By: Helen Sabrowsky and Jacqueline Zhang, Todd Otis Public Policy Interns
Hello from the 2021 Todd Otis Public Policy Interns, Helen and Jacqueline! It’s hard to believe that the 2021 legislative session is almost over, and with that, our time at Think Small. Over the past 4 months we have learned so much about public policy, advocacy, and early childhood care and education that it could rival even the most intense college course. And while our knowledge and understanding of early care and education in Minnesota has increased exponentially, interning with Think Small never once felt overwhelming – thanks to our incredible leader Marie and the emphasis placed on hands-on learning.
Every legislative session looks different, some more so than others. While lawmakers, advocates, and the public alike faced unique challenges, like working from a distance, this year’s session also saw unique highlights, including a renewed focus on the issues facing early care and education, unprecedented federal investments, and even increased accessibility due to the digital format of hearings. As interns, we know that our experiences were drastically different than they would have been in a pre-pandemic era. But even though we were not able travel to the Minnesota Capitol for hearings or go into the Think Small office to meet and work with the rest of the team face to face, the knowledge we gained and the connections we made remain just as valuable and special.
Think Small and the Todd Otis Public Policy internship adapted as needed and served as a robust, exceptional learning experience for us. Below are some highlights from each of our perspectives.
When I interviewed for the position, I asked what a typical day looked like for the Todd Otis Public Policy intern, and I was told that no day looked the same. This could not have been truer – but in the best way imaginable. Throughout the internship I had the opportunity to attend legislative hearings, help draft newsletters and social media posts, attend webinars and meetings with other advocates, meet with congressional staff members, along with completing other tasks to support the work of the public policy team. The breadth of experiences has positioned me to continue to advocate for children and a more equitable and quality early care and education landscape.
Sitting in on conversations with advocates and lawmakers in the early childhood space was eye-opening. It is incredible to see how much support there is for making positive changes to our current early care and education system. Not only does this robust network of advocates hold lawmakers accountable, they also represent a wide range of perspectives, all while working to create space for provider, family, and even child input. There is so much room for involvement–as little or as much as you can commit– and I plan on staying active in this area after this internship.
Hearing from lawmakers and their staff was also an incredibly interesting learning experience. These conversations were really that – conversations, and it was clear that the knowledge and expertise of advocates was taken into consideration when drafting consequential legislation, like federal COVID-19 relief. Above all, what these conversations demonstrated was the importance of ongoing dialogue between the public and lawmakers. Elected officials represent us, and most really do listen to what we have to say.
This internship helped me learn what it means to be an advocate and why it’s important to support a better early care and education system for Minnesota. One of the goals of the internship is to create more early learning advocates, and I can’t imagine not continuing this work after learning all that I have at Think Small.
Coming into this internship, I had broad goals of honing my passion for policy and connecting with the community. As my time with Think Small comes to an end, I can say with confidence that these goals have been met and exceeded. I’ve gotten so much out of this experience, from the knowledge on and insights into the child care sector and legislative processes to all the connections I have made and all the people at Think Small I have had the joy of working with and meeting. Although I’ve had so many great and unique opportunities during this internship, there are a few that I am excited to highlight here.
Early in the internship, much of my time was spent attending legislative hearings online at the Minnesota legislature. As we moved further into the legislative session, the attention shifted towards following committee action and trying to understand as best as possible all the logistics and politics that go into creating and passing a bill. I can’t overstate how much knowledge I have gained about legislation and policy through these experiences.
I was able to follow the process from the very beginning, where committee members learn about the issues at hand, to the advocacy portion, in which organizations like Think Small make various efforts to mobilize parents and providers, communicate with legislators, and push for valuable early childhood policies, until finally reaching the end, where legislators, parties, and the governor all try to agree on cohesive policy. Although, I know it doesn’t really end there- legislative advocacy is an ongoing and continuous process that I now have a more complete understanding of through this internship. I am excited to use this knowledge in the future in my own advocacy efforts going forward.
In addition to working under Marie’s direction on the legislative and advocacy side of things, I also spent time throughout the internship with Dianne Haulcy and her work with Voices & Choices. I loved the opportunity to continue to learn about early childhood with a specific emphasis on marginalized identities. I have truly gained a more fundamental understanding of how child care and early care often look different based on race and ethnicity and the types of distinct issues that underserved communities tend to face. Through this portion of the internship, I have been able to do research into a number of interesting topics, including cultural awareness training for providers, effects of police violence on children, and interagency agreements on the state level.
As far as virtual internships go, I know that I got lucky with this experience, and I am so grateful to have been able to spend the last few months with Think Small.
It’s easy to feel cynical about our legislative process, especially working at a distance and during such an unprecedented time, but we know that underneath all the chaos and politics, there are so many people who genuinely care and work every day to create a better, more equitable early care and education environment for all children.
Although we are sad this internship is coming to a close, this experience has without a doubt created two lifelong early childhood advocates.