Early Childhood Development nominated for county award

Sophia Yang and Anna Feng

Although a sometimes-overlooked elective pathway, the Early Childhood Development program at Palo Alto High School is getting greater recognition this week through a prestigious county award.

School districts can apply for the Hoffmann Award in one of the 10 categories listed on the website. The ECD pathway applied in the Curriculum and Instruction category and was nominated as a finalist last month, and winners will be announced today. The Awards were started by the Santa Clara County School Boards Association to recognize successful school programs that have impacted students in a positive manner.

Sophomore Freya McQuarrie talks to a Duveneck Elementary School student during Early Childhood Development’s field trip to the school. Palo Alto High School’s Early Childhood Development Pathway awaits the results for the Hoffmann Award after application for the award last month, which recognizes outstanding programs in Santa Clara County for their impact on the community and students’ futures. According to ECD teacher Hilary McDaniel, the ability to implement the curriculum with actual students is crucial to the program’s success. “I do really believe in the essence of the program of having this hands-on experience of seeing your curriculum come to life,” McDaniel said. “You understand what it means as well as the emotional benefits of the relationships that are formed between the younger and the older students. It’s really transformative.” (Photo: Leena Hussein)

According to ECD teacher Hilary McDaniel, she originally decided to apply for the award after receiving recommendations from Palo Alto Board of Education members Melissa Baten Caswell and Jeong Choe prior to the pandemic. 

“The AAR [Advanced Authentic Research] program won [the Hoffmann Award] many years ago before COVID,” McDaniel said. “As one of the early AAR teachers, I went to the banquet and one of the school board members leaned over to me and said, ‘You need to apply for this program for the ECD program or CDP program.’”

The onset of the pandemic paused the application process, and McDaniel said the expansion of the program to Henry M. Gunn High School this year also diverted her focus away from applying for the award. 

“The world got a little crazy for a little while, we [the ECD program] added the third course, and now we’ve expanded to Gunn,” McDaniel said. 

According to McDaniel, the award is an acknowledgment of the importance of the program as well as a potentially effective form of outreach. 

“It [the award] has no monetary reward associated with it,” McDaniel said. “It’s just a nice recognition that we are providing something valuable to students. I think it would be cool if other schools learn about this and decide they want to do something like this.”

The award honors Glenn W. Hoffmann, who served as County Superintendent from 1967 to 1984, and his strong belief in educational leadership as the key factor in educational reform. 

Much of the ECD Program curriculum revolves around interaction and implementation of student-created curriculum live at preschool and elementary school levels. Transportation for ECD students to the schools is costly, and junior Reine Schultz said the program is constantly looking to increase funding. 

“The numbers [of students] are growing, but funding is still short,” Schultz said. “We have to rent buses to get to the preschools during the week and we always go low on funding just trying to get buses. We try to allocate as much to that, but we also run our own afterschool program, so we also need funding to get books and activities.” 

McDaniel said the ECD pathway plays a critical role in offering underrepresented minorities the chance to gain college and honors credit through research and experience-based classes. 

“In terms of our equity work here at the school, when you look at underrepresented minority students and their participation in AP and honors classes, you’re talking like six to nine percent,” McDaniel said. “But in my class, it’s more like 20% accessing college curriculum. There’s something about that hands-on piece that is drawing a more diverse group of students and allowing them to be successful in a very rigorous academic class.” 

According to Schultz, the program is also valuable for preparing students to be future parents and educators.

“Whether or not you become a teacher, educator or if you’re gonna have children in the future, you get to learn more about how their development can work both inside and outside the classroom,” Schultz said. “So instead of just making you a good teacher, it [ECD] could also just make you a better parent.”

While winning this award would be a big achievement for the program, McDaniel said she still looks to gain more community support.

“I always want to demonstrate the value of the program,” McDaniel said. “Receiving this type of recognition from the county does send a message to the community that this is a program worth investing in.”