By Bethany Deuel
In a state where one out of every 20 children has been diagnosed with a developmental delay, Heather Martin uses her passion for early childhood development to work with teachers and parents in unique ways.
Born and raised in Mississippi, Martin attended Mississippi State University for her bachelor’s degree in psychology. She later obtained a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Blue Mountain College. In the 16 years following, Martin taught in the public school system including 10 years in Pre-K, a position that opened her eyes to the vast need for research and education on early childhood development.
“There were so many parents when teaching preschool, that said, ‘I just didn’t know. I didn’t know that there was so much to be done in those first years. If I had known, I would have done more,’ and so that’s what drove me to leave the classroom I loved to this new adventure,” Martin said.
Now, a project manager within the Policy Research and Systems Lab of the Social Science Research Center and Vroom® Coordinator for Mississippi Thrive!: Child Health Development Project, she has the chance to educate parents and teachers across the state. Martin does dozens of presentations and meetings monthly, teaching others about the importance of creating a strong foundation for lifelong learning in the first five years of life.
Vroom, funded by the Bezos Family Foundation, provides science-based tips and tools to inspire families to turn shared, everyday moments into Brain Building Moments®. While science is at the very heart of Vroom, the Brain Building Activities™ also strengthen the bond between adults and the children in their lives. Currently, Martin is working on a project to align state early education standards in Mississippi with Vroom tips. This will allow parents and professionals to be able to link these activities with what their children are learning in the classroom.
In the Spring of 2020, Martin faced a challenging transition period when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and she was no longer able to travel around the state to meet with teachers and parents. Using technology for presentations has boosted the number of workshops she can do in one day, but Martin says “the human connection can’t be totally duplicated virtually,” so she can’t wait to get back on the road when possible.
Martin used some of her time working from home to write her first children’s book One Day at a Time, illustrated by her two young daughters. Martin said she is thankful that time at home from school has opened up new opportunities for kids, despite the challenges they are managing with online school.
“I think kids have learned passions and interests that they wouldn’t have in the crazy busy days of before,” she said.
She continues that the pandemic and her research on child development has taught her something valuable about children.
“I think if I’ve learned anything from my experiences, it’s that kids are resilient,” said Martin. “We need to give each other grace. We’re all going to make it through this and kids are going to thrive.”