The events that occur early on in life can alter its future. Because of this, it is vital that every child in every community has a pathway to success. As it stands today, there are many barriers and disparities in educational, political, and economic resources throughout the state that deter this ideal. Fortunately, countless advocates are fighting for transformative policies, and with the genuine desire to support families and youth in their growth.  

My experiences before Think Small were primarily working in elementary education, and state politics was frankly a second thought at that point. I was excited when I got the role but coming in a large chunk of early childhood education (ECE) such as the lingo, abbreviations, and programming, was foreign to me. Throughout this internship, I have grown a much better understanding of the complexities of policymaking and the importance of the state legislative process. The various tasks throughout the session were intriguing and kept us busy. The budget surplus allowed 2023 to become a monumental year for early education and other policy fields. Because of this, it has been interesting to learn and absorb everything through all the movements of this year’s session.    

Theo with Saint Paul Mayor Melvin Carter

Maggie and I have used this position in ways that fit our interests and strengths, but it also pushed us to learn about ECE, overall. Writing this near the end, I am still coming out of meetings with fresh information that I must investigate to gain a better grasp. There is so much behind-the-scenes work done to make sure families and children are cared for and provided with resources such as scholarships. Reflecting on my experiences, here is some advice I would give to future interns: 

Tips for a Successful Internship:

  • Utilize resources and news from external sources such as organizations across MN and from other states. Just like in school or coming into any new job, don’t be shy to ask questions, send a message or talk to another team member, or watch a YouTube video when it can benefit your understanding.
  • Get a sense of Minnesota State Legislature page; the FAQ page, for example, is helpful by providing a glossary of terms you will hear a lot throughout the session. Additionally, the bill tracker, publications, and additional documents attached to the session meetings are useful. 
  • Slight imposter syndrome may come naturally, but it is beneficial to affirm that you belong in the conversation and there will be many tasks that fit your unique strengths. Things will start to sink in incrementally, and you will start feeling more comfortable.
  • Many people you will meet can learn a lot from you, and vice versa. Be ready to process legislative updates on the fly. Even state representatives and experts are learning and adapting in their roles as information is being spread.
  • When getting the chance to meet someone new, come up with some questions and talking points that will be beneficial for the meeting, and let it play out organically. 
  • There is extensive work that other team members are doing in the organization outside of policy! Make sure to introduce yourself when possible and understand their roles with Think Small.
  • Your voice is powerful. In many ways, the work you do, the meetings you attend, and the bills you support have the potential to make an impact on somebody and alter the current structure around child care. 
  • It is beneficial to recognize that the needs and experiences of families across the state are diverse and variable, so come into the role with an open mind!

2023 may have been monumental, but there is more work to be done to achieve a quality child care system throughout the state. Acknowledging the present circumstances and being honest about challenges are essential in creating inclusive policies that meet the needs of families. Because of all this, the internship pushed me to develop and mature my understanding of advocacy and policy and has provided me with new tools and experiences that I can expand on heading forward.  

Overall, I am proud of the projects and tasks that I have been part of, and some of them allowed me to play a bigger role in Think Small. I will be anticipating more comprehensive developments in the years to come and Think Small will be at the center of that. By empowering families and providers who have long not seen their calls being met, and seating them at the table, we will see 2023 being a huge step forward in cultivating a robust ECE system in Minnesota. 

By Theo Simmons, Todd Otis Public Policy Intern