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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

  • Re-imagining Education Panel Discussion Recap

    IMG 2186 adjustedOn Wednesday, February 15, renowned early education scholar and advocate Ruby Takanishi sat down for a panel discussion with three Oregon educators at the forefront of integrating comprehensive early learning into public school settings. In a panel discussion moderated by Children’s Institute President and CEO Swati Adarkar, Takanishi talked with Beaverton School District Superintendent Don Grotting, Earl Boyles Principal Ericka Guynes, and Earl Boyles preschool teacher Andreina Velasco about the lessons learned from the innovative Early Works initiative at Earl Boyles Elementary School in Southeast Portland.

    Panelists in photo from left to right: Andreina Velasco, Don Grotting, Ruby Takanishi, Swati Adarkar (moderator), and Ericka Guynes.

    Early Works, a learning lab model that demonstrates best practices for integrating high-quality early education and wrap around services in elementary schools, is highlighted in Takanishi new book, First Things First! Creating the New American Primary School. Takanishi argues primary school would be more effective if it began with early learning at age three followed by compulsory full-day kindergarten at age five. All teachers (preschool to 12th grade) would have the same foundational professional degree with appropriate specialized education as necessary.

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  • Yoncalla Strives for Long-Term Change

    In the fourth installment of the Early Link Podcast, and the last one for 2016, I visited Yoncalla in Douglas County to learn more about the community, our Early Works initiative, and Yoncalla Elementary's new preschool funded by Oregon's Preschool Promise program. 

    I spoke with teachers Megan Barber and Cassie Reigard, as well as parents Crystal Sampson and Kevin Hoyt, all of whom have deep ties to the Yoncalla community. 

    Listen and enjoy!

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  • Earl Boyles Builds Literacy with Multnomah County Library Partnership

    Multnomah County Lending Library at Earl Boyles ElementaryAccess to books and time to read are essential for kids who want to explore, learn, and build their literacy skills. That’s why the Multnomah County Library (MCL) established a Lending Library at Earl Boyles Elementary in Southeast Portland — to provide a free resource for young readers and their families that removes barriers to books and reading.

    Considered a demonstration site, the Lending Library began three years ago with a grant from The Library Foundation and 2,500 hundred books. MCL moved forward with the initiative after learning about Early Works, an initiative launched by Children’s Institute with key partners including the David Douglas School District, Mt. Hood Community College Head Start, and Multnomah Early Childhood Program. MCL recognized an opportunity to serve the community with a unique public school partnership, impact early literacy in a high-needs community, and bring books directly to students and families.

    Increasing the number of books in the home is associated with improved literacy rates, and reaching 26 books or more in a household correlates with higher academic achievement in later years. Evaluations of the Earl Boyles community beginning in 2011 indicated a lack of books in the homes of kindergarteners. Today, the number of kindergarteners’ homes with more than 26 books has increased from 47 percent in 2011 to 74 percent in 2014.

    While the Lending Library now offers books for students of all ages and includes some parent resources, the collection focuses on books for children ages 0-5 and is meant to get more adults reading with young learners. This activity — adults reading with children every day — increases language and literacy development, particularly during the crucial years of brain development prior to kindergarten. 

    Multnomah County Lending Library at Earl Boyles Elementary“This kind of effort is more than providing access to books, it’s about what can happen with access,” says Katie O’Dell, the youth services director at Multnomah County Library. “Improving knowledge about school, culture, and health, building literacy and creativity, establishing relationships with trusted teachers… these are all results of immersing kids with lots of quality books.”

    MCL chose the first supply of books carefully and worked to represent the families served by Early Works and Earl Boyles. With diverse, multicultural themes, the books portray a range of cultures, languages, and stories to strengthen the connection between the school, library, and community.

    Ranked as one of the top libraries in the U.S., MCL has a strong track record of supporting efforts to stimulate reading and embraces the five principles of early literacy: read, talk, sing, play, and write. These provided the framework for a family breakfast series last year hosted by Children’s Institute that explored ways for parents and families to build literacy using each of the principles.

    Parents and families, in fact, are essential to the success of the Lending Library. A handful of parents from the Parents United Group at Earl Boyles maintain the library and help coordinate activities with AmeriCorps volunteers and Schools Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN) staff. Last year, they scheduled weekly story times in both English and Spanish.

    Renea Arnold, Every Child initiative supervisor at MCL, says the Lending Library has increased parent involvement in the school. “Placed right in the lobby of the school, it serves as a living room, a welcoming family space. Parents can come and support their child’s learning right at school.”

    Multnomah County Lending Library at Earl Boyles ElementaryStudents and families can take books home whenever they wish; no library card is needed and there is no due date. The collection is well-used and continues to grow, thanks to ongoing support from the Library Foundation and MCL’s supply of books that exit the library system.

    “Kids are always taking books home,” says Youn Sun Han, the SUN coordinator for the school. “They often bring them back and take new ones. But if we see the supply dwindling we get more.”

    O’Dell says reading will come to kids if they are surrounded by great materials. “We can always get more books, and we’re committed to providing a plethora of high-quality choices.”

    But what makes the Lending Library special is the network of supporters working to establish a culture of literacy at the school, one that depends on deep collaboration and collective efforts to address learning gaps in the early years for a high-needs community such as Earl Boyles.

    “We’re along for the ride,” says O’Dell. “We like to reinvent how MCL reaches our audiences, and this is a great example of how to surround people with books and help open doors for people to explore and learn.”

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  • Yoncalla Elementary Offers High-Quality Preschool for 20 Children

    Yoncalla Preschool PromiseYoncalla Elementary School begins offering high-quality preschool on Sept. 19 for 20 children, giving Yoncalla Early Works a big leap forward in its mission to prepare the district’s young children for school success.

    “It is going to be a game changer,” says Erin Helgren, Yoncalla Early Works site liaison for Children’s Institute. Yoncalla Early Works is a partnership initiated by Yoncalla School District, and The Ford Family Foundation and Children’s Institute that now includes a network of local and regional partners.

    It is a game changer because high-quality preschool effectively prepares children for kindergarten and school achievement and is a key component of early childhood education.

    It is also a game changer because when Yoncalla Early Works began four years ago, parents said in a survey that they did not want preschool. Yet after a series of meetings this spring, it was Yoncalla parents who pushed the district to open a preschool for 4-year-olds with money from the new state program, Preschool Promise.

    The growth in parent involvement, leadership, and trust in the school district has been Early Works’ most significant development and led directly to parents’ quest for a preschool, says Jan Zarate, superintendent of Yoncalla School District.

    Parents “initiated the desire” for preschool after studying what it meant to be ready for kindergarten, she says. “They started looking at what does it look like to have social readiness and to be math ready and reading ready.”

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  • North Douglas County Residents Identify Health Needs

    Yoncalla CHA night blogResidents of Yoncalla and two other North Douglas County communities say they need better access to health care, mental health services, healthy fresh food, and secure housing.

    Those are the top needs that surfaced recently in the planning stage of a North Douglas County Community Health Needs Assessment conducted by Portland State University for the Yoncalla Early Works program, a partnership between Children’s Institute, Yoncalla School District, and The Ford Family Foundation.

    Researchers from Portland State University’s Center for Improvement of Child and Family Services will study those needs in more depth this fall to get a better grasp of them and the best ways to meet them.

    Early Works wants to address Yoncalla health problems because they can undermine the program’s core goal of improving children’s early learning and school success. Children who are healthy physically, socially and emotionally have an edge in school and are more likely to succeed, says Callie Lambarth, the PSU research associate who is heading the health assessment.

    In the assessment’s planning phase, community members, local parents, and school and organization representatives had the opportunity to provide input to the research team and help shape the focus of the assessment. Researchers held eight meetings to explore community context and local data. 

    The researchers compiled existing health indicators for North Douglas County, where about 5,000 people live. The region, which sees about 40 births a year, has an infant mortality rate of 15 per 1,000 births, three times the state average; and 80 births per 1,000 to teenagers, which is more than twice the state average of 28. Nearly half of the residents, 44 percent, live below 200 percent of the federal poverty line, and 48 percent of the children qualify for government subsidized free and reduced-price meals. North Douglas County residents exceed the state average in rates of cancer, heart disease, chronic lower respiratory disease, injuries, diabetes and flu pneumonia.

    Despite all these barriers to health, community members are coming together and dedicating their time and effort to this process. As one community member stated in the report: “Healthy, happy children are the heart of our community,” and that sentiment has been echoed time and time again from parents.

    Researchers engaged community groups and discussed big questions such as: What does health look like? What services do families need and want? What needs to happen for services to be available and accessible?

    The community must be involved in the assessment so that it can buy in to the findings and action plans that follow, says Elena Rivera, health policy and program adviser for Children’s Institute.

    “You have to have true engagement and partnership from the very beginning,” she says. “It is incredibly important to have parents engaged and to have partners engaged from the start, because they know their community best and can guide us through the process.”

    YEW CHA table blogThe health assessment is looking beyond Yoncalla to all of North Douglas, because no single community has the resources to address residents’ health needs, says Erin Helgren, Yoncalla Early Works site liaison. But if towns pool resources, they may be able to bring a doctor, nurse or mental health worker to the area, she says. The health assessment planning meetings also help draw together the North Douglas communities of Elkton, Drain and Yoncalla around a common purpose, Helgren says.

    “Typically, there is an undercurrent of competitiveness between the three communities,” she says.

    It also makes sense to make the health assessment regional, she says, because the North Douglas communities are collaborating on other education efforts such as P-3 (prenatal through grade three) Alignment, a program sponsored by the Oregon Community Foundation and other foundations to better connect families and early learning providers to schools, and the Early Learning Kindergarten Readiness Partnership and Innovation Fundsupported by the state’s Early Learning Division.

    The kickoff meeting for the health assessment planning on February 25 of this year brought together 45 community members, mayors and representatives of schools, service providers and organizations from the three towns in the forested hills of North Douglas. They met in the Drain Civic Center at the Mildred Whipple Library. Superintendents of two school districts and a principal from the third all spoke about the importance of working together, Helgren says. The leaders were “poignant and symbolic” in standing together, she says.

    Community members concluded the next phase of the health assessment should focus on the needs for better access to affordable housing, fresh food, and health care, including mental health services. The assessment will look at barriers to services, such as long distances and limited transportation, and the best ways to address those.

    Helgren says in North Douglas County she has seen pregnant women unable to access prenatal care, a child in foster care who could not make the 40-mile drive to Roseburg for counseling, and a woman with schizophrenia whose husband had to take a day off from work once a month to drive her to Roseburg for therapy.

    CHA health squares blogPSU launched the next phase of the assessment in August by convening a steering committee made up of community and local organization leaders and parents to decide on what more information they need to collect and how to collect it, Lambarth says. (“We are going to narrow the focus even further,” she says.) Research shows that stable and healthy families and nurturing parents are key to a child’s health. Involving parents in this assessment process is critical.

    The region may want to expand its local health services, Lambarth says. If residents decide, for example, they want a part-time primary care physician, PSU researchers will use information collected in community surveys and meetings to recommend what days, times and places the doctor should be available.

    Researchers expect to complete the health assessment by the end of the year. They will then work with the community to develop an action plan for next spring.

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  • Early Works Helps Earl Boyles Families with Housing Needs

    Early Works this summer is helping Earl Boyles Elementary families stay in their homes or find new ones as housing costs climb throughout east Multnomah County.

    Josue Peña-Juarez, the new program’s housing and family advocate, has embarked on seeking new homes for two families who have been evicted from their apartments.

    One man, his pregnant wife and three children recently received a 90-day no-cause eviction, and another family was evicted after a kitchen fire in their apartment. Peña-Juarez, who works out of an office in the school, will tap a housing assistance fund if needed to subsidize the families’ monthly rent and cover the first- and last-month deposit that landlords often require. However, just finding an available apartment is challenging because units have become scarce within Earl Boyle’s enrollment area, he says.

    home forward blog versionChildren’s Institute partnered with parents, Multnomah County’s Home Forward and other agencies to catalyze the new housing assistance program after a health assessment of Earl Boyles families revealed housing as their top concern, says Dana Hepper, director of policy and programs at the Institute.

    In a survey of 83 families, the Institute found 75 percent of them had seen a rent increase in the last year, averaging $95. The increases were cutting into family budgets for food, clothing and other basic needs and in some cases pushing families out of their homes to live in motels or with friends and relatives or in less-expensive housing outside the Earl Boyles enrollment area.

    That kind of disruption undermines Early Works’ chief objective of fostering early learning and school success at Earl Boyles. Children miss school and suffer stress that can contribute to emotional and behavioral problems, Hepper says.

    “We were finding chronic absenteeism started in preschool through elementary school was in part driven by housing issues,” she says. “Stable, adequate housing we felt would improve attendance, which would help early learning.”

    Student mobility, the movement of children from Earl Boyles to other schools, is low because families want to take advantage of its preschool and will do whatever they can to stay in the enrollment area, Hepper says. The Institute’s survey showed a third of families were getting help paying rent, most from families and friends.

    The housing program exemplifies how multiple agencies can produce powerful results when they join forces on a common goal. After the Earl Boyles community named housing as its chief concern, Hepper met with Rachel Langford, education and youth initiatives director for Home Forward, the housing authority for Multnomah County. The agency agreed to put up $175,000 for each of two years to assist Earl Boyles families with housing costs. Home Forward has had success reducing student mobility at Alder Elementary in the nearby Reynolds School District and was impressed with the case Early Works made for housing needs at Earl Boyles, Langford says.

    “We are trying to do more to be intentional about how we serve families in Multnomah County and how we serve kids in our work,” she says. “Earl Boyles data made it easy to do that.”

    Multnomah County provided money to hire Peña-Juarez, who works through Portland’s Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, an agency the county contracts with to administer its programs. He has been working since last fall as a family resource navigator at Earl Boyles for the county’s Schools Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN) program so he already knows many of the families. Now his focus is on housing.

    “I’m trying to be a broker of communication around housing services and explaining that to families in a way that is understandable and clear,” he says.

    To get help, families must live within the Earl Boyles enrollment area and have gross annual incomes below 50 percent of the area median income, $36,650 for a family of four. The program gives priority to families in crisis of eviction or living in unstable housing, such as a motel or with another family. Program leaders expect that most of their housing money will be used to subsidize the rent of low-income families.

    The Earl Boyles Service Coordination Team, which includes the school’s SUN site manager, principal, counselor, Early Works site liaison and IRCO housing and family advocate, meets every two weeks to consider applicants for housing help.

    No one is sure how much demand there will be, Hepper says, but “we think the dollar amount will serve 50 families a year.”

    The program also is helping families tap other agencies for help and is providing classes through the Earl Boyles Neighborhood Center on tenant rights, says Elena Rivera, who is working with partners on the program as Children Institute’s health policy and program adviser. Providing housing help through a school offers a new model, Rivera says.

    The housing effort may help Home Forward see more clearly how its assistance helps families and children in school, Langford says.

    “My hope in the first couple of years of this program is that we see it has a huge impact and we have the resources going forward,” she says. “Data is powerful in making that case.”

    Children’s Institute will be collecting information on how the program affects children’s attendance, school performance and other indicators, Rivera says.

    She says she wants the program “to demonstrate some positive outcomes that continue to shed light on the need to work with the whole child. Children cannot perform well in school if their basic needs are not met.”

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  • Supporting the Early Childhood Workforce: Alga’s Story

    Alga blog little boy 7.7.16 blog version“Alga, you always had your work prepared to bring to class and you took your academic responsibilities very seriously,” says Yolanda Buenafe, early childhood education instructor in Mt. Hood Community College’s Assistant Teacher Career Pathway program. “Your questions were very focused on what you wanted to accomplish.”

    Alganesh Weldeindrias smiles as she listens to her teacher’s praise. Today is her graduation day, and she has earned a certificate from Mt. Hood Community College qualifying her to apply to the Oregon Registry for her Child Development Associate, or CDA. Not only has she completed her certificate program, but Weldeindrias had perfect attendance, attending the program four nights per week for ten months, and earned a 4.0 grade point average. She is now qualified to be an assistant preschool teacher in Oregon.

    Weldeindrias says she loves working with children and is thrilled to make a career of it. “They’re funny and they’re innocent,” she says. “And they make me feel good.”

    The Mt. Hood Community College Assistant Teacher Career Pathway program has operated for two years, with funding from Oregon’s child care division, to support people working with young children move up in their careers.

    Alga certificate 7.7.16 blog versionThe program is a very successful example of how Oregon can diversify and professionalize its early childhood workforce. The state can build up existing human capital in communities by connecting people who work with young children to resources and educational opportunities.

    Students like Weldeindrias and her fellow graduates are an example to Oregon of what can result when the state supports a true pathway to educational achievement in the field of early learning. As the state implements high-quality preschool programs like Preschool Promise, it would do well to increase investments in similar Career Pathway programs around the state. Research shows that high-quality teachers are both well-educated and representative of the students they teach. The Career Pathway program and others like it are sound state investments because they result in high-quality teachers.

    “We give students the opportunity to take college early childhood education classes to earn a certificate that’s part of an early childhood education degree,” says Angelique Kauffman-Rodriguez, Career Pathway Specialist.

    The program also helps students gather hours in the classroom, prepare their portfolios and study for an exam. Successful completion of these elements, in addition to being observed in the classroom, qualifies the students for their CDA. Graduating students who wish to continue their education, like Weldeindrias, are already halfway to an Associate’s degree.

    “We’re developing a next-level program to help students earn their Associate’s degree because of demand from successful students over the past two years,” says Kauffman-Rodriguez.

    In addition to early childhood education courses, the Career Pathway program provides support around college-level learning skills, including writing and studying. Because of the state’s funding, the students also receive scholarships covering the full cost of tuition, textbooks and exam fees. These supports are critical to the program’s success, and this year 11 students completed the program.

    Weldeindrias is thrilled with what she’s learned. “We learn how to guide the children,” she says. “Social emotional, physical, cognitive, how to support the kids.”

    She says that her most useful lesson has been the importance of understanding children’s feelings. “We have to understand their actions, why they do what they do. We have to listen and be at their level.”

    This is a lesson that Weldeindrias has even put to use at home, with her own three sons.

    Alga and husband 7.7.16 blog version“I used to use a lot of time out for my kids, but it’s not helpful,” she says. But now when they fight or act out, she has a conversation with them about what is really bothering them. “If they have a problem, we solve the problem.”

    Roni Pham, professional development specialist at the Oregon Department of Education’s Early Learning Division, spoke at the graduation ceremony to share this vision. “I’m really glad that the Early Learning Division had an opportunity to provide funding for this,” she said to the graduates. “You did exactly what we knew you would do. This is what we said this program was capable of producing.”

    After the graduation ceremony, Weldeindrias posed for photos with her classmates, her family and with Earl Boyles Elementary preschool teacher Katie Wiegel, whose classroom she has volunteered in for the past two years.

    “I like Earl Boyles,” Weldeindrias says. “It’s where my kids are. I would love to work there!” She has applied for an open assistant teacher role for the fall.

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  • Eager Learners: Earl Boyles Serves Infants and Toddlers in Play and Learn Program

    “Put your shaker on your nose, on your nose!” A dozen parents and caregivers, gathered in a classroom at Earl Boyles Elementary in southeast Portland, sing along together, encouraging their children to touch their egg-shaped shaker-instruments to their noses. Many of the toddlers are engaged in the activity, while babies listen and watch their parents perform the action with fascination.

    A room full of infants, toddlers and parents at an elementary school may seem unusual, but it’s the new normal at Earl Boyles, a site of the Early Works initiative. Early Works partners at Earl Boyles have previously launched a preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds and are now turning their attention to providing programs for families with even younger children. The group has gathered weekly all spring to play and learn together with the guidance of facilitators. More than 30 children have participated.

    Research shows that the first three years of life are a critical window of development. Reaching families early with services and support puts children on track for school and life success.

    group photoHigh-quality play and learn groups are a proven strategy to do just that. The play and learn group at Earl Boyles follows evidence-based quality practices by offering fun educational activities that can be done at home, ideas for transforming everyday activities into learning opportunities, and guidance around early childhood developmental milestones.

    The facilitators – Early Works site liaison Andreina Velasco, play and learn program consultant Ginger Fink, and Earl Boyles parent Macy Kuang – launched their group to provide all these tools to families with children birth to age 3.

    Moreover, the group serves to welcome young families into the school, tying directly to Early Works’ goal for the school to be a community hub for all families.

    “Our goal was to make families very comfortable… and build relationships,” Fink adds. “We want families to be so comfortable at school it’s like a second living room.”

    Ultimately, building relationships with families beginning when a child is very young makes the transition to kindergarten easy and seamless. For children, the school environment is familiar and for families, trust in the school has been established. For teachers, a child’s developmental progress is already known and any necessary support can already be in place.

    A number of key factors were built into the plan for the group to ensure its success.

    For example, an important consideration for the facilitators in planning the Earl Boyles play and learn group was ensuring it was culturally appropriate for families in the community. To this end, all of the group’s activities are conducted in three languages – English, Spanish and Chinese. The involvement of Kuang, a Chinese parent, is a critical component of expanding the group’s cultural relevance.

    Baby Leo web“Having Macy as the co-facilitator is a really great way for us to build our capacity and cultural knowledge of the Chinese speaking families in our community,” says Velasco.

    Kuang says that in addition to helping facilitate, she wanted to be involved for her 2-year-old daughter. “I want her in the play and learn group so she can learn English, she can learn Spanish, and also learn Chinese.”

    Research shows that language development happens at an explosive pace during a child’s first three years. The group’s trilingual approach takes advantage of this developmental window, allowing participating children to hear sounds and learn words in multiple languages.

    Another consideration was including the Ages and Stages Questionnaire, or ASQ, as part of the program. The ASQ is a developmental screening tool for young children. It is easy for parents and caregivers to use to determine whether their child is on track developmentally as well as to identify and address any delays or gaps as early as possible. The screenings are available for parents to conduct while they play with their child.

    “It’s really neat because it’s really valid. You see it happening,” says Fink. “If a question asks, can your child stack blocks, go play with the blocks and you’ll know.”

    Because of the variety of partnerships Earl Boyles has formed with service providers in the community, the play and learn group has a mechanism in place to refer families to services and support programs if they have concerns or detect delays.

    The program’s impact is easy to see when you attend. “Every week there’s a success story,” says Fink. “By pointing out to families that there’s a marker of development, or something exciting is happening with a baby, or all of a sudden a child who wasn’t saying any words three weeks ago babbles away. For us, that’s remarkable stuff.”

    The families, too, feel that the program has had impact.

    Bulla Chong Kainoa brought his son to the group to help him prepare for preschool in the fall. “I like that they teach my son gross motor skills and he’s able to learn how to be with his peers. I like how attentive the teachers are and you can tell that they care about the children.”

    Candice Beard’s 2-year-old daughter spends much of her time at home socializing with her older brother who is four-and-a-half. “This group gives her a lot of exposure to babies who are her age and socialization with younger kids than she usually plays with,” she says.

    At the end of May, Earl Boyles hosted its youngest graduation celebration yet for 12 infants and toddlers. Each family received a certificate and a gift bag full of activities and books. But the children’s favorite gift was balloons, which immediately captured their attention. As each family came up front to be honored, Velasco shared the developmental milestones that their children achieved during the program.

    Plans are underway for next year, and the facilitators are working to ensure the program at Earl Boyles is sustainably run and funded. They also have advice for other schools or communities interested in launching a play and learn group to reach young families.

    Velasco emphasizes how important it is to leverage talent already in the community by including a parent co-facilitator. “It builds cultural and linguistic capacity and it’s really wonderful to have an inclusive, intercultural space,” she says.

    “Gather your energy, look for resources, find yourself some colleagues out there and start your own program,” says Fink. She recommends the National Women’s Law Center as a fantastic resource.

    Elsa and son webHigh-quality play and learn programs like this one are an effective way to build relationships between schools and families, provide parents with skills and ideas for teaching their children, and improve children’s kindergarten readiness and school success.

    As Elsa San Juan, who participated with her 1-year-old son, puts it, “It is more than a game for kids, it is for a child’s learning so that they can strengthen and grow.”

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  • Creating an enviable life for all kids: A Q&A with Nancy Anderson, retiring early intervention and special education leader

    south shoreNancy Anderson, who leads Early Intervention and Early Childhood Special Education services in Multnomah, Hood River, and Wasco counties, is retiring after 40 years helping children achieve success. Although Anderson holds titles with both the Multnomah Early Childhood Program and the David Douglas School District, her work has spanned much more than these titles alone suggest. She is admired statewide for her leadership around professional development, has been an integral thought partner for educators and administrators, and has played a key role in the creation and success of the Early Works initiative at Earl Boyles Elementary. There she helped create a preschool that was funded by multiple agencies, including MECP.

    The Children’s Institute is grateful to Nancy Anderson for her years of public service, dedicated to improving all children’s lives. “Nancy was fundamental in launching the Earl Boyles preschool program and in advocating for full inclusion of children with special needs in a universal preschool setting” says Swati Adarkar, President and CEO of Children’s Institute. “Nancy has been a key partner, not just for the Children’s Institute and Early Works, but across the state. She has pushed everyone to innovate, and has fought hard to improve the odds for all Oregon kids.”

    “Nancy has been a leader in EI/ECSE since the very early beginnings of this statewide program,” says Anderson’s colleague Judy Newman, the Co-Director of Early Childhood CARES and a member of the governance consortium for Lane County’s early learning hub, the Lane Early Alliance. “She is a critical thinker and innovator, always striving to stay improve services and supports based on the current evidence in the field. She asks important questions and challenges us all to constantly evaluate what we are doing and to grow and change as needed.”

    We talked with Anderson about her career, the current state of early intervention in Oregon, and what policymakers can do to ensure all kids have an equal shot at success.

    CI: Why is the interplay between early intervention and early childhood education so important? For example, why should preschool teachers in public settings be dually accredited in special education and preschool?

    NA: When I think about early childhood or our K-12 systems, kids come to us from wherever they are – there is a lot of diversity. If you have a group of 20 kids, 17% of them have a delay or disability, and/or are dual language learners and/or have experienced trauma. So what do staff need to do be able to deal with that? Teachers need to know enough in each area to be able to [address the diversity of issues]. That is where the importance of dual accreditation comes from – if the teacher has no background in knowing what to do with students with special needs, having a special education specialist come in once a week isn’t going to make a big difference. For kids with disabilities, inclusion early in school sets the stage for inclusion later and leads to greater success for graduation rates and career success.

    CI: What has been your role in Early Works and the preschool at Earl Boyles?

    NA: Years ago we first sat down with Swati Adarkar and a group of partners from around the county, asking what do we need and where should we do it? We decided to move forward with a preschool in the David Douglas School District. The Community Needs Assessment for the area showed that, out of all the things, the community really needed access to preschool. So we thought: If we built a preschool model what would it look like? We wanted the preschool to service all the kids in the catchment area, so we could impact the trajectory of kids prenatal to age 3 [P-3], and into the K-12 system. We worked to include kids in Head Start and Early Childhood Special Education. All of the detail work to get the preschool started was really complicated, hard work. You really have to have people who want to figure it out and who are willing to do hard work. But does it need to be done? Yes.

    CI: Tell us about your statewide leadership around professional development.

    NA: Last year, [Former] David Douglas Superintendent Don Grotting and I went to the Oregon Department of Education to offer a summer institute for professional development that would be open to anyone in the state. We created the institute in partnership with the Early Learning Division, Oregon Department of Education- Early Intervention/Early Childhood Special Education and the David Douglas School District.  It was phenomenal. It was so popular that the department wanted to do it again this year, and extend it to an entire week. This year’s institute is offering seven courses on topics like coaching, dual language learners, and positive social emotional development. Educators from all sorts settings attend – child care,K-3rd general education, community preschool, Early Intervention/Early Childhood Special Education, and Head Start.

    We learned people are really hungry for P-3 professional development and learning – and for something that isn’t just a day long.

    CI: What are you most proud of having accomplished in your career?

    NA: There isn’t any one project or initiative. It is probably more that I’ve always tried to ensure that kids and families have a shot at a full life – both at school and in their community. My focus has always been on making sure kids and families have what they need to be successful and have an enviable life. And think I’ve been pretty successful in making that happen!

    CI: What drives you to push innovation at both the state and district levels? How have you gotten partners, teachers, parents, others, to buy in to early childhood investments?

    NA: One of the things that makes a difference is to share some different experiences with them – show them what is positive and possible. People come to their work with certain experiences or lenses – and sometimes just don’t know what is possible! One of my biggest jobs as a leader is to really make sure I am bringing forward those stories and experiences of the partners and families we are working with to support their hopes and dreams.

    For example, when talking to a parent of a young child with Down syndrome, they may have a dream of their child attending college. However, people in their life may be telling them it’s not possible. I might say ‘Oh! I hear you thinking about your child attending college in the future. Do you know that Northwest Down Syndrome Association is working with local colleges on a program called “Think College” which ensures students have access to college? It ispossible!' You have to kind of change the conversation.

    And that is what Early Works has been about – showing people that it is really possible. At Earl Boyles, parent engagement has changed and they are getting great outcomes. It is important to share these stories and also share the data that shows things work. Once you put vision and outcomes together it is hard to say no.

    CI: What is the number one thing parents and teachers could do to help more students succeed?

    NA: For staff, kids, and families, the recognition that “this isn’t it.” There is always more to do. Things can be better. And when we bring people on board who understand that, we can always do even more.

    CI: What is the top thing policymakers could do to help more students succeed?

    NA: To ensure that whatever policies are being made to ensure kids have that best start – that it includes all kids. That when we say “all” and “every” that we really do mean “all.”

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • Family Resource Navigator at Earl Boyles is model for schools

    "I brought some pictures," Josette Herrera says, handing her cell phone to Josué Peña-Juárez. He grimaces as he looks at the black mold that just keeps coming back around the windows in Herrera's apartment. The two have talked about it before, but Herrera has had trouble getting her landlord to address the problem.

    "I'm worried about my kids," Herrera says. One of her sons had pneumonia this year and she fears the mold is impacting her family's health.

    As the new Family Resource Navigator at Earl Boyles Elementary School, Peña-Juárez has many meetings like this – with families who need advice, support, or access to a wide variety of services. From housing support to counseling, from legal help to clothing and food, Peña-Juárez helps families find whatever it is they need. "I never say, 'you can't ask me about that,'"; he says.

    The Family Resource Navigator position, which Peña-Juárez was hired to fill in November, is the only position of its kind at a public school in Multnomah County. Funded by the county and staffed by SUN (which is operated at Earl Boyles by Metropolitan Family Service), the Family Resource Navigator role is an innovative demonstration of what can happen when an elementary school also serves as a neighborhood hub. The role was created as part of the Early Works initiative at Earl Boyles because academic success for young children is dependent on a wide variety of factors that go well beyond what schools traditionally support.

    "The family and community contexts are incredibly important to ensure kids reach academic benchmarks," says Dana Hepper, Children's Institute's Director of Policy and Program. "We worked with our partners to pilot the Family Resource Navigator role because integrating health and family support with education is so much more effective than having three separate siloes."

    Peña-Juárez has been on the job for just three months, but the impact is clear already. "Folks are coming forward and saying, 'I need this support,'" he says. "That means that they already trust. They understand that someone is here and responsive."

    As a parent at the school, Herrera is very glad that Peña-Juárez is there. After a previous meeting with him, she went to a local workshop and learned about how to document her mold problem and submit the documentation to her landlord. This time around, she and Peña-Juárez discuss drafting a letter and going to the post office together to send it using certified mail.

    "There are a lot of resources out there that a lot of people don't know [about]," Herrera says. The workshop to empower renters is just one example.

    Peña-Juárez's goal is not just to help Earl Boyles families in need. "I want more families to be engaged with the school," he says.

    He sees that many parents have ideas and strengths to share, and trust and communication are key to tapping these strengths.

    Earl Boyles SUN Site Manager Youn Han is Peña-Juárez's supervisor. "He's been able to provide a lot of capacity around family stabilization," she says. "He does intensive work and builds meaningful connections with families."

    Everyone involved is hopeful that other schools in other communities will learn from the demonstration. The Children's Institute is working closely with Peña-Juárez to track how he spends his time and how his work complements and builds on other Early Works strategies.

    This gives us information we can share with others around the state at multiple levels. We are not just learning what a Family Resource Navigator position looks like on the ground; we are also evaluating what impact this strategy has in driving towards key Early Works outcomes.

    "I hope that eventually there will be a team of [Family Resource Navigators] at other school sites so that we would meet and coordinate our resources," he says.

    He also hopes to train people within the community to take over the role in the long-term. "They're from here. They've invested time and energy in the community. We can support them in getting some skills and then have them in positions like this one," Peña-Juárez says.

    Josue enewsPeña-Juárez's most important advice for other schools looking to create a Family Resource Navigator position is to hire someone who can speak the language and understand the culture of the families in the community. At Earl Boyles, where a large number of families speak Spanish at home, Peña-Juárez's bilingual skills and cultural background are critical.

    Han agrees that it's very important to hire the right person. "The Family Resource Navigator position is really dependent on families trusting that person," she says. "Choose someone trustworthy, a good communicator, and preferably someone who is already familiar with or part of the community."

    Herrera also agrees. "Having [Peña-Juárez] here has helped a lot, especially him being bilingual," she says. "He understands and he's not judgmental."

    Both Peña-Juárez and Han emphasized that the role must be part of a larger school culture that is open and compassionate.

    "Earl Boyles is such a great school because everyone from the administration and principal to the teachers and staff supports making communication as open as possible," Han says.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • A Voice For All

    Voice-For-All.New-America-cover For nearly two decades, the number of dual language learners – students who speak a language other than English at home – enrolled in Oregon schools has steadily increased, now to more than ten percent of all Oregon students. State leaders are working on a plan to ensure those students gain the language and academic skills they need to graduate from high school and go on to college and career success.

    A new report from New America's Dual Language Learner National Work Group suggests Oregon leaders have a great model for success right in their own backyard – at Portland's David Douglas School District. The New America report highlights the great work that David Douglas district schools are doing with dual language learners, work based on a model of ensuring that dual language students learn alongside their peers instead of being pulled out of class.

    The New America Foundation's report also features David Douglas' Earl Boyles Elementary School, one of the sites of the Early Works initiative, as a snapshot of the model in action. At Earl Boyles, the program is coupled with early childhood education and family engagement strategies to support all children, including dual language learners, to develop the language skills they need socially and academically before kindergarten.

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  • Feds to study successes at Earl Boyles, Early Works

    low 2014-09-12 011Earl Boyles Elementary, home to the Early Works initiative for the past four years, will be one of five sites in the nation that federal researchers will be studying to learn more about how schools are successfully sustaining the positive effects of preschool through third grade.

    Representatives with the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services informed David Douglas School District and Early Works leaders of the study in a letter to them earlier this month. “We are interested in learning more about the Early Works Initiative at Earl Boyles School and how it incorporates PK-3 alignment strategies, family supports and technology as support strategies through grade 3,” the federal officials wrote. “We also want to better understand the theoretical or practical background of the program, how it is implemented, how it is sustained and resourced, and the program’s outcomes.”

    The Early Works initiative – with sites at Earl Boyles and in Yoncalla – focuses on implementing effective early childhood services that are integrated and aligned with elementary schools. Its goal is to bring parents, educators and the community together to help ensure students are ready for kindergarten and for success in third grade and beyond.

    The work has brought positive results for Earl Boyles students, in the school’s preschool and its early grades.

    “"Hopefully, what this study does is confirm the results and the benefits that we're seeing at Earl Boyles," says David Douglas Superintendent Don Grotting. "We know we’ve got to get to these kids when they're young, to lift them up and eliminate the achievement gap before it has a chance to open. We think the benefits of early childhood education ripple all the way through K-12, diminishing the need to intervene with kids after it's almost too late.

    "If studies like this can really show those benefits, it might just loosen up more funding on the state and federal level to expand early learning, especially for families in poverty and the underserved."

    Earl Boyles Elementary Principal Ericka Guynes says she and the school’s staff are honored Earl Boyles was selected for the study. She adds: “My hope is that the study will identify practices that eliminate barriers for our youngest learners and families so all students can reach their highest potential for learning.”

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  • A busy September at Yoncalla Early Works

    9.2015-blogThere are muffins and goldfish crackers and juice boxes. There are infant mats on the floor, along with toys and books. Plenty of books.

    And in the Family Room at Yoncalla Elementary School every morning this week, there have also been Yoncalla families – parents of infants and toddlers – getting their introduction to what the Yoncalla Family Room and the Early Works initiative is all about.

    Yoncalla Early Works is an initiative of the Ford Family Foundation, the Children’s Institute, the Yoncalla school district and other local partners. Its mission: to bring parents, the school and the community together to meet the needs of children – prenatally to age eight – and to ensure every child is prepared for kindergarten and school success.

    “A vital component in fulfilling that mission is to engage families – to ensure the school building is a welcoming place for families and that parents and educators are partners in supporting children’s learning and development,” says Dana Hepper, the Children’s Institute’s director of policy and program.

    As the school year has begun again at Yoncalla Elementary, coordinators of the Family Room – located on one wing of the elementary school – are working to be as engaging for families as possible.

    The North Douglas County Family Relief Nursery has been coordinating activities in the Yoncalla Family Room for the past several months. Erin Helgren, program director for the relief nursery, is helping to host this week’s open houses at the Family Room – through tomorrow (Sept. 17). Beginning next week, the Family Room will host a weekly infant/caregiver class for families with young children. And beginning next Wednesday, the  Family Room will begin hosting weekly “Mommy and me” mixed-age playgroups for children and parents.

    Helgren said she hopes these gatherings will be only the start – that Yoncalla families will make other suggestions for services the Family Room and Yoncalla Early Works might be able to offer throughout this school year.

     “Our underlying intention is to have conversations with families to help identify services they’re interested in seeing, and at times that are convenient for them,” Helgren says. “We’re really trying to create a schedule driven by the community and families. We’d rather do a play group at a time when it’s most convenient for families to participate.”

    This is the third year for Yoncalla Early Works and will be the first full school year in which North Douglas County Family Relief Nursery is overseeing the Family Room. Helgren said she’s noticing that more Yoncalla families are wanting to learn more about Early Works and get involved. She says Yoncalla families with infants seem especially interested in participating.

    Helgren says the Family Room will build on past work while creating new programs that can help families, and guide them in helping their children develop and learn.

    “I think it’s a really exciting time for Yoncalla Early Works,” Helgren says. “Families are starting to trust Early Works is going to be here for them.”

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  • Earl Boyles parent represents community at national family engagement conference

    Andreina-AdrianaEarl Boyles Elementary School parent Adriana Govea had never been on an airplane before last week. But on June 22, she and Andreina Velasco, the Children’s Institute’s Early Works site liaison at Earl Boyles, boarded a plane to Chicago for the Institute for Educational Leadership’s 2015 National Family and Community Engagement Conference, “Shaping Our Future by Leading Together.”

    Adriana readily faced her trepidation about her first flight – and soon learned that flying was kind of fun – in order to represent the Earl Boyles community at the institute’s second annual conference, which brought together 1,200 participants from all sectors of the educational community to talk about the importance of family engagement in children’s learning. Adriana, a member and former co-facilitator of Parents United, an Earl Boyles parents group, plays an active role in the parent engagement activities happening at Earl Boyles, including planning for the school’s neighborhood center. Adriana’s son, Matthew, just finished third grade at Earl Boyles.

    But Adriana and Andreina were not just conference attendees. They were also asked to conduct a workshop, “From Showing Up to Leading the Way: Building a Continuum for Family Engagement.” The workshop was an important opportunity for them and for the Children’s Institute to share some lessons learned from the Early Works initiative at Earl Boyles with a group of national experts. It also gave Andreina and Adriana a chance to learn from the other communities that are part of the growing national movement for family engagement.

    The presentation highlighted the array of possible family engagement activities and programs – from attendance to parent leadership – and helped to start a discussion about how others are undertaking similar work.  Although Adriana started off her presentation a bit shy, by the end she said she felt secure and confident. “I feel very important because I am someone who hasn’t been to college, and I am here speaking to all of these people who have,” she says.

    Andreina Velasco says she was “blown away” by the conference. “It was the best conference I have ever been to,” she says.

    She says a standout moment was a speech by parent Rosazlia Grillier, co-chair of POWER-PAC, a parent-led cross-cultural organization of low-income parents from Chicago. “Rosazlia is a testament to what can happen when parents are organized,” Andreina says.

    Rosazilia demonstrated that the most authentic way to build success is by having families interact with families, Andreina says. The point was underscored by Ralph Smith, senior vice president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation and managing director of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, an initiative working to ensure more children in low-income families are reading proficiently by the end of third grade. Smith emphasized that schools must set up opportunities to get out of the way – to create spaces and processes that give parents the opportunity to lead and succeed.

    Adriana says she has similar opinions about why it is important to give parents a voice – and why she feels thankful to be a part of the parent engagement work at Earl Boyles. “It is very important to demonstrate the power of the parents, and also important that the schools - or whoever is in charge of the system - aren’t judging parents but helping and supporting them,” she says. “It is important that they see the love that parents have for their children, and that we all leave fear behind for the love of our kids, so that anything is possible.”

    Adriana and Andreina both believe that schools must encourage the vital partnership between schools and parents in children’s education.

    Adriana’s enthusiasm for professional development around family engagement has only increased since the conference, and her new ambition is to make sure more Earl Boyles parents have the opportunity to participate in family engagement conferences and programs in the future. “They have the potential,” she says. “I would like to share more, and give them the opportunity.”

    And so, of course, would the Children’s Institute.

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  • Earl Boyles Elementary wins support from Multnomah County

    commissioner-site-visit2The Early Works initiative and the community around Earl Boyles Elementary School had a big victory this week – one that will lead to more comprehensive services for children and families in the larger community around the school in Southeast Portland.

    On June 18, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners passed a budget that included $94,000 for the Schools Uniting Neighborhoods program at Earl Boyles. As part of its involvement in the Early Works initiative, the school already has added a new early learning wing and neighborhood center; the new services will be delivered at the neighborhood center.

    Specifically, the SUN program will use the funding to help families access housing programs and work with a family navigator to understand and access public services available to them. Those two resources were prioritized by community leaders from a list of services community members had indicated in a home-to-home survey they would like to see provided at the neighborhood center.

    “This money will help us really reach our families at the level they need to be reached at,” said Earl Boyles SUN site manager Meghan Zook, who attended the June 18 hearing and who said she was tremendously excited about the new reach her program would now have at Earl Boyles. “It will really allow us to focus on community needs.” Families in the Earl Boyles catchment area have high rates of poverty, with 85 percent of students at the school eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.

    The expanded SUN program was one of several that the Multnomah County commissioners agreed to fund as part of the broader county budget. The commissioners emphasized their intention was to fund programs that reach the most vulnerable citizens in the county.

    In fact, as part of the Early Works initiative, the neighborhood center work has the potential to have impact well beyond Earl Boyles and even Multnomah County. By assessing the Early Works project through an on-going evaluation and then sharing lessons learned through a strategic communication plan, leaders involved in the Early Works initiative aim to help others learn from their effort.

    “This initiative is an effort to empower the community and to help improve health and outcomes for children and families through a dual generation approach,” said Swati Adarkar, President and CEO of the Children’s Institute, which helped to initiate the Early Works project. “We’re thrilled that the Multnomah County commissioners are partnering with the Early Works initiative to help serve children and families and to support children to achieve success in school and beyond.”

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