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Partner Spotlight

Estelle Flank
Campaign Champion, Maryland


Estelle FlankAs a seasoned parent, early childhood educator, and community college professor, Estelle Flank has sharp instincts about child development. She credits the "Learn the Signs. Act Early." campaign with giving her the tools she needs to help her education students at Montgomery College develop their instincts, too.

Before becoming an adjunct professor at Montgomery College in Montgomery County, Md., Estelle was an early childhood educator and HeadStart instructor in the public school system for nearly 20 years. She now teaches education courses at Montgomery College, where her students—including current and future educators—learn about child development.

"I tell all of my students that it is so important for early educators to know about developmental milestones," says Estelle. "Whether they are working in a child care center or choosing books for a pre-K classroom, they need to know about developmental milestones in order to select appropriate materials and teaching methods for their students."

The "Learn the Signs. Act Early." campaign has been a key part of Estelle’s curriculum. In fact, as part of her child growth and development course, she required her students to visit the "Learn the Signs. Act Early." website and order campaign materials. "It was important to me that they learn how to access information about developmental milestones and know what valuable resources are available to them—and to parents."

Because early educators spend many hours observing young children, Estelle says they are in a unique position to recognize potential developmental delays and refer parents to early intervention services. The campaign materials have armed her students with information and confidence to reach out to parents and start the conversation about developmental milestones.

"The campaign materials helped build camaraderie among staff and families by creating a forum to ask questions and share concerns," she says. "My students were thrilled that the campaign materials opened up an important dialogue between the staff and parents within the schools and child care centers where they worked," says Estelle.

Estelle’s students found that parents trusted them and felt comfortable asking questions about their child’s development. Some of her students even began holding parent-teacher evening sessions specifically to discuss child development. "It was the neatest thing ever," says Estelle.

"As parents, we're told not to compare our child to others, but we all do," says Estelle. "Parents start to wonder if they are just expecting too much from their children or if there is a problem with their development." Educators can help parents tell the difference. She tells her students, "Every child develops at his or her own pace, but almost every child goes through the same stages in the same order. As educators, you learn those stages and recognize when something is wrong."

Estelle says that child development can be a sensitive topic, so it is important for early educators to build relationships with families. She also says that it is critical not to alarm parents. "We can’t diagnose a developmental delay, but we can recommend that parents speak with their child’s pediatrician or seek further evaluations."

Her advice to early educators? "Use the campaign milestone checklists to record the milestones you are seeing and specific examples of milestones you’re not seeing," says Estelle. "The checklist is a great piece to start a conversation about child development with parents." As Estelle and her students have shown, the best possible outcome for the child can occur when parents and early educators work together.

To download the "Learn the Signs. Act Early." early educator materials, including milestone checklists and tips for talking with parents, go to www.cdc.gov/actearly.

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