Chalkboard Project believes that we cannot positively affect the outcomes of all students if we do not take into account the unique challenges facing our students of color, students experiencing poverty and students living in rural communities. We are supporting several important legislative bills and funding requests introduced this legislative session that focus on creating a more equitable experience for all students including House Bill 2897. This bill directs the Early Learning Division to administer the Early Childhood Equity Fund to support culturally specific early learning, early childhood and parent support programs across the state. To be eligible, a program must be culturally specific and have a proven track record of providing effective outreach, support, and resources to underserved children and their families. The following story highlights a highly successful culturally specific early learning program in Oregon, Juntos Aprendemos.
Anita Carabantes holds up the emerald-green jersey of Mexico’s beloved national soccer team. “When you score a goal in fútbol, what do we say?” she asks the room of 3-5 year-olds in Spanish as she kicks an imaginary ball. “Goooooool!” the 15 children cry out in unison.
The lesson is part of a culturally specific early learning program called Juntos Aprendemos (Together We Learn). As the children color a drawing of three soccer jerseys, their teachers reinforce the learning goals of the exercise—that verde and tres are the color and number of the day.
Meanwhile on the other side of the school building in the library, the children’s parents sit in a semi-circle. They discuss how cultural pride can strengthen families in the face of a political climate where the news portrays negative opinions about Latinos and shows images of children, who look like their own, being held in detention cages. The participants dig deep during the hour-long, interactive discussion, exploring ways to nurture a positive cultural identity and discuss what they want for their children—that they grow up honest, hardworking, happy, attend college and become profesionales.
When children have a cultural sense of pride, Anabertha Alvarado tells the parents, “Saben donde van porque saben de donde son.” (“They know where they’re going because they know where they’re from.”) Alvarado knows this from experience—she started out as a parent in the program and has gone on to join the Latino Network staff as a community education coordinator.
Juntos Aprendemos is one of the many successful culturally specific early learning programs in Oregon that focus on teaching parents and kids to communicate, form relationships, and build their early reading and writing skills with an approach that is grounded in their home language and unique cultural experiences. Run by the non-profit Latino Network, Juntos Aprendemos operates in 12 schools across Multnomah and Washington counties and has a Latino-centric, multi-generational approach at every level, from lesson planning to delivery and development.
Not only are the weekly classes conducted in Spanish, they also are led by parents who have been through the program themselves. The carefully structured program runs for 30 weeks.
For most of the children, Juntos Aprendemos is their only structured early-childhood experience before starting kindergarten. The program is grounded in best practices to support academic success—learning how to be in school as well as gaining a foundation in literacy and numeracy.
“We’re driving toward the same outcomes of any strong early childhood program— kindergarten readiness, family engagement—but the way we get there is a bit different,” says Sadie Feibel, Latino Network’s early childhood education director. She has been with the program since it started as a pilot in a single school and has seen the community drive its growth.
“The curriculum is reflective of the families we serve,” she says. “The children light up when they see teachers that look like them, their families, their neighbors, as they get to experience an environment that feels a lot like home, but is still school.”
Every session starts out with parents and their children doing fun activities and reading books in Spanish with the intention of supporting adults to be active in their children’s learning. Afterwards parents and children separate into their own rooms, giving the children a chance to be independent. The parents then have their own time to discuss topics that can range from becoming effective advocates in the public education system to supporting literacy at home.
Parents in the program want their children to be bilingual and to take pride in their heritage even as they adapt to life in the United States. “These children are growing up in a different world than their parents did,” says Lupe Campos, early childhood education manager for Latino Network. “The families want to find a balance.”
Image courtesy of Latino Network
You can find out more about House Bill 2897 here.
You can find out more about Juntos Aprendemos here.