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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

  • Closing the digital divide at Earl Boyles Elementary

    KatiaBlog-TechOn a recent Tuesday morning, Earl Boyles Elementary School preschool teacher Katie Herro poses a question to her three- and four-year old students sitting in a circle in front of a digital whiteboard. "How do you build a house?" she asks, and after some exchange with her students she summons one child to come up and touch the house pictured on the screen. A time-lapse video starts in which construction workers lay a foundation, hang beams and drywall, and eventually complete a finished home – in about three minutes. The students sit with rapt attention, chiming in occasionally about windows and doors and giggling.

    The whiteboard and this exercise are part of a new initiative at Earl Boyles Elementary in Portland's David Douglas School District designed to improve outcomes for students through technology, and in particular to ensure that the children in these schools are just as fluent in their use of technology as their more privileged peers. Roughly 80 percent of children at Earl Boyles Elementary qualify for free and reduced-price lunch.

    "It's an effort to address the digital divide," says Julie Omelchuck, program manager at Mt. Hood Cable Regulatory Commission, the organization that funded the technology initiative at Earl Boyles. As part of the cable regulatory commission's TechSmart project, the school received almost $1 million to outfit its teachers, classrooms, and students with the latest educational technology.

    Omelchuck says a major reason the commission selected Earl Boyles for the award was the school was already engaged in the Children's Institute's Early Works initiative, an effort to align resources and public programs to improve opportunities for young students. Ultimately, the goal of the Early Works initiative is to close the achievement gap for these young students.

    "It really perfectly aligned with the commission's goal to invest in public school projects that were specifically addressing the disparities among students," she says, "There are huge economic impacts for students who don't have access to technology."

    Many jobs of the future, Omelchuck says, will demand an understanding of how to use technology as a tool to collaborate with others, to learn and to instruct. The commission hopes to help schools provide these critical skills to children who don't otherwise learn them at home.

    The organization hopes to share what it learns with other public educators, a goal that is also an underlying tenant of the Early Works initiative.

    A significant component of the commission's grant pays for a technology coach who floats from classroom to classroom at Earl Boyles. Coach Luan Nguyen's job involves not only making sure the technology in the classroom is up and running, but that teachers are aware of best practices around it. "It's about educating the teachers as much as the kids," says Nguyen. "You can hand a teacher the latest and greatest technology and if they don't know how to use it in their classroom, it's pointless."

    The grant will be distributed over three years and provides technology to students in all grades. As a result, strolling through the halls of Earl Boyles Elementary this year feels like taking a trip to visit schoolrooms of the future. First grade students, engaged in reading exercises, sit with personal headsets linked to small laptops at circular tables. In small glass observation rooms adjacent to classrooms, speakers pipe in the sounds from inside the room -- with a small adjustable knob to control the volume -- so that observers can listen and watch without interrupting the students and teachers.

    The leadership at both the commission and Earl Boyles are also cognizant of perceived and real hazards of overusing technology in the classrooms. "There's a perception that when we talk about technology, we're talking about just screen time," says Omelchuck. "But if you look at the technology that they're really using, the teachers are key to the learning in the classroom. What the technology does is give them tools to individualize and enhance the instruction."

    Read more

  • A Commitment to Rural Oregon

    Heather-MurphyQ&A with Heather Murphy, Yoncalla Early Works Site Liaison and Rural Policy Advisor

    What do you hope to accomplish in your new role at the Children’s Institute?

    I hope to serve as a catalyst for change for children living in North Douglas County. I want to help bring all of the necessary pieces together to build a successful and sustainable support system for families with children from birth to post-secondary education. I see so much opportunity for changing outcomes. I hope to provide some of the drive and energy necessary to make these things happen, and to create a guide for other rural communities. My husband and I both grew up in small towns and we chose to start our family in a small town. I could have lived anywhere and always understood that. For many children growing up in rural Oregon today, I don’t see that they feel that they have choices as they mature. I think that many of them feel trapped rather than making a conscious decision to live where they are. That makes it very difficult to appreciate all of the wonderful things that small towns have to offer.

    I feel very fortunate to have discovered what moves me in life. I think it’s ideal when your skills and strengths match your interests and you parlay them into a career. I am passionate about working to provide all children with the happy childhood and potential that I felt growing up.

    My position is multi-dimensional. I have access to a wealth of information on best practices and early childhood research, and have the time to research which of these ideas might translate in North Douglas County. I can then introduce and support the implementation of these ideas. Often projects don’t get off the ground because they don’t have someone dedicated to systems change, and then even terrific ideas can languish.

    The Yoncalla Early Works initiative has many layers; bringing them online to support children and families is so exciting to me. My position is supporting something very dynamic in Elkton, Drain and Yoncalla. How beautiful that those communities can come together around young children.

    Why is the expansion of its rural policy work important for CI?

    There are many rural communities in Oregon and their voices are not always amplified. CI recognizes the importance of providing a template for rural communities to build birth-to-third-grade pipelines, much like the Early Works demonstration site at Earl Boyles Elementary in southeast Portland is providing a template for larger urban communities.

    Yoncalla WebRes AW35Yoncalla and the larger North Douglas region are so ripe for positive change. They provide the perfect petri dish for this rural work. Rural areas are hit hardest by recessions and it takes much longer for them to recover. Much like the efforts to redevelop areas in cities, rural areas need to be revitalized as well. This requires a different way of thinking, as resources are scarce and part of the beauty of living in these areas is the significant history they have and the way that citizens relate to one another.

    There are still many children in Oregon living in rural communities, and although many parents would choose to stay and raise their own children where they grew up, the lack of opportunity either drives them away or can make them feel as if they are thwarting their children’s potential by not providing them with the same quality of education that larger areas can. Bigger is not necessarily better for everyone. I would like to see more pride return to rural areas. Supporting quality programming in these areas through smart policy is definitely one way to do that.

    Has North Douglas County changed since you grew up there?

    My high school is now close to half the size that it was when my sisters and I attended. When I was in school, the timber industry was declining rapidly, but mills were still operating and people still had jobs in town. A good percentage of my classmates went on to four-year colleges, obtained bachelor’s degrees, and became working professionals.

    Perhaps the most noticeable change for me is the change in the sense of community. When I went to school there, much of the town came to high school games and events. I remember when my basketball team played our league rivals for first place, the gym was standing room only. The pride was so tangible. People really cared about our little town.

    Looking at the statistics in North Douglas recently, I was dismayed at how much things have changed. There are fewer electives, fewer days of school, lower test scores, and a high percentage of kids do not think that attending a four-year college is an attainable or affordable goal.

    How does early learning work look different at Yoncalla and Earl Boyles?

    The size and culture are most noticeably different to me. Unlike Earl Boyles, which is in a densely populated area where 72 languages are spoken, Yoncalla is sparsely populated and slightly removed from the I-5 corridor. While surrounded by beautiful woods and ranch land, the town struggles with some modern identity issues, such as attracting new businesses.

    Yoncalla has wonderful foundational buy-in and key partners at the table, but they are challenged by not having enough people to lift up the work, and the potential for burnout is high. Turnover is something that has to be considered at every step and level. If one champion leaves, who will pick up the torch?

    The questions of funding sustainability is something that both districts have in common. While Earl Boyles struggles with the need to grow their facilities, Yoncalla struggles with a declining population and failing facilities with little capacity to raise the funds necessary to make repairs and/or build anew.

    Your job bridges practice and policy. How do you accomplish that?

    That bridging is one of the challenges that attracted me most to this position. As the director of a nonprofit for 14 years, I had to manage policy and practice on a daily basis alongside development, budgeting, personnel, and community relations, among other things. I had to make certain that Family Relief Nursery was connected to the movements happening at the local, county and state levels to ensure that we could meet the ever-growing demand for our services.

    I also had to make sure that we could pay the plumbing bills (if my plunging didn’t work) and continually build a high-caliber team in the rural area that we served. I have become adept at switching hats from moment to moment and I find that challenge exciting. This work is always a matter of fitting pieces into a puzzle. Sometimes you have to be very patient and other times, you have to push hard. But when the pieces of the puzzle come together, a beautiful picture is created. And when it does, there is nothing more fulfilling.

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