"...I share the passion for this mission and feel honored to step into this role at such a critical time."
Editor’s Note: Miriam Calderon graciously agreed to take a few moments in the midst of her busy first few months as ZERO TO THREE’s new Chief Policy Officer to answer some getting-to-know-you questions. Please visit her bio page on the ZERO TO THREE website to learn more.
1. After so many noteworthy professional roles that you’ve held, what led you to believe that ZTT was the right next step for you?
Three big reasons influenced my decision to come to ZTT.
(a) I am a long-time admirer of the organization and have felt connected to ZTT since early on in my career. As a bilingual mental health consultant in Head Start, I was introduced to ZTT and benefited from the resources for practitioners. When I made a transition to policy work at the National Council of La Raza (now UnidosUS ), I collaborated with ZTT on Head Start reauthorization and saw firsthand the impact of the “baby people” on the hill in shaping our existing federal programs and policies to be more responsive and accountable to the needs of babies. In my roles at the Bainum Family Foundation and more recently as the early learning system director for the state of Oregon, I once again benefited from the policy tools and supports to achieve numerous wins for babies in my hometown of DC and in the state of Oregon.
(b) ZTT has existed since I was a toddler and has been at the forefront of building knowledge and will to act on the science of early childhood development and equitable opportunities for all babies. I share the passion for this mission and feel honored to step into this role at such a critical time.
(c) Beyond my admiration for the organization’s impact and love of mission, I want to be somewhere where I can make an impact, aligned with my values. ZTT’s policy agenda is broad, grounded in the comprehensive needs of families, and is engaged in advocacy and policy change at the community, state, and federal levels. And, there is a strong commitment to equity, not just talking about equity but looking at how we are accountable in all aspects of our work to create experiences and conditions for children and families that will allow them to thrive. I’ve worked at all of these levels as an advocate and inside government, and I want to contribute that experience at a place where there are others who share that same passion and commitment.
2. You began your career in early childhood as a mental health consultant in Head Start programs. Does that experience still inform your work on early childhood policy, and if so, how?
Absolutely! It was working in Head Start that helped me know that I had found my life’s work in early childhood. The roots of Head Start—empowering families, grounded in community and culture, building leadership and power, creating joyful and nurturing experiences for children to learn and grow—that IS the policy work! It wasn’t an easy decision for me to leave working in programs, but I found that I wanted to be at the tables where I could do something about the rules, policies, and resources that impacted the children and families I was working for. Not being able to help a parent find a Spanish-speaking therapist or secure a job that would allow them to provide for their family, or being unable to accept that there was a waitlist miles long for children to be in the program—I wanted to change these things. I was surprised when I started working on federal policy that there weren’t more people with experience working in programs. I believe that the best policy comes from work in programs and communities, and being informed by families, the intended beneficiaries of programs and services, and those who experience the systems, the staff and professionals who work in these programs and systems.
3. How would your family describe you as a young child? How do those characteristics show up in you now?
My family would describe me as a leader, with a big imagination and personality. They would say from an early age I was upset about things not being fair or just. It shows up in my work now as creativity, a willingness to put myself in leadership roles where I take on challenges and work to make transformational change. I speak up about injustice and work in places where I can live out my values and create opportunities for babies and families like my own. I have benefited from many of the policies that I have advocated for and I want to create those same paths for others.