Two Erikson Alum Nominated for NAEYC Governing Board Positions

Natalie V. O’Neil, MS ’03, and Ray Jaramillo, MS ’20, both in Early Childhood Education, have been nominated for Board leadership positions with The National Association for Education of Young Children (NAEYC). NAEYC is a professional membership organization of 60,000 individuals that works to promote high-quality early learning for all young children, birth through age 8, by connecting early childhood practice, policy, and research. Board voting is open to all current NAEYC members and closes on March 1, 2021.

Erikson recently sat down (virtually) with Natalie and Ray to discuss how their time at Erikson prepared them for these roles, why they’re excited about NAEYC, and what they’re looking forward to in 2021

Erikson: What did you take away from your time at Erikson? How did your time here help prepare you for your current role and for a leadership position with NAEYC?

O’Neil: My time at Erikson changed the trajectory of my professional journey. It also was hugely impactful on me personally in that I found my passion and purpose. My time at Erikson opened up the world of early childhood advocacy to me and framed for me the difference I can make via advocacy and policy work, the importance of research and developmentally appropriate practices and how important it is for policy to reflect research and best practices.

Jaramillo: I’ll never forget my cohort (Enid, Taz, Adrianna & Stephanie). We have never met in person, but over time, we became family. My cohort was a big part of why I graduated and contributed to my success at Erikson. I never felt as if the work I was doing in class was busywork, but instead, assignments were meaningful and often adapted to fit the advocacy efforts that were a part of my life in New Mexico.

“The support and push I received at Erikson gave me the confidence to grow as a leader and continue advocating on behalf of the children and families in my community, the state, and nationally.”

Erikson: What about NAEYC’s work speaks to you? Why did you want to run for board leadership?

O’Neil: NAEYC was the first professional organization I joined very early in my career as an early childhood professional. It’s been part of my career for decades via membership, turning to publications for guidance and resources, or serving on committees or a task force. It’s an honor to stay engaged with NAEYC and continue to support their incredible contributions to the field.

Jaramillo: When it comes to connecting research, policy, practice, and advocating for high-quality early childhood education, NAEYC is the leader in our profession. I chose to run for the NAEYC Governing Board because I felt that my ability to work with others, my education, experiences, and drive to make a difference in children’s lives made me a great candidate. It would be an honor to have the opportunity to work with the organization (NAEYC) that I have respected since becoming a member in 1995. If elected, I would be the first to serve from New Mexico

Erikson: What is your vision or plan for NAEYC in the year ahead? What can NAEYC members expect from your potential leadership? Natalie, you are running specifically for Board President, and if elected would be the first Latina to hold the position. What does that mean for you?

O’Neil: That potential honor is not lost on me and I would take on that responsibility with immense gratitude. It’s imperative that the unique experiences and voices of women of color, especially Black and Brown women, are at the table when decisions are being made that impact a field so largely represented by women and women of color.

Jaramillo: I would be lying if I said I knew what to expect in 2021. I can say that I am ready and excited for the challenge. If elected, I will continue to develop relationships with the Governing Board and NAEYC members throughout the country. As a Director of an early childhood program, my goal will be to bring ground-level issues to the national stage.

Erikson: After a year like 2020 that was so full of seismic change, what are you looking forward to in the field of early childhood education in 2021? What gives you hope and gets you excited for the new year?

O’Neil: While the impact of COVID-19 has been economically and emotionally devastating, we in the early childhood space have an opportunity. Remember when school buildings across the country had closed and parents were suddenly responsible for their children’s learning? Social media was flooded with accolades for educators, professing a newfound respect and appreciation for those who care for our nation’s children. I hope we don’t let this moment pass, and can ride this wave to demand unprecedented change for those who are responsible for our children.

“I believe it is our duty as advocates to use our individual and collective voices to create a better environment for those who educate and care for children.”

Increased funding, improved resources, access to quality training, and increased pay and benefits are all areas that need a systemic overhaul. I believe these to be the most critical issues facing the field of early childhood education and NAEYC must rise to take this head on – stronger and more boldly than ever before.

Jaramillo: As I began working with young children as an assistant teacher in the mid-90s, I remember my professors and other leaders talking about how our profession was “emerging.” After nearly three decades, I feel early childhood is still in some ways an “emerging profession.” Due to the pandemic though, a national spotlight is now cast on the field of early childhood education. With the new administrations’ commitment to early childhood education, I am hopeful and excited to work with other leaders to use this unique opportunity to create seismic changes that shift the early childhood profession from “emerging” to one that is undoubtedly recognized by all of society.