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Annie George-Puskar, A Passionate Early Childhood Intervention Educator, Talks About the Challenges Faced in the Current Climate

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In a new teaching and learning environment that must account for COVID-19, GSE curriculum and teaching assistant professor Annie George-Puskar, Ph.D., recognizes that the need to use technology, for both teachers and students, will continue to accelerate. She’s hoping that will help catalyze systemic change and provide an opportunity for more families to access technology, especially those who support the needs of young children with disabilities.

George-Puskar also knows that this environment presents particular challenges because of gaps in access to broadband and technology for many families. She emphasizes the additional challenges children have faced during the pandemic — changed environments, minimal social opportunities, disrupted routines, and deteriorated mental health. The work needed to make it possible for children to return to school in a face-to-face format means school will look and feel very different than it did before COVID-19. Teachers, staff, and students will be required to wear masks and practice social distancing. Educators and parents will need to find innovative ways to teach essential social-emotional skills in the early childhood years in new socially-distanced circumstances. For example, George-Puskar points out that CDC recommendations for children to use individualized materials will change the usual school dynamic, especially for young children who won’t be taught to share — normally a critical skill taught in early childhood.early

Even as a researcher, COVID-19 has challenged George-Puskar to think differently about the types of questions she asks and her overall approach to finding solutions to problems of practice. She shares that she is now focusing even more on how policy impacts the day-to-day teaching practices that support families, particularly through transitions into school. Although George-Puskar has done previous research examining transitions to preschool, this year will look very different; she is excited to see how teachers will be creative and use technology to support families as they begin new programs or even just return to programs and classrooms in current circumstances. She is also anticipating that implementing newly recommended practices in transition will require supporting teachers, parents, children, and all of those invested in children’s futures.

Overall, George-Puskar is excited and inspired by the ingenuity of her colleagues, as educators navigate full-time work from home while simultaneously creating high-quality online courses for their GSE students. She positively notes that Fordham’s “location in NYC provides us access to an incredible network of early childhood intervention professionals and thought leaders — at both the state and city level.” In particular, George-Puskar is connected with the New York City Early Childhood Research Network through the Foundation for Child Development and has received an Early Career Scholars grant to support her research on transitions for children entering the Universal Pre-Kindergarten (UPK) system.

More fundamentally, George-Puskar values Fordham’s demonstrated support for social justice, educational equity, and its students and faculty. She was initially drawn to being at Fordham because she found it to be “somewhere that was open to having honest conversations on how to embrace and drive positive change to education as a system.” George-Puskar adds, “GSE has a strong commitment to equity in education, as demonstrated by our online programs (even before COVID-19) that allow students outside of NYC to access the quality of a Fordham education. As someone who is early in my career, I have felt nothing but supported and appreciated since the day I interviewed to be on faculty at GSE.”

George-Puskar discovered at a young age that she wanted to be an educator, to help young children and their families. She worked in schools, camps, recreation programs and home service programs, where she learned how impactful early intervention could be for children and families. When George-Puskar was a junior in college, her passion grew after engaging with a young boy newly diagnosed with Autism. At that point, she decided to target her efforts on training educational leaders in the early intervention field, on teaching people how to effectively collaborate with a child’s whole family within the context of individual communities.

George-Puskar completed her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology with a specialization in Early Childhood Intervention Leadership at the University of Connecticut, and continued her career in academia focusing on: 1) children ages birth-5, specifically those with disabilities and developmental delays; 2) supporting children with autism spectrum disorders and their families; 3) managing transitions into preschool; 4) using data-based decision-making instruction; and 5) designing personnel preparation programs.

Currently, Annie George-Puskar is the co-chair for the Leadership Community of Practice’s Division for Early Childhood under the Council for Exceptional Children, and a reviewer for the journal Infants and Young Children, the journal Young Exceptional Children, and the journal International Child Care and Education Policy. Read more about her work here.

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