Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson Honored with Alexander Award

Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson Honored with Alexander Award

Children’s Institute is pleased to honor Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson with the Alexander Award for her efforts to implement a universal preschool program in Multnomah County. The Preschool for All ballot measure, which passed in November, 2020 with the support of 64 percent of voters, was the culmination of nine months of work by a task force led by Commissioner Vega Pederson and including leaders from the public, private, and social sectors. CI will honor Commissioner Vega Pederson at a virtual event on October 12, 2021.

Preschool for All will provide free high-quality, developmentally appropriate, culturally responsive preschool experiences to 3- and 4-year-olds in Multnomah County. According to Commissioner Vega Pederson, “Preschool for All will create a preschool system that provides our children with the supportive, joyful learning environments they need to thrive, while alleviating a huge financial burden and barrier to participation in the workforce for families, and particularly for women.”

Commissioner Vega Pederson has a long history of successful advocacy and has served as County Commissioner since 2016. Her approach to offering free, high-quality preschool while also increasing wages for preschool teachers has received national attention as a potential model for the rest of the country. John Tapogna, CI’s board chair and the president of ECONorthwest, says, “Access to high-quality preschool can change the trajectory of a child’s life. Thanks to Jessica’s vision and hard work, all children in Multnomah County will have access to the early learning opportunities they need to thrive, in kindergarten and beyond.”

More about the Alexander Award

The Alexander Award is named for prominent Oregon leader Dick Alexander and was first awarded by Children’s Institute to Governor John Kitzhaber in 2013 for his work building Oregon’s early childhood system. Since then, the award has recognized individual leaders such as Ken Thrasher and Sue Miller and communities like Wallowa County for significant work to improve the lives of young children. Beyond honoring individual leaders and communities, the Alexander Award calls attention to the need for business and civic leaders to work together to build a system of programs and services to support children’s healthy development and school readiness in order to ensure Oregon’s future success.

Related Links

Multnomah County Commissioner Discusses Preschool for All

How an Oregon Measure for Universal Preschool Could Be a National Model

Preschool for All Report

Transforming Schools: Community Health Workers in Action

Transforming Schools: Community Health Workers in Action

The following is an excerpt from our new report, “Transforming Schools: Community Health Workers in Action,” written by Katia Riddle. Read the full report.

Ana Olmos was surprised one day in the winter of 2019 when a Community Health Worker (CHW) approached her in the office of the school her children attend, Earl Boyles Elementary, in order to learn about her family. After a few minutes chatting, the woman gently asked Olmos “What can I help you with?”

“That is a question,” says Olmos, “that people don’t usually ask.”

With four young children and two intermittent jobs between Olmos and her husband, the family struggles. Over the following months Lilya Yevseyeva would help Olmos get diapers, winter coats, food and even toothpaste. Beyond easing their family’s strain, says Olmos, Yevseyeva’s help provided another less tangible asset: real trust for a person at her children’s school, someone to whom she could reveal any challenge or problem.

Community Health Worker Report

It’s unusual for families and students to be able to access this kind of help through a school. Earl Boyles Elementary is part of a unique pilot program predicated on a body of research showing that a child’s mental health and academic success are directly related to the well-being of the entire family. A CHW such as Yevsevyva, based full-time at Earl Boyles Elementary, empowers the school to address a family’s comprehensive health needs.

“I think of all the flyers we give out—the robocalls, the texts, trying to reach families that may otherwise be isolated from the school,” says Earl Boyles Elementary Principal Ericka Guynes. “It’s just not the same as someone coming and knocking on the door and saying ‘How can I help you?’ ‘Can I get this prescription filled for you?’ ‘Can I take you to the doctor?’”

In addition to the full-time CHW, four volunteer community ambassadors work closely within the Earl Boyles community. Also trained in community health, these ambassadors help families navigate a range of challenges. Health care and access to it are a primary focus, but the list of stressors this team helps families triage and cope with includes children’s behavior issues, housing, trauma, abuse, incarceration, and undocumented immigration.

Nearly 75 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunch at Earl Boyles Elementary, and housing instability and food insecurity are also very high. With more than two dozen languages spoken in the Earl Boyles community, these health workers are a precious asset for reaching families in need.

“To be able to connect in Spanish, or Vietnamese, or Russian,” says Guynes, “it’s a high level of trust and power that we may otherwise never be able to get to.”

 

While community health work is a growing profession, most such workers are not working in an educational setting full-time, nor is there a well-established pathway to placing a CHW in a school, in Oregon or nationally. The process of establishing a full-time CHW and volunteer team of community ambassadors at Earl Boyles Elementary has spanned a number of years and demanded innovation. And while the program has been a success, its future is still precarious.
The purpose of this report is to demonstrate the significant power of such a program, as well as the challenges, learnings, and emerging best practices around it.

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