Please Welcome Bertha Camacho to the Spark Team!

Spark is delighted to welcome our newest team member! While Bertha is new to the Spark team, she comes with a lot of experience. She has been working at TRI/Center on Early Learning and Youth Development with the ERS Assessment team for 2 ½ years, helped early educators with their portfolios in a previous role at one of the Child Care Resource and Referral agencies, and has been giving feedback to the Spark program since the very beginning!

We took a few moments to sit down with Bertha so you could get to know her better and give her an opportunity to share her Spark story with you:

What would you like to share about your background?

I moved to the Salem area from California about 18 years ago. I have worked over 15 years in early childhood education. It all started when my sister was my child care provider and the USDA food program monitor mentioned that they were hiring. At that time, I was in the financial world and had been told my position would be changing to part-time, so I took a chance on the Bilingual USDA position and got hired!

After that, positions came open within the agency and I applied for a Head Start assistant teacher. A CCR&R position came open at the same time and I chose the R&R. I made this choice because I felt that I already had that connection with the providers and I already had been working with them in the county where I was so I felt it was a better fit for me.

I had heard of Spark since the beginning of it. We started going through some of the work and getting to know what was coming when eventually it would go statewide. I saw it as a great opportunity for providers to show and tell their story about their care. Before Spark, providers weren’t really known and they didn’t have a way to show their programs, who they really were, and what they were offering for families.

Some providers were a little bit hesitant at first because they thought it would be too much work to do, but with the help they got from the CCR&R and myself, it made it easier for them to understand, navigate, and dissect the portfolio into less overwhelming pieces. I helped by being very open and upfront, saying I’m here to help you out as much as I can and reassuring that some of the things they were being asked for are things they were already doing. I really believe that they were not giving themselves enough credit or the credit they deserved – they were already doing many of the things they were being asked to do in the portfolio.

I had connections with The Research Institute from coming to some Spark Implementation Team meetings and thought it would be a great place to work. I was so excited to work with providers at a different level when I came to join TRI about 2 and a half years ago.

How does your previous role at TRI connect to Spark?

As an Environmental Ratings Scales Assessor, I liked having the opportunity to be in providers’ homes and hear their stories. Through the lens of the ERS, in my personal opinion, there’s always growth opportunities, so it gives providers a chance for an outsider to see their program, to see their strengths and opportunities for growth to continue to provide quality care.

What is important to you about the field of Early Childhood Education?

Reminding providers of the important work that they do and the difference they make in children’s lives. The people that are really passionate about what they do and care about children’s futures – you can really see it.

What would you like to say to providers who are working on their portfolios now?

Don’t let the white box (the Spark Welcome Kit ) scare you! At the beginning people were so overwhelmed when they received their Welcome Kit. There’s a lot of support out there to help you navigate the portfolio, so I would invite everyone to give it a try and show their quality work in the portfolio. Don’t be discouraged or afraid of submitting a portfolio or working on it.

Thank you so much, Bertha, for sharing with us! To wrap up, can you tell us a bit more about yourself – What are some of your favorite pastimes outside of work?

I love to be in nature – hiking, going for drives, being at rivers, and going camping. Growing up in California I was super into cars – all kinds of them; race cars, trucks, SUVs, car shows, car magazines – if I could, I would have a dealership! I prefer vegetarian food. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, but also having “me time.” I listen to a lot of podcasts, a big variety, but my favorites include Annabell Ingleton talking about Trauma Informed Practices, and Spanish-speaking podcasts. I am finishing up reading, “!Ya Supéralo!” By Cesar Lozano. I enjoy his perspective and he makes me laugh!

What is “curriculum” and why does it matter?
By Rebecca Brown

Many early educators have a complicated relationship with the word “curriculum.” For some, the idea of using a curriculum is intimidating, for others, it can feel like a constricting box. Other early educators are relieved to be able to rely on a quality curriculum. Wherever you might fall on that continuum, let’s expand our idea of what curriculum is, why it is of value, and how it can support meaningful work with children.

What does curriculum really mean?

Let’s start by demystifying the concept of curriculum. Authors Diane Trister Dodge and Laura J. Colker, the creators of The Creative Curriculum for Family Child Care describe it very simply as “a plan for your program.” They go on to say “It is a framework for what actually happens in a planned environment when children interact with materials, with other children, and with adults. An appropriate curriculum will make your job easier and more rewarding.”

In the Learning and Development domain of the Spark portfolio, participants are asked to identify the curriculum they are using. Standard LD2: The program uses a curriculum that supports all children’s learning and development.” There are a number of ways to address this standard. Some programs use a purchased curriculum, such as The Creative Curriculum. Other educators, such as those in a Montessori program, might follow a curriculum based on their program philosophy. Still others may have a curriculum that is chosen for them by their agency or funder, as is the case with Head Start. Many programs create their own curriculum by incorporating aspects of a variety of sources which reflect their own perspective and philosophy. Whether your particular curriculum is purchased or created, what is most important is that it is appropriate for the developmental stages of the children in your program and it supports your particular approach to children’s learning. Taking the time to compare what you are doing to Oregon’s early learning goals can be an amazing process of exploring why what you are doing is meaningful to you and how it benefits children. You can find the worksheet to help you with this process here: Link to Appendix.

What can curriculum do for me?

Do you ever have anxious days wondering what to do for the week? Do you ever struggle with children’s behavior and wish that you had more consistent routines or an activity ready to go that would engage them? Do you worry about parent’s expectations around learning for their children? Or do you have a curriculum that mostly sits on a shelf because it was not chosen by you, or does not feel like it really fits your program or style or philosophy?

Early educators who are putting curriculum to work for them reflect and plan intentionally. They do this to create opportunities to connect with children to support their development and learning. Learning happens through interacting with children in ways that are emotionally supportive, organized, meaningful, and support cultural awareness and sensitivity. You know those magical moments that happen where you see a child’s eyes light up as they figure something out? I remember a child in my care who was trying to learn to jump rope. She tried and tried, and when she finally got the rhythm and was able to do it she was so delighted with herself that she giggled so hard that she collapsed in a heap of happiness. This happened more than ten years ago and I still remember it vividly and with a smile. Allowing curriculum to help you structure your day can help you make the most of these learning opportunities for kids. Putting curriculum to work for you is about creating space for the magic, maximizing your time with each child, and being able to savor more of the wonder of early childhood education.

“It’s a dance of watching kids learn and grow and develop in your care and then intentionally putting something into the mix and watching how they respond and make connections. These are the opportunities that you don’t want to miss, that can make your work richer for you and the kids. As an early childhood educator, I always wanted to find new ways to love what I was doing more and to be better at it. A thoughtful, meaningful curriculum can do that, which is why it is a foundational part of Spark..” – Lauren Peterson, Spark Program Coordinator

Building your days around a quality curriculum can help you to infuse play-based learning throughout the day and set up environments for children to play freely with engaging opportunities that encourage their learning. Curriculum is a plan for learning, not only for cognitive development and academic concepts, but also for facilitating rich, play based learning, open ended experiences, and an intentionally planned environment. Ultimately, curriculum is where the art and science of teaching meet.

Spark Newsletter/Professional Development Opportunities