gradinita?
A quality gradinita increases a child’s school readiness skills. When a child is more prepared for school they have initial success. This increases his confidence and fosters more success. A child who feels they can meet academic demands successfully is far more likely to complete her schooling. The further a child continues on the educational path the more favorable his own future and in turn the future of his children. With the correct input a child’s life journey and that of the next generation is brighter, healthier, more prosperous and beneficial for society.
• What is, in your opinion, the best way to approach poor parents, in order to make them an active part of their children’s education?
First, we need to let them know how very important they are to their child’s development and future. We also need to help them to understand the value of education and keeping their children in school. We can’t change what we don’t know. Treating parents with respect, offering support and resources, and giving them information that they can use daily in their homes is a good place to start. For example most parents don’t know that reading to your child every day from the first week of life significantly impacts future literacy skill and school success. Getting children’s books into every home and coaching parents on how to read to their children is one way to make a significant change.
• Should we associate poverty with disinterest when we refer to parents and their attitude toward education?
Absolutely not. Families in poverty have to put priority on survival basics such as food, shelter and clothing. It is very hard to think about preschool, books and appropriate developmental activities when you are concerned about affording food for dinner. I am convinced that parents in every corner of the world want their children to have a bright future. When we reach out to parents in need and give them support, they have more to offer to their youngsters.
• You are an active supporter of Fiecare Copil in Gradinita (FCG) program. Why?
I support them because they invest in the lives of children and by doing so are making a huge impact not only in the lives of these children and their families but in whole communities and the society of Romania at large.
• You visited several communities where the program is being implemented. How did you find the children, the parents, and the teachers? How would you describe them?
Quite simply they are places of hope! Parents are encouraged when they see their children learning and thriving. Children are gaining skills and confidence. Teachers are working so hard to make a difference in the lives of these families. These are children that will be more prepared to take on the academic demands of school.
• What makes a difference in the educational process when we are referring to gradinita (quality vs quantity)? What piece of advice would you give to those who teach in gradinita? What about to the teachers in the program? Should they have a different approach, given that they are dealing with a disadvantaged category?
Quality programs have well trained teachers who understand that young children learn differently than others and they plan their instruction and activities accordingly. An early childhood classroom should be abuzz with active learning. Children should be experimenting, problem solving, role-playing, listening to stories, working with manipulatives and creating. Teachers should be moving between groups, encouraging, asking questions, making suggestions, posing problems, and reading stories. All early childhood classrooms should have this kind of environment. For children from at risk environments special consideration needs to be given to the families, so that parents can follow through in their homes and reinforce what the children are learning. Being an early childhood teacher is hard. It takes a great deal of planning, implementing, patience and stamina. A great early childhood teacher is no less important than a university professor. They need a great deal of training, knowledge and their outcomes literally change the world.
• OvidiuRo is currently implementing an awareness campaign about the importance of education for the poorest children in Romania, doubled by a fundraising campaign (text gradi to 8844 and donate 2 E/month). What would it be your message to somebody who learns about the campaign and can make a donation? Why should he/she do it?
By investing in OvidiuRo, you are investing in the future of Romania. Giving all children a hand up makes this country stronger, more prosperous, more competitive, and a place where all can thrive. I can’t think of a better investment.
The comments and answers in this interview are Jane’s own and do not necessarily represent the position of the US Embassy.