KEARNEY – Representatives from the University of Nebraska at Kearney College of Education made a surprise announcement during Monday’s board meeting at Educational Service Unit 10.
They dropped by to recognize coordinator Alexandra Dillon and the Early Learning Connection team with the “Making a Difference” Outstanding Community Service Award. Presented annually by the UNK College of Education, the award honors a person, business or organization for their contributions to youth and adult education programs and community social issues.
“Alexandra Dillon and the central Nebraska Early Learning Connection team meet the varied needs of the region’s early childhood workforce through ongoing, active engagement. Not only do they coordinate high-quality professional development opportunities in Kearney, but they also strive to meet the unique needs of the rural workforce through partnerships with community organizations and childhood provider groups,” said associate professor Paula Thompson, one of three UNK early childhood education faculty members who submitted the award nomination.
“Their commitment to early childhood workforce development and well-being is critically important for Nebraska’s young children and their families,” Thompson added.
Located at ESU 10 in Kearney, the Central Region Early Learning Connection collaborates with partners to plan, coordinate and deliver training and other professional development opportunities for anyone who provides programming and services for young children. This professional development helps communities and the state build an effective, coordinated system that prepares and supports the early childhood care and education workforce while ensuring high-quality programs are available for young children and their families.
The Early Learning Connection consists of a statewide hub at the Early Childhood Training Center in La Vista and seven regional locations, including Kearney, along with other state and regional partners. The Central Region service area covers 23 counties and four Educational Service Units. Trainings help child care providers meet licensing requirements and improve the quality of their programs, covering topics such as safety, management, curriculum planning, implementation and assessment, social emotional development and behavioral guidance strategies, inclusive child care practices and serving children with disabilities.
Additionally, Dillon helps plan and implement annual early childhood conferences in Grand Island, Holdrege and Hastings, and she’s been an integral partner with the UNK College of Education’s Early Childhood Committee by sharing information and supporting the annual Early Childhood Conference on campus.
She’s involved in the state’s Preschool Development Grant and focuses specifically on the training needs in diverse communities and providing professional development opportunities in Spanish. Because of her efforts, an early childhood conference offered exclusively in Spanish was organized this spring in Grand Island.
Dillon also partners with the performing arts, including Crane River Theater, to present shows addressing topics such as trauma, the challenges and impact of early childhood education and racial discrimination.