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Gigi Schweikert speaks during her presentation at a seminar focused on children, August 21, 2016. The seminar consisted of information for teachers and the handleling of children or infants.

Gigi Schweikert speaks during her presentation at a seminar focused on children, August 21, 2016. The seminar consisted of information for teachers and the handleling of children or infants.

Children's Campus hosts third annual Early Childhood Seminar

UNM’s Children’s Campus hosted its third annual Early Childhood Seminar over the weekend. The child care center, which currently enrolls 300 children, closed Friday for the first day of the seminar.

According to the center's website, the seminar brought in speakers Christy Isbell, a pediatric occupational therapist whose talk focused on sensory integration techniques, and Gigi Schweikert, an early childhood expert whose talks focused on supporting and guiding behavior.

The three-day seminar was held at the Albuquerque Museum.

The center recruits its speakers by regularly sending employees to national conferences on child care, Children’s Campus Director Daniela Baca said.

“Our goal is to remain at the cutting edge of what’s happening in early childhood, make sure that we maintain a really high level of quality. So in order to do that we need to know what’s happening around the country,” Baca said.

According to Baca, Schweikert also spoke at last year’s seminar and returned to speak this year due to popular demand. 

“She is one of those speakers who you can sit and listen to for a week and still have not gotten enough, so we thought, 'if we’re enjoying her this much we need to bring her,'” she said.

According to Lisa Ortiz, the Children’s Campus' education and development manager, the goal of the conference is to offer training that is unavailable locally for the center’s staff and other child care workers in New Mexico.

“We have access to a lot of different resources than some of the centers in the community do, and being that we are early childhood and that is our profession, we’re also interested in how do we move our profession forward and how do we raise the quality of all the centers and the care that all of the children in New Mexico are getting,” Ortiz said.

Program Specialist Victoria Dimas said organizing funding for the event takes long-term planning and anticipation. However, a range of different funding sources are available.

“Early childhood tends to be one of the very highest priorities for private foundations that are looking to share their resources to better the community and also to ensure that children are receiving the best education possible from as young of an age as possible,” Dimas said.

Although in its first year the seminar was primarily organized by Baca, Ortiz and Dimas, in the last two years the trio worked in a more supporting role as the center’s teachers are responsible for organizing the event.

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Working together to organize the event allows the staff to learn new skills, Baca said.

The teachers are encouraged to rotate into a new role in organizing the event each year so they can continue to learn from the experience, Ortiz said.

“We really want them to go and to try new things and to gain new skills and to feel what it’s like to be a little bit uncomfortable in that role. They embrace it and they learn from it,” Baca said.

All 60 of the Children’s Campus teachers will attend the conference, and last year several Albuquerque child care centers closed the Friday of the conference so their whole staff could attend, she said.

In previous years the seminar had attendees from Farmington, Jemez, Las Cruces, Truth or Consequences, Silver City and Socorro, Baca said, relying predominantly on word of mouth to attract attendees from outside of the Children’s Campus itself.

Some of the students employed by the center will be attending the seminar as well, Ortiz said. According to Baca and Ortiz, student employees at the center frequently continue to work there after graduation.

Dimas and Ortiz said they both began as student employees themselves.

“As I was able to go through the degree process I was able to maintain my student status here, be able to work on site and then be able to move into a regular staff position,” Dimas said. “I think both Lisa and I feel the same way, that we really thoroughly enjoy and are really passionate about moving this profession forward and ensuring that high quality care is available to children in New Mexico.”

The Children’s Campus plans to create additional training opportunities for child care workers in the community and for their own staff, Baca said.

They are looking at ways that would allow their staff to train other child care workers, which would offer additional leadership opportunities to their own teachers, she said. The seminar is expected to continue being an annual event.

“I think that the return on investment is just well worth it. We come back and we see things being implemented in the classroom. It helps to keep moral high, it builds that sense of team,” Baca said.

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