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Mind in the Making Series Comes to Earl Boyles

Mind in the Making
Co-facilitator Anna Ibarra leads Racheli Ross, Meri Cullins, Josette Herrera, Carrie Tercek, Michelle Sanders, and Maria Elena Casarez in an exercise to to learn to identify the brain's functions. Photo by Cheyenne Knowles
"I'm driving home from work and I have the urge to go shop at Fred Meyer. What function of my brain is at work right now?" asks co-facilitator Anna Ibarra as she drives an imaginary car with a handmade foil steering wheel. As she "drives," four parents sit in child-sized chairs behind her as passengers in part of a skit designed to teach about prefrontal cortex functions.

One of the four participants of the newly implemented Mind in the Making (MITM) series at Earl Boyles Elementary School in Southeast Portland quickly holds up her sign and yells out an answer in response: "inhibitory control!" The others encourage her with applause for her correct answer. Similar questions and answers continue for the next several minutes until the participants are rewarded with candy and return to their seats among the other parents, childcare providers, and early learning staff participating in the meeting.

This meeting in October was the first of eight monthly meetings that will take place over the course of the school year as part of the MITM series at Earl Boyles. The series is an example of one of Early Works' strategies: to transform a K-5 setting into a "community hub where families access early learning programs and parenting supports while building connections to one another ." The Children's Institute launched the Early Works initiative at Earl Boyles Elementary and at Yoncalla Elementary in Douglas County to create two learning labs demonstrating how high-quality early childhood education can be linked with the elementary years.

As a part of the Children's Institute Early Works initiative, MITM is an instrumental step toward our vision of every child being prepared for success in school and life. It is also the first program undertaken at either Early Works site focused specifically on serving families and caregivers of children under three. Providing proper education to parents, childcare providers, and teachers on early childhood development research will increase the preparedness and eventual success of children.

Ellen Galinsky designed the teaching series based on her book: Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs. In this book, Galinsky identifies seven essential life skills from child development research and neuroscience that help children thrive both now and in the future. These skills include focus and self-control, perspective taking, communicating, making connections, critical thinking, taking on challenges, and self-directed engaged learning. Each meeting will cover one of these seven modules.

By teaching these modules the MITM series hopes to enhance understanding of early childhood development research and promote parenting and teaching practices that will lead to children's home, school and life-long success. It aims to do so by creating a fun, inclusive learning environment that connects to cultural experiences and builds relationships between parents and teachers.

Initially co-facilitator Andreina Velasco worried that she would struggle to recruit participants for the program but she was quickly proven wrong. The program currently has 40 participants and seven others on a waitlist. Participants include parents of children up to 5 years old, childcare providers, and early learning staff from the Earl Boyles community. Some of the participants, particularly parents of children under 3 and caregivers from the community, are building relationships with the school for the first time.

The MITM series at Earl Boyles sets itself apart from similar programs in three ways. It offers a number of incentives: parents receive gift cards and teachers and childcare providers can earn credit towards acquiring a license or renewing an existing license. The program also accommodates for language barriers by using bilingual facilitation. This aspect is essential given that nearly a third of the participants are Spanish speakers.

Another advantage is the availability of childcare. This program provides quality childcare to participants' children during meeting hours. Taking part in early learning activities, children are expected to benefit from the experience as well. This week children learned how to make origami figures. Future plans include activities such as yoga and Chinese lessons.

Meetings are led by Velasco and two experienced facilitators: Anna Ibarra from Mt. Hood Community College Parents as Teachers and Marietta Callier-Wells from Self Enhancement Inc. Partnering with these organizations brings a level of experience and expertise that add value to the program.

"I'm excited to work with and learn from two very experienced facilitators," said Velasco. "It's a huge learning opportunity."

From the start of the meeting enthusiasm throughout the group was clear. Participants were quick to volunteer in learning exercises, offer thoughtful answers to questions and engage with those around them. Most importantly, the participants were having fun. Not five minutes went by that the group didn't burst into laughter together. This immediate sense of community was not only inspiring to the MITM facilitators but also to the participants.

"The meeting was very informative and I'm excited to learn more," said Cyndi Hagey, parent and Earl Boyles' Student Achievement Specialist.

In next month's meeting, the facilitators plan to teach the group the first of the seven skills outlined by Galinsky: focus and self-control. This skill calls on executive functions of the brain and is crucial in enabling children to pay attention in school and be successful in life. Originating in infancy, this skill develops throughout life but must be actively promoted starting early. The next meeting will teach participants how to develop this skill actively in children through games such as Simon Says and Red Light, Green Light.

Participants are enthusiastic about future MITM meetings and the promise of increased knowledge surrounding early childhood learning. Josette Herrera, the mother of two Earl Boyles students, said that the first meeting was "a fun experience and I will definitely be back next month."

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