Starting at Zero

Starting at Zero:

Thinking about Education Starting at Birth

Starting at Zero is a film that explores the power of investing in high-quality early childhood education so that all children and families have the opportunity to thrive and attain the American Dream.


What’s the status of early childhood education in Portland and in Maine? Why is birth-to-5 education critical in the development of children? How can families bring their voice in developing quality early childhood education programs?


A panel of experts and practitioners will discuss these questions and other questions from the audience. Resources will be made available after the session.

This event took place on May 11th, 2021. See below for recordings of the sessions and resources.


Event flyer: Acholi, Arabic, English, French, Portuguese, Somali, Spanish, Vietnamese

Presenter Biographies:

Ana Hicks - Ana serves as a Senior Policy Analyst and the Children’s Cabinet Coordinator in the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future. In her role as Children’s Cabinet Coordinator, she coordinates and facilitates the cross-agency work to help the Children’s Cabinet move towards its goal of ensuring that all Maine children enter kindergarten prepared to succeed. For much of her career, Ana has worked as an anti-poverty, anti-hunger advocate at the state and federal level. She also spent four years working in the Maine legislature as the Speaker’s chief of staff.

Sue Chevalier - Sue is the Director of PreK Programs for Portland Public Schools. She has worked in the field of early education for over 30 years and has taught preschool and English language learners, and has been an early literacy coach and professional development coordinator, and a technical assistance provider for inclusive early childhood programs.

Camelia Babson-Haley - Camelia is the Executive Director at Youth and Family Outreach where she has been for 21 years. YFO cares for children who range in age from 6 weeks to 5 years of age, and their families. For the last 12 years, YFO has had a partnership with Portland Public Schools to offer an embedded public Pre-K classroom.

Debra Flynn - Debra Flynn has been in the role of Director of Head Start and Early Head Start for The Opportunity Alliance for two years. Before that, she operated a preschool in Portland for 10 years. Her formal training is in Early Childhood Education and Leadership.

Sasha Shunk - Sasha Shunk has been a family child care provider in Portland for over 17 years. She is a recent graduate of University of Maine - Farmington's Early Childhood Education Master's program. Sasha is on the board of directors for the Family Child Care Association of Maine and a member of Maine Children's Cabinet Early Childhood Advisory Committee. Her own children attend Portland Public schools; her oldest graduated in 2020 and her youngest is currently a sophomore at Casco Bay High School.

Marcques Houston - Marcques Houston is a Portland resident and Parent Organizer with Starting Strong. After many years of working in electoral politics, Marcques has switched over to advocacy for early childhood programs. With several years of organizing experience, he believes in working to make sure that everyone's voice is being heard in discussions at all levels. Marcques is a graduate of Colby College and is finishing his Masters in Education from Thomas College.

Tara Williams (Moderator of Panel) - Tara is the Executive Director of the Maine Association for the Education of Young Children (MaineAEYC). Previously she taught in public schools and early care and education programs with children from birth to grade 3. Tara is a mom of two elementary school-aged children.

Mark Balfantz - Mark is a former Portland Public School Board Member who worked on helping expand public preschool programming including partnerships with community child care programs. Mark serves on the Board for the Maine Association for the Education of Young Children (MaineAEYC). He is a father to two young children and works as a financial advisor.

Bakhita Saabino - Bakhita is from South Sudan. She has been working in Portland Public Schools for the past 9 years in the Pre-K program. She has also worked with toddlers in Head Start (The Opportunity Alliance). She has a degree in Early Childhood Education, and is almost finished with her Master’s degree in Education Leadership.

Sarah D’Amico - Sarah has worked in several roles at Child Development Services, which provides special education services for children birth to five in Maine, including home based early intervention and services in the educational setting.


Event recording:

Resources for further reading and learning: