2016 Speakers

Opening Keynote

Dr. Dana Suskind

Thirty Million Words: A Public Health Approach to Early Childhood Education

Dr. Dana Suskind is a Professor of Surgery at the University of Chicago, Director of the Pediatric Cochlear Implant Program, and Founder and Director of the Thirty Million Words® Initiative, a program dedicated to harnessing the power of language to build a child’s brain and impact his or her future. Dr. Suskind is also the author of Thirty Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain, published in September 2015.

A well-known study by Betty Hart and Todd Risley in 1995 found some children heard thirty million fewer words by their fourth birthdays than others. The children who heard more words were better prepared when they entered school. These same children had bigger vocabularies, stronger reading skills, and higher test scores when they entered the next grade. Dr. Suskind learned of this thirty million word gap while she was working as a cochlear implant surgeon at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Intrigued and alarmed by the study, she began the Thirty Million Words® Initiative in response to this thirty million word gap and is actively working to close this ever-widening achievement gap.

In her book and keynote presentations, Dr. Suskind details the critical importance of early language exposure on a developing child’s brain and encourages parents to take an active role in this development. Drawing on her own experiences with patients and the compelling research on the neuroscience of brain plasticity, Dr. Suskind explains that the most important, and astoundingly simple, thing that one can do for a child’s future success in life is to talk to him or her.

Dr. Suskind and the Thirty Million Words® Initiative have been profiled by numerous media outlets, including the New York Times, NPR, The Economist, and Slate.com and they have received support from The Department of Education and The Hemera Foundation. She also received the University of Chicago Medical Faculty Award for “Distinguished Leader in Program Innovation”. Dr. Suskind lives in Chicago with her family.

Featured Speaker

Michael Gurian

The Minds of Boys and Girls: How to Help Our Sons and Daughters Do Their Best in Early Childhood and in Life

Michael Gurian is a marriage and family counselor and the New York Times bestselling author of 28 books. As a social philosopher, he has pioneered efforts to bring neuro-biology and brain research into homes, schools, corporations, and public policy. The Gurian Institute, which he co-founded, conducts research internationally, launches pilot programs and trains professionals.

Michael travels extensively to provide presentations and consulting. He has spoken for the United Nations on violence against women; provided information on boys’ and girls’ education to the Bush White House; and briefed Members of the 114th Congress on the boy crisis in America. A number of Michael’s books have sparked national debate, including “The Wonder of Boys,” “The Wonder of Girls,” “Boys and Girls Learn Differently!” and “Leadership and the Sexes.”

Michael’s work and the Gurian Institute team have been featured in dozens of professional journals, including Educational Leadership, Psychology Today and The American School Board Journal, as well as nearly all major media, including the New York Times, Forbes Magazine, Time, Today, Good Morning America, PBS and NPR. Michael has been called “the people’s philosopher” for his ability to bring together scientific principles and people’s everyday lives.

Featured Speaker

Dr. Michael F. Kelley

Dual Language Learning: Benefits for All Our Children

Dr. Michael F. Kelley is an Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Previously Dr. Kelley served as the Division Director of Teacher Preparation for the Teachers College and Chair of the Department of Elementary Education in the College of Teacher Education and Leadership at Arizona State University. He has published over 120 articles, books, book chapters, policy reports and proceedings linked to education. His research interests lie in understanding the structural and process features related to high quality professional development experiences for early childhood teachers that effectively impact child outcomes.

Currently Dr. Kelley is the principal investigator and lead researcher on a project (funded by the federal government and Helios Education Foundation) with Childsplay, Theatre Inc. that provides job-embedded professional development by pairing professional theater teaching artists with preschool and K-3 dual language learner teachers in the Osborn District. The goal is to integrate drama as an instructional strategy for achieving literacy and reading comprehension outcomes for 4- to 8-year-old children.

Dr. Kelley is also a co-principal investigator on a federally-funded $11 million teacher quality partnership grant awarded to the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College to better prepare all teachers for English language learners resulting in improved content knowledge, academic language skills required for learning (e.g., higher-level vocabulary, verbal hypothesis generation), and higher-level literacy skills (e.g., expository text comprehension) that are essential for academic success.

Celebration Lunch Keynote

Dr. Renée Boynton-Jarrett

Communities of Opportunity: Integrating Early Childhood Systems to Prevent Adversity and Promote Well-Being

Renée Boynton-Jarrett, MD, ScD is a practicing primary care pediatrician at Boston Medical Center, a social epidemiologist and the founding director of the Vital Village Community Engagement Network. Through the Vital Village Network, she is supporting the development of community-based strategies to promote child well-being in three Boston neighborhoods.

She joined the faculty at Boston University School of Medicine in 2007 and is currently an Associate Professor of Pediatrics. She received her AB from Princeton University, her MD from Yale School of Medicine, ScD in Social Epidemiology from Harvard School of Public Health, and completed residency in Pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Her work focuses on the role of early-life adversities as life course social determinants of health. She has a specific interest in the intersection of community violence, intimate partner violence, and child abuse and neglect and neighborhood characteristics that influence these patterns.

Dr. Boynton-Jarrett was featured in the 2015 public television documentary series, The Raising of America.