At United Inner City Services, our mission statement encompasses the three primary goals of our programming across each of UICS’ early childhood education centers: Building bridges. Inspiring minds. Impacting Futures.
In addition to providing quality child care for students and families at each of UICS’ three centers, UICS’ current initiatives focus on incorporating this mission statement into community advocacy and conversations around equity in early learning.
When most people think of advocacy work, they frequently think of policy and legislation or funding.They might not consider the need for community-based advocacy from not only parents of young children, but from educators, community stakeholders, and other rungs of society.
UICS Chief Executive Officer Deidre Anderson has been at the forefront of these advocacy efforts. She serves as a leader in early childhood education across not only the Kansas City Metropolitan Area, but also the state of Missouri, and the region as a whole.
Deidre serves as a member of the Missouri Zero to Three Statewide Committee, as well as co-chair of Partners in Quality for Early Childhood Education through the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC).
One question Deidre is aiming to answer is: how do you build the collective will to say not only do we value all children, but we’re going to do something about it?
UICS works diligently to connect the gaps in the early education system, elevate the strengths of the system, and highlight an appreciation for the fact that at the center of all conversations on early education and equity is a child and their family. UICS’ space in advocacy is to shine a spotlight and make the system show that there are significant racial and socioeconomic inequities faced by not only families and children, but also early childhood educators.
“Our Race, Community, and Conversation sessions are a way to bring together people with one common interest: children and their future success,” Deidre said. “We’re building a bridge across lines of difference where gaps might exist and working together to figure out what we need to do in order to close those gaps.”
Like the saying goes: it takes a village to raise a child. Deidre went on to explain how UICS’ village values, cares, and elevates children as a top priority.
“When someone walks into any one of our centers, there is a feeling of love that you can just feel from everyone. You see how caring the staff is. You see how happy the kids are, how well adjusted they are.”
UICS’ approach to advocacy is to inspire immediately, and contribute towards incremental change in the long term. In 2021, Missouri Governor Mike Parsons and the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) announced the creation of an Office of Childhood. It’s this kind of incremental change that has an impact on the conversations around early learning.
UICS helped to be a convener of diverse constituencies when Pam Thomas, former Chief of Strategic Initiatives and Talent Development for DESE and new Chief of Early Learning, hosted listening tours across the state of Missouri. UICS brought together different providers, early educators, and workforce development organizations to participate in socially-distant listening sessions at UICS-St. Mark Center. UICS believes wholeheartedly in the collective wisdom of the early education field and that a major part of advocacy work is mutual respect. It’s partnerships with organizations and leaders in the community that help to drive UICS’ mission and encourage continued development of early learning initiatives across the region.
“Early education centers and providers are essential infrastructure in society, and a career in early childhood education is above and beyond what people think it is,” Deidre said. “It’s not just about teaching, it’s about inspiring children and their families each and every day, while showing them a world that may be different than their world at home. If you’re going to be successful in early childhood education, you have to love it.”
So, how does UICS impact futures one might ask?
“90% of the brain is developed by age three. Full stop. Every moment matters,” Deidre said.
UICS aims to be an elite early childhood education provider in Kansas City. Staff at UICS advocates for the needs of UICS families and hopes this impact transcends to other early childcare providers without the same access to resources and opportunities.
Deidre expanded on this mission. “We are trying to create a seat at the table for other providers in order to ensure that all children have access to a quality early childhood education experience.”