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The BEST Arts (Building Educational Success through the Arts) Conference is devoted to emphasizing the importance of using the visual and performing arts in early childhood classrooms.

Celebrating 25 Years!

2024 BEST Arts Conference
Building Educational Success through the Arts
Saturday, April 6, 2024
9 AM - 3 PM (check-in begins at 8 AM)

Pacific Oaks College
45 W. Eureka Street
Pasadena, CA 91103

Registration for the 2024 Conference is now open.

Register Now

Pacific Oaks is committed to diversity through global perspectives, and wishes to extend a special invitation to our international community of Early Childhood Education providers, advocates, and academics to participate in the BEST Arts conference. As valued participants in the ongoing discussion of early childhood education, we will provide our international attendees with additional support if needed.

If you are an international representative interested in sponsoring or attending the conference, please contact us directly at bestarts@pacificoaks.edu.

The focus of BEST Arts is to provide early childhood educators with developmentally appropriate, interactive, hands-on activities focused on the arts that will strengthen a young child’s social emotional, creative, and cognitive development.

This year’s conference will include networking and learning experiences for all participants, and features workshops and speakers, along with vendors displaying products addressing the arts, literacy, movement, cultural diversity, and inclusion.


8:00 AM – 9:15 AM Registration: Building 45

Exhibit Hall: Building 55

Morning Refreshments/Welcome: Building 55 Patio

9:15 AM -10:30 AM Session One

10:30 AM -10:45 AM Break

10:45 AM-12:00 PM Session Two

12:00 PM- 1:00 PM Lunch

1:00 PM -2:15 PM Session Three

2:15 PM – 2:30 PM Door prizes, certificates, Conference ends


Presentations and Workshops

Featured Presentations

Session 1:
Swimmers, and Crawlers, and Flyers, Oh My!”: STEAM-Y Animal Explorations
Judy Ross, M.A.

Explore engaging STEAM activities, based on the wonders of the animal world!  Discover amazing, and often surprising attributes, behaviors, life cycles, and “fun facts” of a sampling of ocean creatures, land animals, insects (and some non-insects), and birds.  A variety of related read alouds, teacher resources and materials, and online resources will also be shared.  Sample STEAM activities include: creating an irresistible anglerfish lure; designing a “sloth outhouse”; inventing a simple tool to solve a problem, “gorilla style”; singing The Insect Song as we create a giant insect together; experimenting with “snail teeth” and loose parts; discovering the connection between a hummingbird, a balloon, and a nickel; and more!

Judy Ross is an award-winning early childhood educator with 37 years of experience teaching PreK-2nd grade.  She holds a Multiple Subjects Teaching Credential, and a Masters Degree in Education (Curriculum and Instruction, Early Childhood Emphasis).  She writes and presents webinars and workshops for local, state, and national conferences, including NAEYC and many of its state affiliates; the Southern California Kindergarten Association; the Association of Christian Schools International; Region 9 Head Start; ContinuEd Online Learning; and more.  When not presenting workshops, Judy teaches 4-5 year olds at Upside Preschool in Prescott Valley, AZ, and teaches a “STEAM Through Stories” summer class for 5-10 year olds at Yavapai College in Prescott, AZ.

Session 2:
(Developmentally Appropriate Practices + Higher Order of Thinking Skills) = ART
Jorge O. Ramirez, M.A.

Children enjoy showing us what they know! As facilitators in the class, our children can develop higher order of thinking skills doing the things they love to do! Using art through developmentally appropriate practices ensures quality and meaningful experiences for children. In this engaging hands-on session, we will reflect on our expertise and analyze our practices to grow the children's funds of knowledge with art. With a theoretical lens, we will analyze and create strategies that benefit children's maximum development.

Child Development has been Jorge Ramirez’s area of research throughout his career. He has 24 years of experience working with various child development programs with a diverse population and families of various backgrounds. This has enhanced his understanding of community.

Currently, he is a Master Teacher at Pacific Oaks Children's School, teaches Child Development at California State University, Los Angeles, and East Los Angeles College. He is also a mentor with the California Early Childhood Mentor Program and mentors students from ELAC, CSULA, USC, Rio Hondo College, and CSU Fullerton. As a mentor Jorge aims to empower future generations of educators with advocacy and passion for the child development field. He is a resource for future generations of child development professionals and wants to share his knowledge, experience, and strategies to guide others through a resourceful career path.

Jorge’s educational background in the field is rich and diverse across education, child development, and early childhood education. His biggest take away is learning how to connect theory into practice. This theoretical connection has helped him to understand children’s development and stages in their early years of life. This enabled him to apply his research, analysis, and recommendations into the field with credible research connecting to children and their development. Jorge’s experience and education provide a platform to advocate for change, equity, and empower young children. He wants to empower and be a resource to future teachers. Together, we have the power for social and equitable change for the betterment of young children and society.

Session 3:
One, Two, Three, Come and Read with Me! Interactive Literacy Activities for Young Children
Carlene Salinas, M.A.

Come explore storytelling utilizing fun, interactive strategies.  This highly interactive session is focused on giving you ideas to immediately implement in your classroom.

Carlene Salinas is an Early Childhood Inclusion Educator for a local school district and holds a Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Pacific Oaks College. She also has a Liberal Studies degree from Cal State Dominguez Hills as well as a Child Development degree from Cerritos College. Carlene has over thirty years of experience in early childhood education, has mentored students from Cerritos College, and has presented at various state and local conferences. She has two children who are both attending college and enjoys spending time with family and friends at Disneyland and the beach.

Workshops (offered all three sessions)

Creating Memorable Story Time Experiences Using Felts Puppets and Props to Build Language with Relevant Math Science and Social Emotional Content

Sundrina Cottrell

Fun, interactive, live storytelling workshop! Let’s inspire the storyteller in you! Learn about captivating an audience, story time management, building literacy through multiple disciplines, AND engaging all your learner types (ELL and special needs too!!). We will address many California Core Standards as well as DRDP measures. Gain access to over 100 resource pages (some in Spanish) to use immediately!

Since earning her child development degree-specializing in preschool-in 2011, Sundrina Cottrell has taught in a variety of settings and is driven by a passion for teaching early learners. Sundrina’s family puppet business of 30 years has facilitated relationships with a wide range of other teachers, care givers, librarians, and story tellers which fosters a community of shared knowledge and ideas. As a result of her two careers, Sundrina has realized a passion for presenting workshops to early educators like herself. She has been doing this for the past 10 years and she continues her own education in the conference setting. This presenter has a deep understanding of children, experience as a teacher, knowledge of the classroom and home care settings, years of detailed work with felts and puppets, and hours spent continuing her education and researching current curriculum.  She is a wife, mother, teacher, student, puppet maker, curriculum specialist, and professional storyteller.

The Meaning Behind Lines
Juliana Escudero, M.A.

Through the use of children’s literacy books, educators will support children’s increased vocabulary, storytelling, and emergent writing by taking a closer look of what type of “lines” the children create.

Juliana’s interest in the field of Early Childhood Education began with her family’s Mexican traditions, which included having the oldest children taking care of the younger children in the family. Since Juliana was the youngest in her generation, it was ingrained in her to teach the next generation of children. Also, Juliana’s mother had a home daycare, so her childhood was filled with infants and toddlers.

Her educational background helped her understand child development theorists, and curriculum inspired by Reggio Emilia. She studied at Cerritos Community College (AA Early Childhood Development), University of La Verne (BS Child Development), and California State University, Long Beach Early Childhood Development (MA). As she reached higher educational degrees, she searched for companies that valued her education and background experience.

Juliana is currently a Lead Infant Teacher at Discovery Days Preschool. She has been previously employed by Pacific Oaks Children's School, Bright Horizons, The Children’s Center at Caltech, and Cerritos College Child Development Center. In addition to her work experience, she was a mentor for the California Early Childhood Mentor Program which partnered with Rio Hondo. As a mentor, Juliana empowered future generations of educators with planting a seed of passion and curiosity of continuous learning.

Through her experience, education, and different roles as an Educator, Juliana is a storyteller and a “geek” when discussing the why’s of why an Educator presents material, routines, and scaffolding children’s interests.

The Importance of Creating Beautiful Outdoor Spaces to Support Inquiry Based Learning
Ani Ivanov, M.A.

During this workshop, the participants will engage in a discussion on how to set up beautiful spaces outdoors for children from 2 to 5 years of age and why it is important to create them. The workshop will be interactive, and participants will be provided with hands-on ideas to implement in their programs. The terms “provocation’ and ‘’ invitation” will be discussed to help participants understand the benefits of meaningful, developmentally appropriate, and beautiful places for children’s outdoor play.

Ani Ivanov is a Lead Teacher Mentor at the Child Educational Center, part of the JPL/Caltech community. She has been with the organization for 27 years. Ani graduated from Cal State University Northridge with a Master’s degree in child development and family relations. Since then, she has been advocating for and sharing her expertise on creating environments for children to support their discovery and inquiry-based learning.

Paper Quilting through Life!
Vanessa San Martin, M.S.

This workshop will explore creative ways to use paper quilting in the classroom.  Paper quilting evokes children’s self-expression, imagination, creativity, and the use of mathematical skills. The workshop will provide an array of projects that will focus on imagery, cognitive, and social development of children ages 3-5.

Vanessa San Martin has been in the Early Childhood field for the past 20 years. In her career she has had the opportunity to teach preschool students in childcare centers and school districts. In addition, Ms. San Martin has overseen school age, preschool and special education preschool programs. Her experience includes the critical components of the California Department of Education, Department of Social Services Licensing compliance, implementing best practices and proactively leading thought-provoking professional development sessions for early education.  Ms. Vanessa San Martin received both her bachelor's and master's degrees in Child Development/Early Childhood from University of La Verne.

Explore Endless ways to Enrich Children’s Environment through Creativity with Shapes and Other Media
Lynette Ridgel

This presentation will help early childhood educators to “think outside the box” and use every moment as a teachable moment for self-expression through creative art. Participants will explore with shapes and soft pastels. The following categories will be explored: creativity in early education classrooms and how it benefits children in academic development, creative art using shapes and other items, how to include books in all centers, creating books as a class, authors, and teachable moments. Handouts raffle items will be included.

Lynette Ridgel’s teaching career started with operating a home-based childcare for over 20 years. After raising her children, she decided to continue her education. Lynette believes one is never too old or young to explore to gain knowledge.

Her early education journey has led her down many paths to enriching children’s knowledge by way of a creative curriculum to academic success. Lynette has obtained years of early childhood experience by working with an enrichment program for children that choose home schooling for their educational journey, various colleges, state funded, and head start preschools, private schools, schools that assist children with special needs and school age programs. She has experienced many enriching school environments in such a way that it allows me her to mentor others by thinking “outside of the box.” As an educator she has continued to grow and embrace the need for early education experiences for children and families and has been able to share new ideas that help children to engage creatively in ways in which they hadn’t before. “Who you are makes a difference.”

Thank You Sun, Thank You Earth! Mindful Movement and Breath in the Early Education Classroom
Kiesha Stotko, M.S., CCLS, RCYT

Come discover the many ways you can incorporate mindful movement and breath into your work with children. In this interactive workshop we will explore how yoga and mindfulness can flow seamlessly into your classroom routines and learn how these practices support child development and mental health. Hopefully you will walk away with a couple of new ideas on ways to cultivate more gratitude and joy in your classroom.

Kiesha Stotko has served children and their families in early education, non-profit, and hospital settings over the last 15 years. With certifications in child life and yoga she enjoys supporting families as they navigate the ups and downs of early childhood. Kiesha currently shares yoga with the children at Pacific Oaks Children's School through the school's yoga education program and in home with families across Los Angeles. While incorporating yoga and mindfulness into her personal life, she loves the giggles and silliness her two year old adds to her practice.

Playing with Ingenuity
Michelle Ramirez, MA

Have you ever wondered what sparks the creative way the child interprets the world around them? Through this session, participants will explore different ways to foster open-ended thinking, innovation, and imagination through play provocations using everyday classroom materials.

Michelle Ramirez has been working with young children and their families for nearly two decades. In 2016, she extended her career in ECE as an instructor in the Child Development Department at Cerritos College, where she is currently still teaching.  She was heavily influenced by constructivist teaching after hearing one of her instructors, and now mentor, speak about her experiences visiting the schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy. After several years of searching for the right school to plant her roots for continued growth, Michelle found herself at Little Owl School in Long Beach where she is now a co-director of the program. Throughout the years, Michelle has given back to the field through mentoring, imparting experience-based knowledge at local conferences and workshops, as well as teaching future educators. Michelle firmly believes that play is essential to humanity as it allows us to connect with who we are and what we need. Furthermore, she has seen firsthand the ways in which it activates brain growth that allows for opportunities to make sense of the world, investigate ideas, and think more profoundly about learning through active experiences.

The location of the 2024 BEST Arts Conference will be held at:

Pacific Oaks College
45 W. Eureka Street
Pasadena, CA 91103