State Partners Celebrate Early Childhood Inclusion


by Celeste Yager-Kandle



Oregon Early Childhood Inclusion (OECI) partners convened at Oregon State University for an annual celebration of statewide work to bring high‐quality, inclusive preschool policies and practices to all levels of Oregon’s early care and education system.

The OECI celebration is a culmination of decades of dedication from people engaging in early childhood inclusion work from many perspectives including at the provider level, at the community level, and in school districts and classrooms.

Families, early learning and care providers, and special education practitioners have said that supporting children aged birth-to-five experiencing disability is a core equity priority in Oregon.



To address this, multiple organizations, state agencies, family advocacy networks and policy change makers have come together as part of the Oregon Early Childhood Inclusion Initiative to develop a state team that helps to guide implementation across communities and elevate the voices of the people they serve.

“It looks at the core needs of children, families, providers and educators, and it brings us together under a comprehensive framework at every level of the system, so that we’re all working and walking in the same direction toward belonging, towards wellness, towards true access and meaningful participation,” said Meredith Villines, early childhood coherent strategies specialist at the Oregon Department of Education.

The initiative is also an important step in Oregon’s plan to eliminate suspension and expulsion practices in preschool by providing educators with tools and support, including coaching and professional learning, to support children with higher needs.

“It has been wonderful to attend this celebration and hear from teams who are using these strategies to build inclusive classrooms in their communities,” said Marina Merrill, director of research and strategy at Children’s Institute.


Merrill sits on the OECI state leadership team. She says that high-quality preschool education is powerful for young children’s learning and development, but that conversations about equitable and inclusive preschool are overdue and OECI is working to change that.

“The Oregon Early Childhood Inclusion Initiative is working to remove the barriers at all levels of the early education system to ensure that children with disabilities can access and fully experience high-quality preschool education in the same classrooms as their typically developing peers,” said Merrill. “I look forward to continuing to work with the OECI state leadership team to expand this work to more communities across Oregon.”


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