Too Many Cooks a Problem? Not in Even Start!
They say too many cooks spoil the soup but we in Even Start
have proven them wrong. Collaboration and Even Start
make a wonderful recipe for family success.
Hillary Clinton has reminded us of the African proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child" (1996). This proverb reflects a truth we too often forget. Education, the development of families not only as employees and citizens but also as human beings and members of communities, is not the work of any single organization but of many organizations in collaboration. Neither the family nor the school address all of a child's educational and maturational needs. The neighborhood, the church, community organizations - all must collaborate to get the job done. Beginning with each new school year, our Even Start program establishes collaborations to help families reach their educational goals and to help them become productive members of society. Some of these cooperative efforts have been ongoing since the inception of the program in 1993.
Even Start is based upon the premise that parents are their child's most important first teacher, and are thus key to the success of their children in school. To help parents fill this critical role to the best of their ability, Even Start facilitates educational opportunities of parents and children through:
- Adult education;
- Early childhood education;
- Parenting education;
- Enhancing literacy and life skills of both parents and children; and
- Improved communication among child, parent, school, and community.
We also strive to empower families to explore and face new educational and societal challenges by allowing for real life applications of what they learn, encouraging both parents and children to become lifelong learners.
Even Start is a federal grant awarded by the Texas Education Agency to the Northside ISD's Adult & Community Education Department. Collaboration is a key to accomplishing Even Start goals and to fulfilling the yearly in-kind match. Our program has always sought resources, both in and outside our district, to enhance or totally support services to our families. Examples of collaboration follow.
Title I Program
Our program serves a district of over 62,000 students and has a very long waiting list. In order to serve more families than were written into the grant, we established a collaboration with the district's Title I department. Items funded by Northside ISD Title I are:
- Salaries - Parent Educator, 12 Early Childhood Instructors, three Parent Involvement Liaisons;
- Supplies - Early Childhood Center snacks, diapers, supplies, etc.;
- Transportation - funds for city bus tickets for Even Start participants without their own transportation to class;
- Staff Development - Even Start staff are trained in Parents as Teachers, a curriculum for use in home visits; in Frameworks, a curriculum used in home visits; and in Parent Education through workshops;
- Parent Education - Every year, Title I programs in several school districts in the San Antonio area provide a Parent Advisory Conference for parents in Title I schools. This full-day workshop covers topics such as reading with your child, discipline, and time management. This year, 70 Even Start parents were able to attend with funding through Title I; and
- Support for our parent workshops - Title I funds snacks and childcare for our programs' monthly parent education workshop.
Through these contributions to Even Start, the Title l Program meets its own stated objectives. The policy under which Title I is funded requires that they ensure effective involvement of parents and support a partnership among the school, parents, and the community.
Social Service Needs
Families in Even Start have many social service needs, for which our program utilizes a social worker. These families often lack money for eyeglasses, school supplies, food, clothing, housing, transportation, GED testing fees, and other necessities. They often need help with immigration or legal documents, medical care, counseling, or assistance in understanding and complying with school rules and regulations, and don't know where to go for assistance or referral. The social worker helps meet these needs or researches where to refer the families for free services. Part of the social worker's salary is paid through collaboration with the district's Connections Program. Connections provides supplemental academic support for students in Northside who meet the definition of homeless according to the McKinney Act: students and families who are staying with friends or relatives or are temporarily without a home, and students who are abandoned or have run away. In elementary schools serviced by Connections, eligible students can attend after-school academic tutoring and enrichment classes. Connections also provides families with school supplies and clothing. When assisting Even Start families eligible for their services, the Connections program also meets its own objectives.
Some may ask what these services have to do with family literacy. All these social service needs are barriers that prevent families from achieving academically or combating illiteracy. If parents are too busy trying to survive, they don't have time to study and complete their education or to help their children succeed in school. The social worker helps tear down some of these barriers. It may take time, but families are able to concentrate on their education when they don't have to worry about how they will get to class or how they will pay for their GED test once they have prepared to take it.
The Northside district provides offices and classrooms (both adult and early childhood), as well as utilities, custodial services, and furnishings. In turn, Even Start is helping the district to prepare a group of at-risk children for academic achievement, as well as raising the level of parent involvement. The Northside Even Start program requires its parents to volunteer four hours a month in their child's school, to attend PTA meetings and parent/teacher conferences, and to serve on an advisory council if the opportunity arises. Compliance with these requirements is thoroughly documented.
Parent involvement statistics, along with other program data, is reported in our program's formal evaluation, conducted by Dr. Don F. Seaman of the Texas Center for Adult Literacy and Learning at Texas A&M University. Dr. Seaman's comprehensive program evaluation is submitted to the Director of Adult Community Education, Compensatory Director (in charge of Title I funds), and to the Northside ISD Superintendent.
Other Even Start Programs
Program coordinators in the San Antonio area formed a group called Cluster VI, comprised of Even Start programs in Northside, Seguin, Judson, Harlandale Avance, Edgewood Avance, and Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City school districts. Cluster VI meets monthly to share resources, information, ideas, accomplishments, and to brainstorm solutions to difficult situations as they arise. This group is most proud of the collaborative Cluster VI Conference. We plan and implement this annual conference for our staff members and we also invite staff from other Texas Even Start programs to attend. In this staff development conference, we are able to pull our resources together and provide speakers that we could not normally afford using our individual program budgets. The conference also provides our staff members with the opportunity to network with other Even Start practitioners and to share ideas. All Even Start programs include the same required components, but exactly how these components are carried out may be different from program to program. Sharing ideas can help all the programs to better achieve their goals.
Public Television Station
Local public television (KLRN) recognizes our efforts in literacy by providing free books to our families every month at our parent workshops. Even Start and KLRN believe that reading to children every day is an important way to promote children's academic achievement. Most of the Even Start families do not have the means to buy books, so KLRN removes that barrier by providing them with a free book at every Even Start parent workshop they attend. By the end of the school year, every Even Start family has begun a home library with the help of KLRN.
- United Services Automobile Association (USAA) - grants and scholarships to our GED graduates; Christmas gifts for their families;
- Senior Advisory Committee of Northside - "Socks & Underwear Drive" fundraising by retiree group to buy these items for families;
- 21st Century Learning Centers of Northside;
- John Jay High School National Honor Society;
- Resurrection of the Lord Catholic Church - assistance with meals and volunteers for our "Dads & Kids Retreat;" and
- Various food establishments - free meal certificates for "rewards."
Some organizations might look at collaboration as a requirement, but not something they would choose to do. Sometimes in collaboration, the partner seems to want to go in another direction than you intend or may have other goals in mind that you did not expect when the collaboration was formed. Other partners may seem eager to collaborate, but don't want to participate beyond handing over the money, service, or materials, with no comment or question about how the resources are used. We must not forget that our partners also have goals they need to accomplish and are motivated to collaborate with us to reach these goals. For example, the use of Title I money requires that my program be held accountable not just to the Texas Education Agency, but also to Title I guidelines as well. Title I in turn is accountable to both the Texas Education Agency and the Federal Government (Department of Education). Yes, this means more paperwork and reporting because your collaborators need to document meeting their own objectives. You have to ask yourself why are you collaborating in the first place. Certainly it is to derive the greatest possible benefit for the families, not for your convenience as program administrator or staff!
About the Author
Brenda Faz-Villarreal is Coordinator of the Northside ISD Even Start Family Literacy Program under the Adult & Community Education Department. Born in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico, Brenda and her family immigrated to Eagle Pass, Texas when she was in elementary school. Brenda became a US Citizen at 18, received a BA in Elementary & Bilingual Education from Our Lady of the Lake University and a MA in Educational Leadership with a Mid-Management certification from the University of Texas at San Antonio. With Northside ISD since 1992, she has been a second grade bilingual teacher and facilitator of the 'Success For All' Reading Program, adopted by Cable Elementary from Johns Hopkins University. She is married to James Villarreal and has two children, James and Brandon.
Clinton, H. (1996). It Takes A Village & Other Lessons Children Teach Us. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Books.