Education

Update: Building a community through partnerships

Parents and children participate in the activities at the WSRE Imagination Station in Pensacola, Fl., Wednesday, February 11, 2015.(Michael Spooneybarger/ Pensacola Today)

An important thing that infants and toddlers need most to learn is interaction with the people around them.

Children specifically are programmed to learn from interacting. And the most frequent and important interactions that babies have are with their parents.

Reaching and teaching children in their earliest years can help ensure that they get the best start they need to begin school ready to learn, grow and thrive.

As Studer Community Institute Parent Outreach Coordinator, I am looking for the best ways to assist mothers with children 0 to 3 years old, so they can help their children early in life by building their babies’ brains. The ultimate goal is to ensure that our young children reach developmental milestones and are ready for kindergarten when they begin school.

In the past three months, I’ve met with and talked to a broad range of community stakeholders, parents and educators. I’ve examined, analyzed and compared programs centered on early education and parent involvement.

Through my efforts and interactions, I’ve learned that there is no one way, right way or best way, as SCI’s slogan aptly says, to “build a brain, build a life, build a community.”

But I’m greatly encouraged by the many people and places that work together to assist parents in improving the quality of life by improving the lives of babies and children.

Last week, I made a presentation to the Pensacola Area Housing Commission directors and managers of eight housing campuses to outline SCI’s strategies and goals. I garnered support and participation from each of the managers who offered training space and granted access to meet with all of the parents who want to participate in parent outreach.

The Area Housing Commission has 1,000 residents of which nearly 270 are children between birth and 3 years old. Director Abe Singh said he’s excited about partnership and look forward to working with SCI in our parent outreach initiatives.

“The 1,000 families we serve mandate a good partnership between Studer Community Institute and Area Housing,” Singh said.

In the heart of a “pocket of poverty” sits Englewood Missionary Baptist Church, off E Street near Baptist Hospital. The Rev. Larry Watson Jr. is in the process of starting a childcare/daycare for kids with a focus on arts and early education. Watson is excited about the possibilities of working closely with SCI and is committed to a partnership that could offer classroom space for programs and access to parents.

The Community Drug & Alcohol Council for years has been helping people get their lives back together through substance abuse prevention and intervention.

I attended and participated in CDAC’s Incredible Years program for parents with children 18 months to 8 years old. The purpose was twofold: to share what we’re doing at SCI and find out more how CDAC’s programs can benefit our ongoing efforts in early education.

Medena Williams, Community Preventionist and Parent for Prevention, leads a 10-week session designed to help parents improve their relationship with their children. I’m in the planning stages of taking part in the Incredible Years Parent & Baby Program. In this program parents learn about brain development in the early years, while the babies learn that they can grow and thrive in a safe and secure environment.

In some cases, people reach out to us for help. That’s what Connie Bookman at Pathways for Change did when she called for a meeting to discuss a proposal for SCI to develop a curriculum for daycare volunteers at Pathway’s Family Life Center. It would a program that is applicable to other agencies in the area and go a long way in increasing SCI’s reach in early education and building community goodwill and support.

Then there are places like Kim’s Mini Blessings on Pace Boulevard that are doing good work and want to share its success and add value to the community through partnerships.

In meeting with Director Kim Corner, I shared SCI’s initiatives and ascertained information about the center’s use of an early learning program to measure and monitor the number of words daycare workers use when handling babies.

Corner has been using the LENA system since December to show daycare workers the importance of talking to babies and measure the quanity and quality of words they use each day.

Mini Blessings serves nearly 70 children from ages 0 to 11 years old, and Corner is interested in being a site for parent outreach using the LENA system.

Among the most informative contacts I’ve made is with a young single mother who grew up and lives in a low-income housing complex.

Wynter Davis, a single mother and UWF student who lives in Attucks Court, is currently working to get her degree and move out of the housing complex and up in her young life.

Davis attended SCI’s Early Learning Task Force meeting and shared her story of overcoming the odds to create a better life for herself and her three children.

She wants to be a parent advocate involved in the parent outreach aimed at the Pensacola Area Housing Commission. She is the kind of mother that SCI is striving to reach, assist and help make the transition from needing help to giving hope to others.

I’m finding a variety of good programs and people that are educating parents and helping children in various ways.

SCI every day, in many ways, is getting closer to developing a plan that provides services to help build a brain, build a life, build a community — one parent, one child, one program at a time.

If you want to help or know someone who has ideas, suggestions or just want to talk about SCI’s labor of love in early learning, email rdogan@studeri.org, or call (850) 529-6485.