Wednesday, March 27, 2013

New Texas HIPPY Family Members!

l-r: Tracie Crosswhite, Keshia Bruno, Carla Mowell

It's about time I introduced you to a new face we have around here. Tracie Crosswhite is the newest, full-time addition we have to our staff. She is in charge of everything fiscal for us - this means she keeps track of our spending, our grant budgets, match from our sites and coordinates the reporting of all that! She started working here back in May and comes to us with 9+ years of experience in grant management at the Mississippi State University. We're so happy to be a complete team again! 

And, we're so lucky to be at UNT with access to wonderful graduate student workers! Last semester Cami worked with us and this semester we have Mearl Colaco! She's a graduate student in Journalism and will be working on activities related to the MIECHV grant administration. She worked in public media in her native India where she trained young DJs for a community oriented radio station. I'm excited to put her blogging and journalistic credentials to work for HIPPY! Once she gets to know HIPPY better, I'm asking her to write a guest blog about her experiences with us. 

And a reminder - Keshia Bruno has been with us for over four years and provides support, training and technical assistance to our new and experienced HIPPY programs across the state. And then there's me, Carla Mowell, I can't believe I've been with HIPPY for going on 25 years!!! It's still fun and exciting to me, so I guess I'll stay a while :)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Ben Bernanke on Preschool Education

Ben Bernanke

Ben Bernanke is well known economist. His wife is a teacher and together they have two children. He is also a former school board member. Oh yeah, he's also the current chairman of the Federal Reserve, the central bank of the United States. Known as "The Fed", this group establishes the value of the U.S. dollar, and guides policy intended to provide the nation with a stable financial system. Heckuva responsibility, and you would think all he thinks about are interest rates, effects of unemployment, and regulatory questions. You may wonder, what does the Fed or Ben Bernanke have to do with Preschool Education?

Well, according to Bernanke, "Economically speaking, early childhood programs are a good investment, with inflation-adjusted annual rates of return on the funds dedicated to these programs estimated to reach 10 percent or higher. Very few alternative investments can promise that kind of return." Compare this to a typical investment fund, where a "good" return is around 7%. So, the lead economist of our nation confirms what we've always known, and puts it in dollars - investing in children is the best money we can spend, not only to the benefit of each child, but society as a whole. Here's how Ben Bernanke put it, "When individuals are denied opportunities to reach their maximum potential, it harms not only those individuals, of course, but also the larger economy, which depends vitally on having a skilled, productive workforce. As a result, we all have a stake in the essential work that you are doing for our children."

You can view his entire, short, address to the Children's Defense Fund here.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Parent Engagement and the Sandy Hook Tragedy

kid behind bars.jpg

(This is a stock photo I took off the internet to make a point.)

Today is a mere 3 months since the tragic killing of children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT. The initial reactions have simmered down and yet, it's left many parents and educators feeling unsettled and more concerned than ever about school safety. Furthermore, we as a society can't seem to agree on how to ensure it never happens again. I have worked on many school campuses and know that schools cannot become lock tight in terms of security unless we build, treat and resource them like prisons. 

One of our jobs in HIPPY is to help parents understand the importance of being involved in their child's education at home and at school. Through home visits and our 30 week curriculum we arm parents with the information and skills they need to prepare their child for school. Our ultimate goal is for parents to transition their involvement to the school setting once their child enters Kindergarten. Every week home visitors offer parents volunteer opportunities and ask  parents if they volunteered the prior week. We challenge every parent to volunteer a minimum of 20 hours per year - a reachable goal that many of them greatly exceed. While we are busy preparing, encouraging and challenging parents to become more involved, we are sending them into schools that may or may not have the infrastructure, support or atmosphere needed for parent involvement. Research has proven that parents' involvement at their child's school is indispensable to the child's education and a prison-like environment would greatly reduce that critically important involvement. 

I'm also concerned that schools should be places that allow children to not only be and feel safe but to also to guard children's innocence. Yet, a prison-like environment creates a sense of fear and insecurity that robs our children of their childhood. Expert advice on how to discuss the tragedy said among other things to "project stability and calmness in relation to the event." How do we balance age appropriate safety precautions, parent involvement and maintaining safety? 

I believe it benefits us to look at the airline industry (which has plenty of problems too) and how security has developed since the 9-11 attacks. This is what they've come up with: 

  • * A secure periphery (security gates)
  • * Anonymous spot checking (air marshals)
  • * Expedited screening for "trusted travelers" who submit to a pre-screening process
  • * A culture of alertness (travelers, employees, etc.)
I believe all four of these components could be integrated into our planning for school safety. School design and redesign could focus more on safety, the way that airport entrances and access points changed. Safety plans are only as good as their daily implementation - and just as we have fire and tornado drills, we should include safety drills and spot checks from authorized agents. Parents and volunteers already go through screening in most school districts, this along with a safe perimeter would increase safety - we cannot sacrifice parent involvement to our fear. And finally, safety is only as good as all of us are at keeping it and being alert and involved. With all these, and working together, we can make our schools safer without creating a prison setting for our children. 

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Preventing Child Abuse

One of the challenges of working in the field of prevention is figuring out how to "prove" that you've prevented bad things from happening. For example, how do you prove that you've prevented child abuse? A prevalent theory is that you can work to increase the "protective factors" in a child's life. These factors include family resilience, social support, knowledge of parenting and child development, concrete support in times of need and social and children's attachment. By valuing parents, supporting them in every day parenting, responding to family crises, as well as helping parents understand and support their child's growth and development, we can decrease the chances of child abuse or neglect. We piloted the Protective Factors survey in a group of new families to see how our services impacted families' ability to cope with stresses of family life. Results of the study showed that "HIPPY parents most at-risk for child abuse and neglect increased statistically significantly in multiple protective factors to prevent child abuse and neglect after their first year of participation". For more information on Texas HIPPY research check out the Center for Parent Education website. For definitions and data on child abuse, mandated reporting and the cost of abuse, check out our partner organization TexProtects. And please take a moment to watch compelling testimony from Madeline McClure of TexProtects to our House of Representatives.