Saying goodbye to friends, family, colleagues—a cross-country move when you’ve lived most of your life in Arizona can be bittersweet. But for longtime early childhood advocate and leader Rhian Evans Allvin, former CEO of Phoenix-based First Things First, the pull was strong and the time was right.
Allvin recently was tapped as executive director for the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) in Washington, D.C. She talks about investing in young children, tools for choosing childcare and why everyone should care about giving all children the best start in life.
Why should parents who are fortunate enough to have the resources to provide their kids with a good start care about advocacy organizations such as First Things First or NAEYC?
We know that there is a group of children who are going to walk into kindergarten ready to just explode with the knowledge they’re about to receive, and another group of children who have not had those opportunities. They’re going to spend a lot of time catching up and a lot of money [will be spent] to get kids where they need to be. Many won’t catch up. So making that investment early isn’t just good for families, it’s good economically for this country.
During your tenure at First Things First, you oversaw the development of the Quality First website (qualityfirstaz.com). Talk about how it works.
The notion is that parents can get online and look at childcare [options] based on a common rating scale. Quality First is about going beyond keeping kids safe while parents work. It’s also about making sure we are optimizing their development. There are many states with quality improvement and ratings systems around the country. I am biased, but I think Quality First is just extraordinary, and I was thrilled to see the launch of the website.
What would you say to new parents who are searching for good childcare? Where should they start?
For parents in Arizona, I would say Quality First is a very important first step. I would also encourage folks to log on to naeyc.org to look for an accredited center. More than 7,000 providers across the country have been accredited, which is really the gold standard in early childhood education.
Talk to friends and family members to find out what is available. Make sure you’re choosing a family childcare home that has been certified by the Department of Economic Security. Or if it is a [day care] center, that it has been licensed by the Department of Health Services. That means that that program is meeting basic health and safety standards.
What will be on the front burner as you begin your tenure with NAEYC?
First and foremost, we have an enormous opportunity in the public conversation about early learning. The President talked about early learning in his State of the Union address last January. It was the first time that a president has publicly mentioned, in a State of the Union address, early learning in such an obvious way. That gives us the opportunity to elevate this conversation about the value of early learning in a whole education system.
This past summer, along with your husband Paul, you packed up Austin, 7, Eli, 5, and Isabel, 4, and moved from the Valley to Washington, D.C. How did that go?
It was a grand adventure and I’m incredibly grateful. I think about what we had to accomplish this summer in getting here. It really does take a village to get the Allvins across the country! It was a tough move, in that my husband and I have been in Arizona for most of our lives.
What was the toughest part about leaving, and the best part about arriving?
We not only had the logistics of getting everybody here but the emotional components of leaving, people we were very connected to, friends, neighbors, family. But the flip side of that is that I am absolutely thrilled to be here. This is a chance of a lifetime for me in this position. And I think it’s a moment in time for NAEYC to really shine as a voice and national leader on behalf of young kids.
On the podcast: “No one can bring you to your knees like a 3-year-old!” Our interview with Rhian Evans Allvin continues as she talks about putting her First Things First experience to work on a national level in her current position as executive director of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), tips on preparing kids for kindergarten and what being a mother herself has taught her about young children.
This interview was published Oct 1, 2013 by multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint.