Shelley Pasnik: Supporting the Life Trajectories of Children around the World
Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, and Changemakers who are advancing the UN SDGs.
Spiffy here! I’m back with the scoop on the changemaking leaders of Planet Earth. As the only interplanetary journalist stationed on this blue planet, I’m thrilled to present this galactic exclusive with Shelley Pasnik, a senior vice president at the Education Development Center. Let’s see what she is doing to make a positive impact in the world.
Spiffy: Thanks for joining me, Shelley! Tell me, what challenge are you addressing through your organization?
Shelley: Wonderful to have time with you, Spiffy! There is growing interest in investing in the early years—and for good reason. Children with high-quality early experiences do better in school, earn more income over their lifetimes, and enjoy better health. Furthermore, their parents are more secure in employment, and their families are more stable. That’s why for decades my colleagues and I have developed and implemented programs that meet children’s needs and support the grown-ups in their lives. Two of our signature programs are Start Right Now, which uses interactive audio instruction to link health, education, and workforce development, and First 10.
Spiffy: Awesome! What motivates you to tackle this challenge?
Shelley: I’ve always been in awe of young children—their capacity for make-believe, their insatiable curiosity, their goofy humor—and I marvel at the pathways little humans travel as they develop. Painfully, far too many children experience poverty, violence, neglect, and other barriers to their growth. My career has felt like a gift in that it’s allowed me to work alongside others committed to children’s health and well-being. This includes everyone from media producers who appreciate the power of stories and representation to educators who know how and when to nudge and nurture.
Spiffy: What would you say is the impact of your work?
Shelley: We’ve hit several major milestones over the years. Our early learning programs have served over 100 million learners and hundreds of thousands of educators in 25 countries. It’s not just about the reach of what we do, Spiffy, but about supporting life trajectories. Young children in our programs experience significant learning gains. And we’ve been able to dramatically reduce or eliminate performance gaps by gender, socioeconomic status, home language, and location. And yet, when we look across the globe, we know staggering inequalities remain among countries and communities so our collective work continues.
Spiffy: Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?
Shelley: Although much of our work involves technology—radio broadcasts, apps, interactive games—at the core of our early learning programs are relationships. It’s that magical thing that exists between a child and another, like a grandparent or sibling. Lately, through a U.S. Department of Education-supported partnership with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and PBS KIDS, we’re getting to take an even closer look at intergenerational learning. Stay tuned for all we're discovering about how educational media can promote rich conversations and engagement across generations.
Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Shelley—it’s been an honor!
Shelley Pasnik is a senior vice president at the Education Development Center. An internationally recognized expert in the thoughtful integration of digital media, she has guided the development of children’s educational services, conducted policy-influencing research, and cultivated high-profile public-private partnerships both in the U.S. and globally. (First published on the Ladderworks website on February 1, 2023.)
© 2023 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by George Romar. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.