Thursday, May 7, 2015

Jo Ader: Champion of Respectful and Responsive Caregiving

On April 10, 2015, the early learning world lost one of its great champions of high quality care for our very youngest learners and their families. Jo Ader passed away last month from complications of kidney disease but left behind her legacy as an amazingly respectful and responsive infant/toddler educator in our Early Head Start program at the Washington Corrections Center for Women.

Jo began her tenure with Puget Sound ESD Early Head Start 15 years ago, shortly after we began our collaboration with the Department of Corrections to support a Residential Parenting Program within the fences of WCCW. From the beginning, she was passionate about her work with the women and children participating in the RPP. She believed strongly that every human deserves to be treated with respect and dignity, including babies and women serving felony sentences. Working within the corrections culture, convincing others of this was often an uphill climb. However, this didn’t stop her from being a persistent voice, whenever needed, for those unable, or without the power, to advocate for themselves.

Jo built strong, trusting relationships with not only the infants and toddlers in her care but with their mothers as well.  She was intentional about developing these connections as she understood how critical a mother’s well-being is to her baby’s healthy development. Most of the mothers in our program have experienced significant, and often chronic, trauma. Jo’s interactions with the mothers were sensitive, non-judgmental and supportive. She instilled in the mothers the importance of making informed decisions about their own lives and the lives of their children. Jo highly valued information and knowledge. She was an avid reader and researcher of anything related to early development and learning and she generously shared what she learned with the mothers.

Jo Ader working with children.
Jo was also a strong advocate for early education getting the respect it deserved. She was well-known at WCCW for her gentle reminders that we were not “babysitters” or a “daycare” and she insisted we be referred to as “early educators” and our center as the Child Development Center. Jo mentored, coached and encouraged a number of colleagues over the years. She believed that knowledgeable, skilled and dedicated  early educators could truly make a difference in a child’s life and she had high expectations of herself and her early learning colleagues. Two of Jo’s proudest accomplishments were the development of a collaborative staffing model for our program and the creation of a Facebook group called “Circle Time” for early educators to share ideas, strategies and reflections.

Jo will be deeply missed by the many children, families and colleagues whose lives she touched.

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