As manager for the Pittsburgh Public School’s (PPS) Early Head Start program, University of Pittsburgh School of Education alumna Sherlyn Harrison is inspired by the program’s impact on local students and their families.
“Preparing our youngest learners for success in school and in life, and partnering with parents and community stakeholders, is the work that I am dedicated to daily,” says Harrison.
“Put simply, I love to see children and families succeed, especially Black and Brown children,” she says.
PPS Early Head Start is a federally funded early learning program for infants, toddlers, and pregnant women. In her role, Harrison manages the delivery of the program’s comprehensive education and social services to more than 100 families in Pittsburgh.
The Early Head Start program recently received a 2023 Pennsylvania’s Equity in Early Childhood Education Champion Award at the Gold Level. Presented by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services’ Office of Child Development and Early Learning, the award recognizes the program’s efforts to eliminate structural inequities that limit learning opportunities.
“I am so proud and honored that our work was recognized,” Harrison says. “Sometimes there is a struggle to get people to understand or accept the need for and importance of equity work.”
Harrison earned her master’s in applied developmental psychology from Pitt Education in 2006. While she was a student, she was the first K. Leroy Irvis Fellow in the School of Education. She later earned her doctor of education from Point Park University in 2021.
The PPS Early Head Start program partners with two programs in the Pitt School of Education’s Office of Child Development: HealthyCHILD and the Positive Racial Identity Development in Early Education (P.R.I.D.E) program.
HealthyCHILD, which empowers educators and caregivers to create environments where all children thrive, acts as Early Head Start’s mental health consultant. Together, they develop and facilitate trauma-sensitive, culturally responsive professional development for Early Head Start staff.
When Early Head Start teachers and staff expressed a need for greater support around engaging young children in conversations about race, Harrison reached out to the P.R.I.D.E. program, which helps Black children understand race and embrace their ethnicity and heritage.
In 2021, P.R.I.D.E. Director Aisha White facilitated a six-session virtual professional development series to familiarize Early Head Start staff with P.R.I.D.E.’s teachings. P.R.I.D.E. then led a four-week intensive professional learning community, during which teachers developed plans for applying culturally responsive practices to their classroom teaching and family engagement work.
Harrison was impressed by the outcomes of these professional development opportunities with P.R.I.D.E.
“The staff’s deep thinking, voracious learning, amazing collaboration, and dedication to making themselves and their classrooms safe spaces for all children was moving,” she says. “They each successfully identified a culturally responsive approach to support children’s social and emotional development so that children can see themselves as part of a community of diverse learners with a sense of identity and a sense of belongingness.”
Collaboration is the key ingredient of the partnerships between Early Head Start, HealthyCHILD, and P.R.I.D.E, Harrison says.
“One of my core values is leveraging the gifts and talents of our team members so that we develop the best professional learning experiences for our staff,” she says. “Having thought partners who are vested in our program and have a unique skill set or expertise that we don’t have makes for a powerful team.”
HealthyCHILD and the P.R.I.D.E. program are offered through the Office of Child Development, a university-community partnership dedicated to improving the lives of children, youth, and families. Learn more at ocd.pitt.edu.