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Early Works Update, Spring to Summer 2014


earlyworks logoEarl Boyles Elementary:
Preschool Planning. Approximately 70 families of 3- and 4-year-old children completed their Earl Boyles preschool application in May. The 90 preschool spots available in the new Early Learning Wing are nearly filled. Educators are excited to be part of building a system at Earl Boyles that seamlessly aligns early childhood with the elementary years. More than 50 candidates applied for the two available preschool teaching positions, and the final teaching team includes a mix of expertise in kindergarten, Head Start, and Early Childhood Special Education.
Family Engagement. The 2013-14 school year focused on making Parents United systems sustainable and building leadership. 2014-15 will focus on increasing birth-to-8 family engagement and health services in the new Earl Boyles Neighborhood Center.
Health. Early Works partners launched a Health Committee this spring and are preparing for a Community Health Assessment. The assessment will ultimately inform the visioning process for the Neighborhood Center, which will open this fall.


Yoncalla Elementary:
Building Community. Yoncalla hosted a successful Dr. Seuss night with 327 attendees that had the dual purpose of increasing the number of families that see the school as a place they are welcome and connecting families to needed services. The school hosted a smaller Geography Night in June that drew 100 attendees to involve families in student learning. Local leadership is already planning for the 2014-15 school year.
Family Engagement. The Family Room, located at the school, is open and hosting programs for families. Becca Pope, the AmeriCorps staffer who manages the Family Room, is hosting weekly playgroups for families with children birth to 5, and has had 10 families participate so far. She's also facilitating volunteer opportunities to support the K-3 teachers and bringing in guest speakers for families with small children and K-3 teachers.
Child Care and Early Education. The child care/educator work group has agreed to ensure local preschool and child care providers in Yoncalla receive professional development on child assessments that could inform their work with children.

Early Works Blogs

  • Connecting with the community: Earl Boyles hires parents as preschool assistants

    “It’s playing, my whole day is playing. That’s what it feels like to me,” says preschool assistant Andrea Lopez Thorsnes. She’s smiling from ear to ear. Moments before, she was in a preschool classroom at southeast Portland’s Earl Boyles Elementary School, site of the Early Works initiative. Since September, Lopez Thorsnes has worked there as an assistant teacher. She is an Earl Boyles parent and one of three long-time community members who were hired to be preschool assistants this fall.

    Meri Cullins is also an Earl Boyles parent and new preschool assistant. She finds it very fulfilling work, to play with the students and see them learn new things each day. “I love watching something click, when they know it and they own it,” Cullins says.

    What looks and feels like play for Cullins and Lopez Thorsnes means much more for the children they work with. All day long they guide and support them as they learn, grow and try new things.

    ALT-slide-webFor example, during recess time Lopez Thorsnes interacted with a little boy who wanted to play on the slide. He touched the slide, then looked up at her and said, “It’s hot!”

    Lopez Thorsnes felt the slide too. “It is a little warm from the sun,” she said. “Shall we try it together?”

    The little boy nodded. They slid down together. A few minutes later, he was happily sliding on his own.

    Hiring for positions like the preschool assistant from within the community helps the Earl Boyles teaching staff better reflect the student and neighborhood population. It’s also one way that the school supports families. Along with building a partnership to provide preschool for 90 three- and four-year-olds in the school's catchment area, the Early Works initiative has helped Earl Boyles successfully take on a range of challenges and changes to become a more welcoming environment that really helps children and families succeed. This includes a very active parent bilingual parent group, a lending library open to families of all ages, and including parent leaders in strategy and decision-making groups.

    Hiring, supporting, and adequately compensating an early learning workforce that reflects the culture and community of the children enrolled in preschool is a statewide and national challenge. Earl Boyles and Early Works leaders have started to tackle this problem head on because they know it is vital in creating the highest quality learning environment for children and families.

     “Having parents as part of the teaching team is invaluable,” says Andreina Velasco, the Children’s Institute’s Early Works Site Liaison at Earl Boyles. “Parents bring the perspective of families into their classroom teaching practice, including their use of students’ home language and connections with the neighborhood and other family members. At the school and district levels, they are powerful role models of how family and community engagement can change the staff and culture to more accurately reflect the student body.”

    MC-beanbags-webCullins, Earl Boyles parent and new preschool assistant, adds: “For the neighborhood, school jobs mean economic stability and social mobility, which ultimately make it a better place for students and families”

    Cullins grew up in the area, and specifically chose the Earl Boyles catchment area as where she wanted to live and raise her kids. She was drawn to “the passion the teachers have and everything Earl Boyles does to support the community,” she says. “Not just the kids, but the whole family unit.” Her youngest son is three and attends the Earl Boyles preschool.

    The preschool assistants are learning through their training and work with the teachers about how to help children take ownership over their actions. Rather than commanding, the teachers and assistants help guide children to identify what they should be doing and self-correct. It’s about giving the student the power to make his or her own choice. “It takes a lot longer,” Cullins says. “But it’s important to take the time for the child to realize something for himself.”

    Cullins also says that these techniques have come in handy at home with her preschool-aged son. “He is full of energy and impulsive, so talking about choices and giving him choices really works,” she says. “Preschool is also helping him because he sees the expectations are the same for him across the board.”

    The preschool teachers at Earl Boyles are thrilled to have such great support from the new assistants. Preschool teacher Natalie Stemler says she has never before had the quality of support she has now at Earl Boyles in her eleven years of teaching preschool. She says her assistants “independently run small groups, redirect behavior during large group time, and demonstrate the confidence and ability to run the classroom.”

    Stemler says Cullins, who works in her classroom, “demonstrates a strong set of skills to work with children with special needs, which is essential to the functioning of our classroom.”

    Early Works and Earl Boyles will continue the efforts to engage and support families to succeed. With partners at Metropolitan Family Service’s SUN program and funding from Multnomah County, the school has recently hired a family resource navigator to help families in the school's catchment area identify and access the social service and other resources they need. At the same time, the partners will continue to expand programming for families and children of all ages in Earl Boyles’ neighborhood center.

    Read more

  • Report highlights David Douglas district’s success with dual language learners

    Voice-For-All.New-America-cover“David Douglas is dreaming big – and implementing well – when it comes to helping dual language learners succeed.”

    So says a new report from the New America Foundation’s Dual Language Learner National Work Group that is all about lifting up lessons learned at the David Douglas School District in southeast Portland.

    The number of students who speak a language other than English at home – or dual language learners – in districts across the country is increasing rapidly, prompting the need for new and better models to serve these students. In the David Douglas School District, where students speak more than 70 different languages, this need was especially pronounced. The district developed and implemented a unique instructional model – instead of pulling dual language learners out of class to work on English-language skills, the district’s model, called English Language Development, ensures that all students, dual language learners or not, receive 30 minutes of English language instruction each day.

    The model has been extremely successful. In fact, last year David Douglas was one of only eight districts in Oregon to meet state and federal expectations for dual language learners’ progress and proficiency in language development.

    Conor P. Williams, director of the Dual Language Learner National Work Group and one of the report’s authors, says New America chose to write about David Douglas because it wanted to share a model from a district successfully serving a multi-lingual population.

    Maria Adams is the language development specialist at Earl Boyles, a David Douglas elementary school featured in the report and one of the sites of the Early Works initiative. She explains how the district arrived at its dual language learner – or DLL – model.

    “There were too many different languages spoken here to do the usual DLL model of pulling kids out of class,” she says. “Our option was to teach all students the language skills they need to be successful socially and academically.”

    Williams says that what David Douglas and Earl Boyles can teach other education leaders goes beyond a good model or well-thought-out strategies.

    “They’re not just exploring lots of different ways to help these kids; they’re extraordinary implementers,” he says. “They’re trying to do things that are a challenge for teachers. Not impossible, but large enough to really have impact for the kids.”

    This impact is clear to Earl Boyles principal Ericka Guynes, who oversees the implementation of the English Language Development model at her school. Earl Boyles also has preschool for three- and four-year-olds and a robust family engagement strategy through the Early Works initiative, adding to the impact. “Kids in kindergarten are coming in at higher levels of language skill because of early vocabulary exposure,” she says. “Even non-dual language learners are increasing their entering language level.”

    Last week, Guynes and Adams traveled to Minnesota with the Children’s Institute’s Early Works Site Liaison Andreina Velasco to share their strategies at a meeting of the Dual Language Learner National Work Group. Specifically, they shared how effective the David Douglas model has been because it mainstreams language development.

    “It’s something that all of our students need, even the small percentage that don’t fall into the dual language learner or poverty categories,” says Adams.

    An important lesson of the Early Works initiative at Earl Boyles has been the impact that preschool and engaging early with families have for dual language learners.

    “It’s the instruction and the family engagement components together,” says Velasco. “Especially if the family speaks a language other than English, we can meet them where they’re at from the beginning.”

    Check out the report to learn more about the David Douglas model, its implementation at Earl Boyles, and the lessons for other school districts grappling with how best to serve dual language learners. You can also take a look at EdWeek’s coverage of the report and two others published alongside it about serving dual language learners in San Antonio and Washington, D.C.

    Read more

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