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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: 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.


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

  • My teacher comes to visit: how home visiting engages families, improves child learning

    Like most November days in the Pacific Northwest, it is raining. Deb McGowan, a second grade teacher at east Portland’s Earl Boyles Elementary, and Andreina Velasco, Early Works site liaison at Earl Boyles, make their way through the wind and rain to visit the home of Maria Espino, mother of second grader Jose Martinez, who’s a student in McGowan’s class.  Although McGowan and Maria have known each other for years – Maria’s older son Mario also had Deb as a teacher – this is the first time Deb has visited Maria’s home. There is excitement in the air, and a few nerves too.

    Once coats and hats are removed, and shoes are wiped off, McGowan and Maria – with a little help from translator Velasco – sit down to share their hopes and dreams for Jose. At the dinner table, Jose sits nearby, while Maria holds her younger daughter on her lap. During the course of the visit, McGowan learns that Maria’s children are primarily speaking English in the home (Maria’s first language is Spanish). McGowan gives a pair of books to Jose and Maria with side-by-side translations. The books will allow Jose to practice his English reading while Maria follows along in Spanish. As they read to one another, they begin to smile.

    Since the inception of its preschool program associated with the Early Works initiative in 2012, Earl Boyles has been gradually expanding and formalizing its home visiting program. Preschool teachers at Earl Boyles have been practicing voluntary home visits for at least three years. Currently, preschool teachers are expected to visit all of their Head Start families twice a year, and are encouraged to visit their non-Head Start families at least once a year. Now Earl Boyles teachers in grades K-5 are following suit. In June of this year the Sacramento-based Parent Teacher Home Visit Project conducted a training at Earl Boyles. In total, 45 teachers and school staff attended – including 15 from neighboring schools in the David Douglas School District. Although some teachers (Deb McGowan among them) had done informal home visiting on their own, the formal training established best practices and helped teachers understand how to smoothly implement the visits with their own students and families.

    The Parent Teacher Home Visit Project emphasizes home visiting’s role as bringing teachers and families together as equal partners “to build trust and form a relationship where they can take the time to share dreams, expectations, experiences, and tools regarding the child’s academic success.” Home visiting occurs only with families who are open to the visits. It is a familiar concept to those working in early childhood education, but the clear benefits of open communication between families and teachers are convincing more and more schools to adopt the practice. “When teachers visit families in their homes, teachers and families can build closer relationships that improve communication about a child’s progress,” says Dana Hepper, the Children’s Institute’s director of policy & program. “This strategy has the potential to ensure parents and teachers are true partners in their child’s education – which we know is a key factor in the success of children.”

    Indeed, teacher home visiting is a key example of a strategy that is perfectly suited to statewide expansion. Home visits are evidenced-based and relatively easy to replicate in different settings. Home visiting also aligns with Oregon Head Start standards and practices. As Oregon’s preschool system broadens and deepens its scope, home visiting could be a key strategy bridging the early years of a child’s life with his or her experience in a K-12 setting. Partnerships (some burgeoning, some new) between nonprofits, county government, and school districts are producing more opportunities for teachers to get trained in the practice. Indeed, teachers at Yoncalla Elementary, the Earl Works initiative’s rural site, have recently received home visiting training and intend to kick off their home visits in January.

    home-visit-12.3Currently, Earl Boyles teachers are encouraged to do the three home visits each year – but Deb McGowan has set the ambitious goal of reaching the families of every single one of her students. In fact, McGowan is so committed to home visits, and was so encouraged by the June training, that she and Espino, along with CI’s Velasco, attended a Parent Teacher Home Visit Project conference in Boston in October.

    In Boston, Espino says, she learned that “the teacher doesn’t do a visit because the student has a problem at school, but rather to make a connection between the home and the school. During the visit the teachers listen to parents about the future that they want for their child and about the child’s interests at school and at home.”  

    McGowan and Espino were so moved by the goal of the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project to build trust and understanding between schools and families that they wanted to take what they had learned from the conference, implement it, and share it with other parents and teachers to encourage their participation in the program.

    Indeed, it may not take too much convincing. McGowan says of the other teachers at Earl Boyles: “The teachers that went to the (Parent Teacher Home Visit Project) training are all really excited – very supportive. Everyone is really supportive of the teacher-parent relationship because it is all about the child. We are one big, happy community – whatever it takes to make that child succeed, we all want that to happen. We’ll go with different avenues to do that. (Doing so) gives the parents the confidence that we are not only there to support their child, but them as well.”

    Espino agrees. “The home visits give me the confidence to become involved, as the mother of the household, in the education of my children,” she says.

    But, in all this talk about home visits, dreams, and parent-teacher-child connections, we have forgotten one main question: What is Jose’s dream?

    And the answer? Jose smiles bashfully when asked. His mother says his older brother wants to be a police officer someday. Jose smiles again. “Same thing,” he says.

    Read more

  • 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

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