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Early Works Update, Winter 2015-16


earlyworks logoEarl Boyles Elementary:
Preschool: The Richard C. Alexander Early Learning Wing serves some 3-year-olds and all 4-year-olds in the Earl Boyles catchment (90 children). We worked with the preschool partners, including the David Douglas School District, Mt. Hood Community College Head Start, and the Multnomah Early Childhood Program, to develop the high-quality preschool, and continue to support improvements.

Neighborhood Center: The Earl Boyles Neighborhood Center includes a lending library, meeting rooms for partner agencies and families, an adult learning classroom, and an infant-toddler room. The lending library collection was donated by the Multnomah County Library Foundation and is used by more than 70% of families in the school. After completing a community health assessment in 2014, partners, providers and parents came together to analyze the results. The group developed an operations plan to guide services at the neighborhood center and has hired a Family Resource Navigator to connect families in the area with needed services.

Parent Leadership: Parents United/Padres Unidos, the parent leadership group, is fully facilitated, managed and promoted by parent leaders. The group also reviews and takes action on Early Works evaluation data and numerous parents are now advocates for early learning, giving speeches and providing testimony across the state. In addition, parents were trained by Multnomah County Library to organize the lending library collection and run the space.


Yoncalla Elementary:
A Cultural Shift: Early Works has taken root in Yoncalla. Families feel more welcome than ever at the school, and teachers now understand the importance and value of engaging and empowering families early and often.

Family Engagement: The Family Room hosted play groups of increased quality and frequency over the past year. The local Family Relief Nursery now facilitates a parent education series each year, and the Yoncalla public library hosts story time for young families. In the summer, Yoncalla hosted its first Early Kindergarten Transitions program to help kindergartners and their families prepare for school.

Diving into Health: We are getting ready to conduct a community health assessment in Yoncalla and the larger north Douglas County region. The results will inform future programming and foster continuing regional collaboration.

Early Works Blogs

  • Partnership strengthens preschool in Yoncalla

    It’s late morning on a sunny Wednesday in Yoncalla, Oregon and 14 preschoolers are gathered on a colorful alphabet rug. Most are cross-legged, but several are wiggling, struggling to contain their excitement. All eyes are on Jill Cunningham, the Yoncalla library’s branch manager, who has come to visit their classroom at Yoncalla Elementary. They are singing This Old Man together, complete with hand motions.

    “What rhymes with three?” Cunningham asks, holding three fingers high.

    “Tree!” A girl in pink shouts.

    “I like it,” says Cunningham.

    “He played knick-knack on his tree,” they sing.

    Cunningham is a frequent visitor to the preschool class, which is taught and operated by lifelong Yoncalla resident Cassie Reigard. Reigard is operating the preschool that was started decades ago by her grandmother – who just recently passed away. Reigard’s mother ran the preschool after her grandmother, and Cassie took over when her mother retired.

    The Yoncalla school district provides space at the elementary school for Reigard to operate the program. And this year, the partners that are part of the Early Works initiative at Yoncalla have supported Reigard to receive professional development and assistance that will help her students be ready to succeed in kindergarten. Teaching preschool is in Reigard’s blood and she is a great person for Early Works to support. After all, she has dedicated her career to Yoncalla’s young children.

    Preschool teacher Cassie Reigard replenishes paint as her students create.“I love the kids. I love watching them learn; I love teaching them,” Reigard says.

    The professional development and help that the Yoncalla School District and other Early Works partners have provided Reigard has resulted in a new opportunity for her to serve more kids from low-income Yoncalla-area families. The South-Central Oregon Early Learning Hub – its service area includes Yoncalla – was one of nine early learning hubs in Oregon that last month was awarded some of the new state funding to support high-quality preschool for children from low-income Oregon families. Some of that funding now will be going to help kids in Yoncalla. 

    The Children’s Institute has worked closely with the state to ensure the passage and develop the program, called Preschool Promise. The program will support high-quality preschools in a mix of settings, including public schools, Head Start and private, community-based programs.

    Jan Zarate, Yoncalla School District superintendent, said Reigard and the school district submitted a joint application for the Preschool Promise funding; the South Central early learning hub plans to fund their effort. “We are going to get the opportunity to pull more partners to the table and do more braiding of funds” says Jan Zarate, Yoncalla School District superintendent.

    When she heard the news, Reigard says, she was ecstatic. “I feel very excited for the children in our community and the opportunities this will provide for them,” she says.

    Zarate says that while the support from the school district and other Early Works partners was important in helping to secure the Preschool Promise funding, so was Reigard’s experience and foundation in the Yoncalla community.

    “Cassie’s capacity to build relationships with people and make them comfortable is amazing. Parents trust her,” says Zarate. “There are also areas to grow and there is a personal commitment on Cassie’s part to know more and be even better prepared.”

    Reigard says the Early Works support for her professional development is very helpful. “I’m always open to improving anything that I can,” she says.

    A preschooler stops mid-stroke to grin for the camera.At a recent conference at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, she learned some new strategies to help her students understand the reasons behind their feelings. “I’ve struggled with some students in class that don’t know how to handle their feelings and so I’ve really been able to take them aside and talk about their feelings and really just work on supporting them emotionally,” she says.

    A very important new tool was added to Reigard’s teaching arsenal this spring: the Ages & Stages Questionnaire, or ASQ. A developmental screening survey that is simple for parents to complete, the ASQ pinpoints developmental progress in children up to age five, allowing teachers, caregivers, and service providers to understand what individual supports a child might need to be healthy and ready for school.

    Almost all of the preschool parents agreed to participate, and Reigard loved conducting the screening survey. “It was one of the best things I could have done to develop a more personal relationship with parents and to understand their children better,” she says.

    A preschooler reads a book while she waits for her classmates to finish washing their hands.In addition to relationship-building, the screening survey helped Reigard tailor her instruction to her students’ needs and interests. “Not only did it show what I need to work on in specific areas with the students, but it clarified reasons why some students were more behind than others, not just academically.”

    Finally, the screening survey led to Reigard being able to refer several students to additional programs and services that will help the students in their learning.

    In the future, Reigard plans to conduct the ASQ screening in the fall, ideally even before school starts, to inform her teaching from the beginning. “My goal is to connect with families and work together with them to help prepare their children for kindergarten,” she says.

    Early Works is focused on supporting Reigard, and other teachers and service providers in Yoncalla, to learn and hone new strategies to help students succeed. At the same time, the Children’s Institute is working hard at the state level to help advocate and secure funding for programs like Preschool Promise.

    Read more

  • Three rural communities come together to create a vision for health

    Andy ScottDr. Beth Green, the researcher who leads the Portland State University team entrusted with the evaluation of the Early Works initiative, is walking down the street in rural Drain, Oregon when she is greeted by a stranger's voice:

    "Hey! Are you with that Ford Family project?"

    Beth turns toward the voice; Dave Praeger gets out of his truck and introduces himself. They get to talking. In the back of his car, Dave has a large book named Yoncalla Yesterday. The book traces the history and genealogy of the small town which is the home of the Yoncalla Early Works initiative. Dave encourages Beth to keep the book, saying, "I know you’ll get it back to me somehow. And when you do, my number’s right inside."

    Beth recounts the story with a smile on her face – only here! Welcome to rural Oregon.

    Fast forward one day to February 26th. Dave sat in the front row of the Drain Community Center, where the communities of Yoncalla, Drain, and Elkton came together to celebrate the kick-off of the region's community health assessment. Over plates of lasagna, 50 community members reflected on what is known about the health of young children and their families in the region and to discuss can be done to improve the community's health. The community health assessment is a first step to help the region understand it's strengths, needs, resources and challenges when it comes to children's health.

    Conducting a community health assessment is a long-standing best practice in public health because it brings the voice of the community into visioning and planning. "Our goal is that the assessment findings will support the community to articulate a collective vision for health in the region," says Elena Rivera, Children's Institute's Health Policy and Program Advisor. Along with members of the Yoncalla Early Works leadership team and researchers from Portland State University, Rivera is supporting the community health assessment process. "We know from research that the health of young children and their families has a huge impact on educational achievement," she says, adding, "when a child grows up in a stable home and is connected to high quality health services, starting prenatally, they will be ready for success in school and life." From this assessment, the Children's Institute hopes to learn about the barriers communities face in meeting the health needs of families in rural communities. Our participation will inform our work with the legislature to strengthen the connection between early learning and health.

    Erin Helgren, the Early Works Site Liaison in Yoncalla, opened the meeting by describing the tight-knit nature of the communities, and the common values that bind them together. "We are a community that holds children close to our hearts," she said.

    Although Drain, Elkton, and Yoncalla are in close proximity to each other geographically – and although they have a combined population of 5,000 – the three communities, as Yoncalla School District Superintendent Jan Zarate noted, "have never collaborated on something of this magnitude. A community health assessment to tell us about the wellness of our families is unprecedented."


    Indeed, the attendance at the kick-off was broadly reflective of this new sense of collaboration. The room was filled with parents and family members, the three mayors of the communities, educational leaders from all three districts, and representatives from: North Douglas Family Relief Nursery, North Douglas Community Health Alliance, WIC, Healthy Families Oregon, Early Head Start, DHS Self-Sufficiency, South Central Early Learning Hub, and the Douglas County District Attorney's office.

    Representatives from the local school districts set the tone by emphasizing the connection between health in early childhood and later school success: "Finding kids sooner, capitalizing on what they need, and wrapping that service around them helps them succeed," said Andy Boe, Elkton School District Superintendent.

    Health quiltAs the meeting progressed, Callie Lambarth, a research associate for the Center for Improvement of Child & Family Services at PSU, underscored that the decision to undertake a community needs assessment will be just that – community-based. To this end, Callie led community members through a series of questions like, "Why do you care about the health of children 0-8 and their families in North Douglas County?" and "What does a healthy community look like to you?" As the table groups discussed these questions, they were encouraged to share their answers with the larger group and, in one exercise, were asked to visualize community health by drawing a picture on a square of paper. These squares were then placed together on a board to create a community health "quilt." Themes that emerged included access to healthy food, health care, housing, safe outdoor spaces, and a caring, welcoming, and collaborative community.

    The meeting ended with an interactive exploration (via bingo) of some existing health data for the region, and the identification of potential "gaps" in the data. Interested community members were then invited to participate in the design of a community health assessment – whether as a Steering Committee member, community meeting attendee, or simply to stay connected via email updates.

    Following the community health assessment kick-off, Children's Institute and PSU staff will reach out to community members who expressed an interest in serving on the community health assessment's Steering Committee. The Steering Committee will then convene bi-monthly to determine the focus of the community health assessment. Members will review existing community health data, identify needs and gaps, determine research questions, and outline a research methodology and design. The second phase of the community health assessment will involve primary data collection conducted by community members to inform future health programming for the community.

    No matter how community members choose to participate in the process moving forward, everyone who attended the February 26th kick off meeting left with a greater knowledge of health in the region, a budding vision for what a regional health collaboration could look like and – of course –a to-go box of full of delicious lasagna to share with their families.

    Read more

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