The Early Childhood Education (ECE) Expo at Sheridan has been regarded as the program’s marquee event since its inception in 2017. It’s a send-off for more than 400 graduating educators, providing an opportunity to connect them to employers, equip them with resources for their classrooms and celebrate their hard-earned diplomas.
As with many other events in 2020, restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the much-anticipated in-person festivities scheduled for the spring. But it didn’t keep the event from proceeding, albeit as a pilot in a new, virtual format on June 30. Leave it to ECE staff to exercise their creativity, flexibility, and collaboration to meet the expo’s objectives and create a memorable experience.
It takes a village
As a long-time member of the ECE Field Placement Coordinating Team, Deb Bright was encouraged to take the lead on this year’s expo and hold a meaningful virtual event for the 2020 grads. “It was a challenging final semester for these students,” she says. “Placements were canceled, classes shifted to remote delivery, job prospects seemed dire with the closure of schools and centres, among other challenges. It’s paramount that we support them in any way we can.”
Sheridan’s Career Centre, which has collaborated on the expo in years past, was equally motivated to helping it succeed in a new format. Sandra Yu, Employment Development Specialist, brought her expertise to the mix and was a driving force in coordinating logistics, training panelists on the technology, developing the program for the day and seamlessly transitioning networking, workshops, and employer presentations online.
“Our community partners are so important to the ECE program. It’s a reciprocal relationship. Employers host our students for placements and re-connect with them when they’re ready for hire.” – Deb Bright
“After coordinating a couple of well-attended ECE info sessions for graduating students at the start of the pandemic, Deb and I felt we could leverage the IT infrastructure we have at our disposal and replicate the expo as closely as possible,” says Yu. Bright credits Yu as the pilot’s “guiding north star,” saying, “It would have been impossible without Sandra’s expertise and hard work.”
In-person coffee chats to kick off the day were replaced by virtual drop-ins, during which students connected to employers’ presentations and asked questions. The expo also included sessions on standing out as a job seeker, staying connected to Sheridan through the Alumni Office and supports for grads.
Connecting employers to the next generation of ECEs
The expo has proven year over year to be an invaluable platform for introducing employable new grads to potential places of work, many of which have long-standing relationships with Sheridan. At a time when early childhood education is part of a public discourse around equitable and healthy economies, and many instructors are working on the front lines, it’s arguably more essential than ever that Sheridan facilitates the student to employee conversion.
Bright and her colleagues Rachel Rowlands and Susan LeTarnec are well-versed in stewarding relationships with employers. Together, they’re responsible for matching as many as 900 students a semester to placements in Peel and Halton Regions. “Our community partners are so important to the ECE program,” Bright says. “It’s a reciprocal relationship. Employers host our students for placements and re-connect with them when they’re ready for hire. Many alumni also become mentors to current students out in the field.”
Fortunately, thanks to the collective efforts of the people in Sheridan’s School of Education, the college’s reputation for graduating standout ECEs precedes it. In fact, Bright had employers reaching out when the expo was first cancelled, concerned about the missed opportunity to connect to new grads. Ayla Bax, Human Resource Manager at the Milton Community Resource Centre, praised the efficiency of the pilot and innovation that allowed it to move remote, saying, “It was an excellent alternative to the traditional ECE expo during these trying times.”
A team from PLASP Child Care Services wrote to Bright after the event to comment on their involvement. “The college provides students with quality education and experiences. We love our Sheridan grads!”
Pilot deemed a success
Participant Mayerling Meneses set-up two interviews following expo workshops, Kassandra Tisher gained invaluable insight into employer expectations, and Jessica Quintal enjoyed the option to connect with multiple employers while participating from the comfort of home.
With the success of the pilot, Yu has been contacted by other groups around the college, seeking guidance on how to replicate a purposeful, engaging event that connects various members of the Sheridan community.
“Our past expos definitely had a buzz and excitement in the air that we couldn’t quite achieve in an online setting,” says Bright. “But we had some unexpected positive outcomes too.” Students reported that they felt more confident asking questions of employers behind a computer screen and liked the option of popping in and out of sessions throughout the day based on their job needs and interests. “We have a solid blueprint for future virtual events,” says Yu.
2020 grads will still have an opportunity to experience an in-person ECE Expo when it’s possible to host large events in the future. Bright says: “They’ll be extended an invitation to participate in the 2021 event so we can continue to support them and celebrate this resilient cohort of Sheridan grads.”
Learn about Sheridan’s Early Childhood Education program in the Faculty of Applied Health and Community Studies.
Pictured at top of page: Apples and cookies that were distributed to graduating students at past, in-person ECE Expo events at Sheridan.
Story written by: Keiko Kataoka, Digital Communications Officer at Sheridan.