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Archive for the ‘Family engagement’ Category

Photo: Pixaby from Pexels

The pandemic has forced schools to offer remote learning.

Now Massachusetts is promoting high-quality remote learning. State educational officials have put together a four-part webinar series focusing on children in preschool-through-third-grade classrooms.

Register today for Part II, which is tonight at 6:00 p.m. This webinar will focus on building strong collaborations between public schools and community-based programs.

Launched last week, the series – sponsored by the Executive Office of Education, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), and the Department of Early Education and Care – covers a range of topics. (more…)

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Sarah Mills

How do you go from being a preschool teacher to working as a legislative aide in the Massachusetts State House? 

For Sarah Mills, it’s all about loving the work of interacting with young children. 

In elementary and middle school, Mills enjoyed helping out with infants and toddlers who were enrolled in her public school’s preschool program. 

As a Syracuse University college student, Mills got a work-study job at her campus’ early education center. 

And when she came to Boston to attend graduate school at Simmons University, she needed to work full-time, so she found a job at KinderCare in downtown Boston where she spent half her time working with infants and half her time working in the afterschool program. 

“When I was younger, I just loved kids; they were so much fun to hang out with,” Mills recalls. “It’s really exciting being with kids who are ages zero to five because you get to watch them go through so many significant milestones, whether it’s their first steps or their first words. Being with kids at this age is truly joyful.” 

“Another wonderful thing is that you get to know the families. I had a lot of families with first-time babies, and so I had the responsibility of helping to educate them and helping them to feel comfortable, because it’s scary to drop your child off for the first time with people you’ve just met. And I was working before the paid family leave law. So I saw parents who had no choice but to bring children who were six weeks or 12 weeks old to our program.”  (more…)

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“What we know from the research on reading – and what was just confirmed by the national Reading for Understanding Initiative – is that kids need more language. They need more knowledge. And they need foundational mechanical skills to be able to read individual words automatically,” Joan Kelley says.

“The problems that are hardest to address later on are the language and knowledge gaps. Kids need high dosages of rich language, which is a 24/7, 365-days-a-year job for families and educators. But no one tells families what their specific role is or how to get this job done.”

So Kelley came up with an app for that.

An alumna of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, Kelley has seen children struggle with reading for years – and so has the rest of the country. As we’ve blogged before, even in Massachusetts, a state known for educational excellence, third grade reading levels have lagged, especially for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. We highlighted this in our 2010 report, “Turning the Page: Refocusing Massachusetts for Reading Success,” which Kelley contributed to.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made educational gaps worse by forcing districts to close schools and erode children’s learning opportunities. A study published by the American Educational Research Association says that students experienced a “COVID slide,” a more stark version of the “summer slide” learning loss that normally occurs when schools let out in June. The study estimates that because COVID-19 “abbreviated the 2019-2020 school year,” students would lose “roughly 63% to 68% of the learning gains in reading,” so only about two-thirds of what they would have learned if the pandemic had not occurred. (more…)

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There’s a new mental health resource for parents who are worried about their children, Handhold.

“You know your child better than anyone. But even you have a few questions,” Handhold says on its website, which helps parents find mental health programs for their children.

This is a particularly important resource now, as families grapple with the global pandemic. As Handhold explains:

“COVID-19 is putting incredible pressure on families. You might be noticing your child is struggling in new ways, or that old problems are getting worse. Should you worry about your child’s behavioral health? We’re here to help you figure that out.”

The website – organized by three state agencies: the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, the Office of the Child Advocate, and the Executive Office of Health and Human Services – draws on community insights:

“Family partners and parents of kids with similar experiences to yours told us what they wished they had known earlier in their journey. Mental health experts, including child psychiatrists, social workers, and psychologists, selected the most relevant and useful resources.” (more…)

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Photo courtesy of Tiffany Lillie

Back in March, Tiffany Lillie was working hard as the Director of Community Resource Development at the Framingham Public Schools.

She had been thinking about her work running out-of-school-time programs, including child care programs, in her city. She had been in the office working. She had been at community meetings listening to parent feedback. Her 200 staff members were running programs that served 2,000 children a day.

Then, Lillie heard the first coughs of a global pandemic, which gradually turned into a roar.

“In Massachusetts, we were one of the first departments to have a positive COVID-19 case in early March, so we were unfortunately trendsetting,” Lillie says. “There weren’t other examples that we could follow as a department.”

When Governor Charlie Baker ordered schools to close, Framingham pivoted its programs online. COVID-19 infection rates soared across the state.

So what does a school administrator do in the midst of a global crisis where fear and uncertainty have seized center stage?

Well, in Framingham, Mayor Yvonne Spicer and the school department and Lillie and her colleagues kept talking, in calm, clear voices, in multiple languages – because while the world had changed, the work remained the same: educate children; engage families; provide community resources. (more…)

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This Thursday, the Massachusetts Head Start Association (MHSA) will launch its virtual fall conference, “Adapting to Change: Head Start in 2020 and Beyond.”

“2020 is a time for change and adaptation for early educators,” Michelle Haimowitz, MHSA’s executive director, says. “Our conference offers short professional development opportunities throughout October to help address our changing environment.”

The conference features eight virtual workshops that will take place from October 1, 2020, to Tuesday, October 20, 2020, and touch on the challenging issues of the day.

Kristin Tenney-Blackwell, a psychologist will kick things off with a workshop called, “Wellness: Taking Care of Yourself.” This workshop will “focus on understanding the importance of health and wellness of adults in a child’s life. Educators and program leaders will explore strategies and approaches to enhancing adult resilience,” the conference website explains.

Another workshop, “Supporting Children to Embrace Race: How we can & why we must,” led by Melissa Giraud and Andrew Grant-Thomas, two parents who co-founded the organization Embrace Race, will feature a “presentation and Q & A that considers some of the evidence for racial bias and steps we can take to push back against it – in our children and ourselves.” (more…)

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Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

 

How are families doing during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Earlier this year, we created a survey to ask them. Many parents said they were struggling to juggle work, child care, and children who were attending school from home.

Last month, Strategies for Children followed up with another survey that found many parents were struggling to make child care arrangements for the fall. This survey was conducted by Beacon Research, a Boston-based polling firm, and funded by the Commonwealth Children’s Fund and Eastern Bank Charitable Foundation.

Hearing from parents is an essential step.

“Parent voices are critical to reopening and sustaining the child care industry,” Amy O’Leary, the director of Strategies for Children’s Early Education for All Campaign, says. “This survey shows that parents have legitimate concerns over health and safety. Many parents cannot return to child care because their programs have closed permanently, are not yet reopened, or are at full enrollment.”

A press release and a slide deck summarize the survey’s results. This document lists the survey’s questions and tallies parents’ answers. And a memo focuses on the child care challenges for families with school-age children.

Among the survey’s key findings, parents’ fears have risen. Before the pandemic, 76 percent expected to use child care programs this fall. Since the pandemic, only 62 percent do. (more…)

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What’s your child care/early education story?

The Common Start Coalition — a group of organizations, providers, and individuals in Massachusetts — is gathering stories to demonstrate the need for affordable, high-quality early education and child care, especially during the pandemic. The stories will be shared publicly on social media and with policymakers.

Click here to share your story.

You’ll be joining others who have already shared their stories, including:

 

Carl R.: “I have two children, a daughter and a son, and they both have children of their own. My wife and I actually retired from our jobs to help care for our grandchildren due to child care issues. My daughter had a child back in 2016 and needed child care for her infant. She found out it was going to be $2000 a month. So my wife decided to retire to help care for the child. I started to think what would happen if my wife got sick and couldn’t watch the baby but luckily I was able to retire.

“A large part of my children’s issue is not only finding childcare but also finding a provider whose program runs late enough. My daughter works in Boston and the child care ends at 5:30. My daughter doesn’t know when she will be able to get home. That’s why I pick up my granddaughter, who is now 3 turning 4, from preschool. In my son’s case both he and his wife are teachers. The issue is that their children do not attend the school that he and his wife work at. They run into issues when their children’s schools have half days and the school they teach at doesn’t so they need someone to pick up the kids and keep an eye on them until they get home.”

 

Gloria: “I struggled a lot when my children were smaller because I did not have child care and I had to go to work to support my family. First I had my two older sons babysit but when they couldn’t I had to pay a family member to babysit when she was available. I had no vehicle at that time so I had to taxi to the babysitter. I was really struggling to support my family as a big amount of my check went to babysitter and taxi. Later when I couldn’t keep paying a babysitter I had to quit my job. Now that my kids are older and no longer need a baby sitter I went back to work. But even now that they no longer need a baby sitter I can’t afford a summer program because I do not have a voucher and summer camps/programs are ridiculously expensive.”

 

Shanice C.: “My heart hurts for the little ones going through this because they do not understand it. This is probably the biggest struggle in this pandemic: making sure the little ones are okay and preparing them for the NEW normal.”

 

Strategies for Children is a member of the Common Start Coalition as is Edward Street Child Services, Greater Boston Legal Services, Local 509 SEIU, the Worcester Food Policy Council, the Women’s Fund, and a host of other nonprofit organizations.

Click here to learn more — and to read more of these and other stories.

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Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

 

What do families with young children want?

As we blogged last week, the Massachusetts Partnership for Infants and Toddlers (MPIT) conducted a statewide survey that asked this question and collected feedback from more than 1,200 families. MPIT is a collaboration of 40+ organizations and family engagement specialists.

The survey results were, however, collected, before COVID-19 shut down the country.

So now, to understand what families want in the middle of this pandemic, MPIT has asked its members to share the changes they’ve made in their services.

 

The Department of Public Health shifts to pandemic protection

At the state level, the Bureau of Family Health and Nutrition, part of the Department of Public Health, addresses the health needs of “mothers, infants, children and youth— including children and youth with special health needs.” Two of the bureau’s core values are culturally responsive family engagement and racial equity.

To do its work during the pandemic, the bureau has set up telehealth appointments via phone or video so that families can access the Early Intervention system, the WIC Nutrition program, and the Home Visiting program.

In Chelsea and Springfield, early childhood coalitions that are supported by the bureau’s MA Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems have distributed food, diapers, and diapering supplies to families, stepping in when grocery store shelves have often been bare.

To provide parents with more information, the bureau’s Division for Children & Youth with Special Health Needs has set up online information sessions for parents and posted new content — “Emergency Care Planning for Children & Youth with Special Health Needs during COVID 19 and Beyond” – on the Mass.gov website. (more…)

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Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

 

What do families want?

That’s the question that the Massachusetts Partnership for Infants and Toddlers (MPIT) asked last year in a statewide survey of 1,260 families with young children.

Facilitated by Strategies for Children, MPIT is a “unique collaboration between early childhood professionals inside and outside of government, at the state and local level, spanning early education and health,” a summary of the survey findings explains.

The survey’s goal was to “learn about families’ experiences with early childhood programs and services. What works, what doesn’t, what are the barriers to participation, and what would families like to see more of in their communities.” Respondents were asked about a wide range of programs, including Early Intervention, WIC, home visiting, play groups, and child care. In addition to the survey, there were five in-person family focus groups.

The results provide useful insights. Parents said they wanted a greater variety of more affordable early childhood programs – such as swimming, dance, music, and yoga – where they could interact with other parents. They want programs with flexible schedules and more opportunities to talk with local experts about child development and family wellbeing. (more…)

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