On Wednesday, February 15, renowned early education scholar and advocate Ruby Takanishi sat down for a panel discussion with three Oregon educators at the forefront of integrating comprehensive early learning into public school settings. In a panel discussion moderated by Children’s Institute President and CEO Swati Adarkar, Takanishi talked with Beaverton School District Superintendent Don Grotting, Earl Boyles Principal Ericka Guynes, and Earl Boyles preschool teacher Andreina Velasco about the lessons learned from the innovative Early Works initiative at Earl Boyles Elementary School in Southeast Portland.
Panelists in photo from left to right: Andreina Velasco, Don Grotting, Ruby Takanishi, Swati Adarkar (moderator), and Ericka Guynes.
Early Works, a learning lab model that demonstrates best practices for integrating high-quality early education and wrap around services in elementary schools, is highlighted in Takanishi new book, First Things First! Creating the New American Primary School. Takanishi argues primary school would be more effective if it began with early learning at age three followed by compulsory full-day kindergarten at age five. All teachers (preschool to 12th grade) would have the same foundational professional degree with appropriate specialized education as necessary.
For Takanishi, the continued societal inequality which manifests itself in disparities appearing as early as two years-old, there is a grave and urgent need to transform primary education. In First Things First! Creating the New American Primary School, she writes, “Talent is universally distributed. Opportunity to develop that talent, sadly, is not.” During the panel discussion, Takanishi said, “I was bothered by the very serious inequalities in the early learning arena. Low-income children’s access to early learning is severely restrained and programs for low-income kids are of lesser quality than those for more affluent kids. This is a civil rights and a human rights issue.” Combined with emerging scientific knowledge about the astonishing rate and breadth of young children’s brain development from birth to age five, the need to transform primary education has become even more urgent.
Earl Boyles Elementary School is tackling inequality and nurturing the unlimited potential of young children by creating a high-quality early learning environment with wraparound services. Former David Douglas School District Superintendent Don Grotting calls this burgeoning practice of integrating early learning into the K-12 system, “a no brainer." "It would be ideal when a child is born for someone from the local school to go visit the family to congratulate them and welcome them to the school community,” he said. The emphasis on parent engagement and involvement in Early Works allows preschool teacher Andreina Velasco to develop authentic and sustainable relationships with parents and children. Home visits with families are an essential strategy for understanding and addressing challenges a child may bring to the classroom, from trauma and hunger to housing instability. Velasco told her fellow panel participants, "higher education needs to rethink how teachers are educated and prepared. Not only should we learn to work with other teachers, but with social workers and home visitors as well. Most teachers don’t have the time or the training to know what is happening for a child outside of the classroom. The classroom is envisioned as an island disconnected from the community.”
A feature of the new American primary school central to Ruby Takanishi's thesis and practiced at Earl Boyles is consistent, dynamic leadership. The Professional Learning Community (PLC) created by Earl Boyles Principal Ericka Guynes prioritizes home visiting for preschool teachers and professional development with K-5 teachers. Guynes has also had to grapple with district-wide budget shortfalls while embarking on an initiative that would transform her school. “Early education teachers teach kids at the most critical time of children’s brain development," Guynes said. "We know that is true, but how do we convince everyone or get them on the same page when we have to make cuts in some areas, and we’re building a brand new preschool wing at the same time?” The lessons learned from Earl Boyles four years into Early Works can provide a framework to replicate the initiative in school districts throughout Oregon and across the nation.
For the 50 people in attendance from the fields of education, philanthropy, and public policy, the panel discussion married theory and practice to reveal the challenges and opportunities inherent in re-imagining primary education. Takanishi closed the evening with a poignant reminder of what is at stake: “We can do better. We must do better. The facts are clear. Our future is tied to the future of children in public schools.”
*Note: Thank you to New America for providing copies of First Things First! Creating the New American Primary School and to Aaron Lowenberg, New America Program Associate for event support.
A coalition of early childhood advocates, including Children’s Institute, has identified early childhood programs and services that should be funded if the legislature can raise additional revenue. The priorities include investments in high-quality preschool (Oregon Head Start Pre-Kindergarten and Preschool Promise), early intervention services for children with diagnosed developmental delays and disabilities (EI/ECSE), voluntary home visiting services, and more. Read our 2017 Legislative Priorities fact sheet for a complete list of early childhood legislative priorities.
Upcoming Opportunities for Action
- Friday, February 24, 5:00 PM, Southern Oregon University, Stevenson Union - Rogue River Room, 1250 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland
- Saturday, February 25, 1:00 PM, Lane Community College, Forum (Building 17), Rooms 308-309, 4000 E 30th Ave., Eugene
- Friday, March 3, 6:00 PM, Port of Tillamook Bay, Officers Mess Hall, 6825 Officers Row, Tillamook
Learn more. The House Committee on Early Childhood and Family Supports is conducting informational hearings about all early childhood programs and services in Oregon. Click the above link to see agendas and meeting information, including video feeds for watching hearings live.
Children’s Institute invited state legislators to visit preschools in their districts to see the benefits of early learning first-hand. Legislators visited a wide variety of preschool classrooms where three and four year-olds were learning the pre-academic and social-emotional skills essential for kindergarten readiness.
Despite several bouts of severe weather, six Oregon State Representatives attended preschool tours in December 2016 and January 2017: Cliff Bentz (Ontario and Vale), Jodi Hack (Salem), Cedric Hayden (Yoncalla), Alissa Keny-Guyer (Portland), Sheri Malstrom (Beaverton), and Barbara Smith Warner (Portland).
Preschool Visit Highlights
For some families, preschool’s impact extends beyond the child. While visiting a Somali language-focused preschool classroom operated by Mount Hood Community College and CAIRO Academy in East Portland, a mother who had never attended school asked Representative Barbara Smith Warner where she could learn to read. “I see how much my son has learned and I want to learn, too,” she said.
At the preschool visit at Waverly Elementary School in Albany, principal Anne Griffith operates two half-day preschool classrooms for 30 kids and provides them with free transportation. In a school where 25 percent of students are English Language Learners, 30 percent have an Individualized Education Program (IEP), and 85 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch, there is a tremendous need for high-quality early education.“In an ideal world, I would love to offer services on the birth-to-five continuum,” she said. Preschool is already making a difference in the lives of children in the community. “People who see him now can’t believe he’s the same kid,” a mother said of her young son who attends preschool at Waverly.
Kelly Poe, Eastern Oregon Community Based Service Hub Director, works to coordinate early education and early childhood development services in the far eastern part of the state. Her Early Learning Hub stretches the entire state — from the Washington border to the north, the California border to the south, and the Idaho border to the east. Poe, Oregon State Representative Cliff Bentz, and Children’s Institute staff took a 30-mile drive in snowy, 12-degree weather to visit preschool classrooms in Ontario and Vale. “We are somewhat isolated out here and at the state level it may be hard to understand the complexity of our needs,” she said on the trip. “It is a challenge coordinating services, but we get it done. Our kids need quality preschool and there are providers doing great work.”
Poe also credited Bentz with his unwavering support for early education. “We take care of each other. Representative Bentz has helped us solve problems and navigate the system.” She stressed the need for more educational opportunities in Eastern Oregon to train early childhood educators and to provide professional development for current providers. Travel to Portland or Salem for trainings or meetings can cost up to $1,000 (airline flight, rental car, hotel) and take over a day in travel time each direction.
Increasing Access to Preschool
Only 25 percent of low-income children in Oregon have access to preschool. Oregon Head Start Pre-Kindergarten and Preschool Promise serve kids in rural and urban Oregon who would not otherwise have access to high-quality early learning.
The state is facing a $1.8 billion dollar budget deficit, but Oregon must preserve and protect the early childhood programs and services that produce long-term positive outcomes for children. Children's Institute will continue to advocate for the programs and services necessary to prepare the greatest number of children for kindergarten readiness.
To learn more about Children's Institute's legislative priorities for the 2017-2019 legislative session, click here. Stay tuned for more highlights and notes from preschool visits throughout the year.