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What helps children make a successful move from Head Start to kindergarten?

Strong systems that rely on sound policies and practices.

Figuring out how to build these systems is the work of the Understanding Children’s Transitions from Head Start to Kindergarten (HS2K) Project. And now the project is sharing several briefs and a report on how best to do this work in Head Start programs and other early childhood settings.

It’s research that promises to guide policymaking and program practices.

Launched in 2019, the project “is a systems approach that recognizes that effective transitions require intentional engagement from both the sending programs (Head Start) and the receiving programs (elementary schools),” its website explains.

The HS2K project is “organized around four prominent mechanisms (‘4Ps’) that can influence the transition experience: perspectives, policies, professional supports, and practices.”

These practices “must be implemented at multiple levels — among classroom teachers in Head Start and kindergarten, families and teachers, elementary school principals and Head Start directors, Head Start grantees and school districts, and state and federal agencies.”

The project is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in partnership with NORC (a nonpartisan research center at the University of Chicago), the National P-3 Center, and Child Trends.

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The pandemic wiped out part of Massachusetts’ child care workforce.

Now Boston is trying to rebuild.

And the scale of this challenge is substantial.

“The childcare industry in Massachusetts lost about 10% of its workforce since the start of the pandemic,” WBUR radio reports. “In Boston, that’s translating into long wait lists and shorter hours of care. According to city officials, about 50 early education classrooms are sitting empty because child care centers can’t find enough people to operate at capacity.”

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu “was quick to point out that the estimate doesn’t include centers that have had to cut hours because they’re short staffed.”

To address this daunting gap, the city is using $7 million from the Biden Administration’s American Rescue Plan Act to launch the Growing the Workforce Fund.

The fund will provide scholarships and financial aid to 800 students who want to earn a Child Development Associate (CDA) or an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in early childhood education.

“Today’s investment is a welcome one for early educators like me,” Lisa Brooks, an early educator at Horizons for Homeless Children, says in a city press release. “Relieving the burden of debt associated with higher education will help educators continue to focus on the important work of building the foundation for our students’ future success.”

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“The strength of Massachusetts is its families. And they sorely need our help. Our state has some of the highest child care costs in the country. Our care workers don’t make a livable wage.

“So today, let us pledge to be the first state to solve the child care crisis. Let’s finally pass legislation in line with Common Start to make sure every family pays what they can afford, and that care workers are paid what they deserve. This is something our families, workers, and businesses all agree on.”

“Read Gov. Maura Healey’s inaugural speech,” WBUR Newsroom, January 05, 2023

Krongkan “Cherry” Bovornkeeratiroj

Krongkan “Cherry” Bovornkeeratiroj

“In Amherst, I had the chance to volunteer with young children, and that changed my life,” Krongkan “Cherry” Bovornkeeratiroj, an intern at Strategies for Children (SFC), told us in a recent interview. 

This story started six years ago when Cherry moved from Thailand, where she worked as a financial auditor, to Amherst, Mass., where her husband is a graduate student — and where she volunteered to work in a preschool program. 

Cherry was used to the more formal educational approach that she had experienced in Thailand. Amherst was different.

“Our school system focuses heavily on academics and rarely teaches us to speak for ourselves. Most of the time we listen and listen.”

“The first day I walked into the classroom in Amherst, I saw kids enjoying activities. There were no chairs in rows.”

It was a high-quality program where children’s feedback was valued. For example, in the case of one child bumping into another, teachers would ask what the harmed child needed: a hug, an apology, an ice pack? 

 “Instead of lecturing, teachers asked students questions and encouraged them to think critically,” Cherry says.

This volunteer experience prompted her to apply to graduate school.

“But when I was admitted, I found out I was pregnant.” And the pandemic hit. So Cherry waited for a couple of years, then she enrolled in the Master of Arts (MA) in Leadership, Policy & Advocacy for Early Childhood Well-Being program at the Boston University Wheelock College of Education & Human Development.

“Once I shared my passions with my academic advisor, she told me to talk to Amy,” Cherry says of Amy O’Leary, Strategies for Children’s executive director.

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2022 has been an incredible year for Strategies for Children – and we couldn’t have done it without you!

Our allies in advocacy, 9:30 Callers, policy partners, Advocacy Network members, interns and fellows, consultants, thought partners, the hundreds of folks working together to develop the Early Childhood Agenda, and our generous funders – you all help make Strategies for Children what it is – a thriving organization working hard day in and out to advocate for young children, families, communities, and early childhood professionals. 

We offer thanks and appreciation to our elected and appointed leaders. In this time of transition, we have been reflecting on the last eight years of the Baker-Polito Administration, especially since March 2020.

To say that the decisions made by leaders in the Administration, by Senate President Karen Spilka, Speaker Ron Mariano, members of the Massachusetts Legislature, and local leaders over the last three years saved lives may sound dramatic. But we believe it is true.

We continue to remember the incredible stories of the educators, program directors, family childcare providers, school age staff, CEOs and community leaders who show up for children and families every single day. We continue to be inspired by this dedicated and resilient workforce and their commitment to problem solving, building partnerships, and providing high-quality learning experiences under incredible continuing circumstances.

We are ready for 2023, and look forward to seeing you at the release of the Early Childhood Agenda at the State House on January 24.

On behalf of the entire SFC team and Board of Directors, thank you.

Onward!


– Amy O’Leary

poll photo

Photo: Huong Vu for Strategies for Children

The results are in!

A new statewide poll sponsored by the Common Start Coalition has found that “73 percent of the state’s voters” back “the Common Start proposal to create a universal childcare program in Massachusetts.” Only 18 percent of respondents oppose the idea.

“Support is up nearly 10 points from two years ago, when the corresponding margin on this question was 64%-23%,” according to a memo from Beacon Research, the organization that conducted the poll.

The poll was conducted last month and surveyed 817 Massachusetts voters.

Most of these voters acknowledge three facts that are driving “the push to create a universal childcare program:”

• too many families can’t afford the high cost of child care

• child care workers are significantly underpaid, and

• state government should play a role in addressing these challenges

The poll also found that 58 percent of respondents favor “increasing taxpayer funding for childcare programs in Massachusetts,” a jump up from two years ago when 48 percent of respondents supported this idea.

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“In an effort to recruit and retain staff amid a national workforce shortage, the University of Vermont Health Network has broken ground on a second new apartment building for employees — a project that will also include a child care center for staff. 

“ ‘To do what we need to do to fill our vacant positions with permanent employees, rather than our more expensive, temporary workers, we really need to have more housing,’ said Sunil ‘Sunny’ Eappen, the network’s new president and chief executive officer, at a press conference in South Burlington on Thursday.

“Despite receiving $55 million in one-time federal and state funds to cover pandemic-related expenses, UVM Health Network ended its fiscal year on Sept. 30 with a $90 million loss that officials attributed primarily to staffing costs. Like hospitals across the country, UVM facilities relied heavily on temporary workers while staffing waned during the pandemic.”

“The second new apartment building will be located next to the first and will have 120 units ranging from studios to two bedrooms, again with priority given to hospital employees for the first 10 years. The site is also set to include a child care center with initial capacity for up to 75 children, focused on infants to pre-K. That building is expected to open in early 2024.

“Rebecca ‘Becky’ Kapsalis, associate vice president of talent acquisition for UVM Health Network, said it has been disappointing and frustrating to see how many prospective hires are declining offers because of their inability to find housing or quality child care. Kapsalis said some employees have even had to resign within months of being hired because of their inability to find long-term housing.

“Aly Richards, CEO of Let’s Grow Kids, said Thursday that 8,700 children across Vermont need child care. Parents who have found child care are paying 30% to 40% of their income, and yet early educators aren’t making a livable wage. 

“ ‘The only way to fix it is public policy change and public investment, because it’s a broken business model,’ Richards said.”

“UVM Health Network investing in additional 120-apartment building with child care center,” by Juliet Schulman-Hall, VTDigger, December 15, 2022

It was time to say goodbye at this week’s meeting of the Board of the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC). 

Board chair Nonie Lesaux and Massachusetts’ Secretary of Education Jim Peyser are both stepping down.

To acknowledge their contribution Amy O’Leary, Strategies for Childrens’ executive director, spoke at the meeting and later reflected further on the service of Lesaux and Peyser, especially as EEC and its board have navigated the historic challenges of the pandemic. 

Amy appears at the 13:09 timemark in the video posted above. Her full statement is posted here. And here are some excerpts of her comments and additional thoughts: 

“To say that the decisions made by leaders in the Baker-Polito administration and the Massachusetts legislature over the last three years saved lives may sound dramatic. But I believe it is true.

“From setting up emergency childcare in a matter of days, to supporting COVID testing for children, families and staff, to listening to the field when drafting responsive new policies to ensure safety and health, to funding programs to stay open and support parents’ choices about when to send their child back to a program to the creation and continued funding for the C3 grants. Just keeping the day-to-day operations of the Department running was an incredible achievement.”

Amy also praised “the incredible stories of the educators, program directors, family child care providers, school age staff, CEOs and community leaders who have shown up for children and families every single day.”

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Who should be talking about child care? Parents, providers, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. 

All three of these groups know that high-quality child care is essential for families and for the economy.

So please join in tomorrow (Wednesday, December 14, 2022) at 7:00 p.m. on Zoom for a conversation about parents’ and caregivers’ perspectives on child care solutions. 

Hosted by the Massachusetts Essentials for Childhood Initiative and Strategies for Children, this event will feature Sarah Savage, a senior policy analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, who will share preliminary findings from the Fed’s “2022 Child Care Survey: Intersections of Parental Care Needs and Work in New England.”

The event will also include small group discussions where participants can discuss unmet needs, priorities, and solutions.

Parents, of course, are experts, especially when it comes to child care needs that they can’t fill. As one Mom who wanted to work a second job explains in a Federal Reserve video (posted above), “I needed a night job to keep up with the bills.” But she would have needed child care at night, and “There’s no such thing as night care. It’s tough when you need the care and it’s not available.” 

Sharing these valuable perspectives is crucial for making progress. To make the event more inclusive, Spanish and Portuguese interpreters will be available. And invitations to the event written in different languages are posted here.

Please sign up and join the conversation – and share this information with families and colleagues in your network. 

This fall, Strategies for Children has convened meetings of The Early Childhood Agenda, bringing together nearly 500 early childhood professionals, advocates, and parents. The Agenda’s mission of bringing communities from across the Commonwealth together to drive policy change has yielded new partnerships, robust discussions, and a long list of the challenges faced by caregivers and educators of young children.

As we move closer to prioritizing these challenges, we’d like to hear from more voices, especially yours.

Please participate in and share our Early Childhood Agenda Prioritization Survey with your colleagues, neighbors, and friends. To access this brief survey in other languages (Arabic, Chinese, French, Portuguese, Spanish, and Vietnamese), click here.

The survey will be available until Tuesday, December 20, 2022. For more information or questions about the survey, please email info@earlychildhoodagenda.org

On Tuesday, January 24, 2023, we will meet at the Massachusetts State House to release the Agenda results. 

To catch up on what’s already happened with the Early Childhood Agenda:

• Visit the Agenda’s website

• Watch the videos, and

Sign up to join us on Basecamp (where we’re tracking our progress) and you’ll receive updates and be invited to future events

Here’s what’s coming up next:

• The 9:30 Call on Monday, December 19, 2022, at 9:30 a.m. on Zoom 

• Final Meeting on Tuesday, December 20, 2022, at 10 a.m. on Zoom

• The Early Childhood Agenda Release on Tuesday, January 24, 2023, an in-person event

Please join us and encourage your coworkers, colleagues, and the families you serve to do the same. The Agenda should include everyone’s voices.

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