Kristy Meese from the Belgrave Heights Christian School Early Learning Centre and the Alphabeenies Program at Pembroke Primary School have been named as a finalist in the Victorian Early Years Awards for their outstanding achievement in creating positive opportunities and educational outcomes.

Member for Monbulk James Merlino MP today announced Kristy Meese and the Alphabeenies Program are among the 20 finalists across the state in the category of Early Learning.

The finalists have been named across seven categories which focus on improving engagement in learning, supporting parents, building collaborative community partnerships, improving health and wellbeing, exemplary practice in early childhood education, leadership, and significant service improvement.

Now in their 15th year, the prestigious awards include an Early Childhood Teacher of the Year award and a separate 2020 Minister’s Award.

A passionate advocate of the benefits of child-directed and play-based learning, Kirsty Meese from the Belgrave Heights Christian School Early Learning Centre, believes that children learn best when they connect with the natural environment and community.

A strong advocate of building children’s capacity to assess their own risk and abilities, Kirsty guides children in their engagement with nature in ways that demonstrate the rich learning opportunities and positive outcomes of guided play in a bush kinder environment. This often involves Kirsty being in waders, fossicking for bugs in the local Monbulk Creek to provide rich learning opportunities for the children in her class as she teaches them about the natural world around them.

An example of her infectiously enthusiastic attitude to learning about nature, Kirsty teaches her children that “there is no such thing as bad weather; only inappropriate clothing” and can regularly be found outside with children splashing in muddy puddles as they learn.

Kirsty also coordinates the Early Childhood Educators in Christian Schools Network (ECECS) where she regularly hosts Professional Development sessions. In recognition of Kirsty’s leadership and innovation, she has recently been invited into the school leadership team, ensuring that the innovative Early Learning Program is fully integrated into the broader planning of the school.

The Alphabeenies program at Pembroke Primary School is designed to cater for families and their individual needs, particularly those with diverse language backgrounds. Providing holistic early learning for both students and their families since 2015, the Alphabeenies program is increasing successful early learner transition into school.

Drawing from the Victorian Early Years and Development Framework, the Alphabeenies program is founded in the belief that effective transitions are achieved when the child and family have a sense of belonging and acceptance. Unlike traditional school transition programs that run over a few sessions late in the year, Alphabeenies provides regular, structured sessions over a longer period so that children can gradually build their confidence and literacy skills.

Alphabeenies engages parents to help at table groups with activities they can support, regardless of their language proficiency. Teachers at Alphabeenies utilise visual and kinaesthetic approaches to support learning and the inclusion of current Foundation students in the transition program provides important peer support to early learning.

The finalists were shortlisted from 115 nominations received in 2020.

This year’s winners will be announced on November 25 online, consistent with the coronavirus pandemic restrictions.

Winners of each category will receive a grant of up to $15,000 for professional development or to support

For the full list of finalists, visit:

Quotes attributable to Minister for Early Childhood Ingrid Stitt

“Congratulations to every finalist in the Victorian Early Years Awards for their contribution to our children’s education.”

“These awards showcase the hard work and determination in the early childhood sector to provide the best opportunities and educational outcomes for children, even during a global pandemic.”

Quotes attributable to Member for Monbulk James Merlino MP

“My congratulations to both the nominees on being named as a finalist in this year’s Victorian Early Years Awards and for putting Monbulk on the map in the Education State.”

“While this year has been like no other, these awards shine light on the strength of the early childhood sector and the wealth of expertise creating positive educational outcomes for our children.”

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