Early Works has Changed my Community

Early Works has Changed my Community

By Brian Berry, Yoncalla Superintendent; as told to Rafael Otto.

I’ve been working in the Yoncalla School District since 1996. I was a teacher first, then the high school and middle school principal, and now I’m the superintendent. Yoncalla is a small rural community in Northern Douglas County. We have approximately 300 students in preschool through 12th grade. Yoncalla is a farming community with rural conservative values, and it’s an absolutely awesome place to work.

Becoming the superintendent in Yoncalla meant I was part of Early Works — a Children’s Institute initiative that offers parenting education and engagement, professional development for teachers, support for families, and publicly funded preschool at our elementary school.


Early Works is a model for the state and it’s foundational for our community. Thanks to Early Works, every child in Yoncalla can attend preschool and the school is more connected to families. With this approach, we have seen reading scores go up, attendance has improved, and we now have a local health clinic. Working closely with Children’s Institute has enabled us to partner with parents and community members every step of the way, listening to them, recognizing them as experts in their own lives, and encouraging them to get involved.

For some of our parents, getting involved means traveling to Salem with Children’s Institute to talk with the Governor about what’s happening in our community. We have other parents who bring their toddlers to our play groups, attend parenting education classes, or share their ideas to improve our school at the Early Works meetings.

Early Works is truly a community initiative. I’ve walked into stores in Yoncalla and heard, “Love the things you guys are doing with the preschool!”

Our school board understands that the preschool drives everything we do in K-12, that we’re taking all the incredible things that are happening in the preschool and adapting them for elementary, middle, and high school. Our community is empowered. We’re changing the whole system.


Related Links

A Glimpse of How Yoncalla’s Youngest Learners Spend Their Day

Who’s in Charge of Student Success? In Yoncalla, It’s Everyone

Podcast: Empowering Community Members in Yoncalla Gets Results



The Early Childhood Coalition Gave me a Space to Speak as an Expert in Family Care

The Early Childhood Coalition Gave me a Space to Speak as an Expert in Family Care

By Zakkiyya Ibrahim, owner and director of Education Explorers, child care provider, and advocate; as told to Celeste Yager-Kandle.

In 2017 I opened Education Explorers, a high-quality, home-based early learning and out-of-school program in Washington County. Despite running a licensed  business for three years from my rental home, having an excellent rental history, no history of injuries, and no damage to the property or other issues, I received an ultimatum from my landlord: close my business or be evicted. Neither of these were options. I have many families that rely on Education Explorers for child care so they can work. My experience is not uncommon among providers operating out of rentals.

Finding another rental is difficult and not every rental property meets licensing requirements. When they do, there’s never a guarantee that the landlord will rent to someone who is looking to run a licensed child care business in the home, as there is significant bias against renting to child care providers.

I was frustrated by policies being created by people with no knowledge of child development and age appropriate practices, or had experience caring for children. When I was invited to participate in the Early Childhood Coalition to share my story and advocate for child care providers, I jumped at the opportunity. 


Working with Children’s Institute and the Early Childhood Coalition gave me a space to speak as an expert in family care and I was able to help shape priorities for the 2021 legislative session. This led to the proposal for House Bill 2484, a policy that focused on creating protections for renters to operate child care businesses from their homes. 

The Early Childhood Coalition is doing essential work to ensure that early childhood policies in Oregon support providers and ultimately, young children and families.

Because of Early Works, I Know my Voice Matters

Because of Early Works, I Know my Voice Matters

By Josette Herrera, Earl Boyles parent, advocate, and community ambassador; as told to Ashley Walker.

When my oldest children started school, I was not a “joiner.” I wasn’t involved. That just wasn’t me! But that all changed with the Early Works project, more than ten years ago now.

I first heard about Early Works from Andreina Velasco, who was Children’s Institute’s site liaison at Earl Boyles, where my kids went to school. She was running a program, two weeks of kindergarten readiness in the summer. My daughter went, and that’s how I met Andreina. She told me they were planning to go out into the community with surveys, asking parents what they wanted and needed for their kids. She wanted me to help.

I don’t know what it was about the way she talked to me, but I couldn’t say no! I was skeptical, but she kept telling me, “Come on, you can do it!”

And eventually I said, “Sure, why not?”


I’m thankful for that to this day, because being a part of everything that has happened at the school since then has been an awesome experience.

Things happen for a reason. There was a reason I was put in that situation to help at the school. 


I always wanted to be a bilingual interpreter and work in the hospitals. But because of my background, I would have had to work really, extra hard to get to that point. And if I had gone to school for that, I would owe a lot of money now!

But because of Early Works, I’ve had opportunities to do the kinds of work I’ve always wanted to be doing. I’ve been able to help people. I’ve become a community ambassador for the school, and trained as a community health worker. My whole job is to help our families. When they need clothing, housing assistance, utility assistance, anything… they know they can come to me. 

I’ve also been able to go to Salem and talk to our government about why preschool is important for our children, and how it should be available for all kids, whether they have money or not. When I first started doing that, of course I was nervous! And I’m always nervous when I go. But someone from Children’s Institute — Elena, Dana, Marina — is always there for us parents, telling us, “Just say how you feel. Tell them what you know.” 



The team at CI is awesome. They’ve been, always, a lot of support to us. They know that our voices should matter in what’s going to happen for our children, and with their future. 

My kids are no longer at Earl Boyles. They’re older now. But I’m not going anywhere! There’s so many kids at the school that know me. They see me in the neighborhood and say, “Oh my god, there’s our teacher!” And, I’m not a teacher. But to them, that’s how they see me.


Related Links

Ten Years of Early Works at Earl Boyles

Transforming Schools: Community Health Workers in Action

Podcast: Parent Advocacy, SB 236, and Changing the Way we Talk About Children

From CAP: Build Back Better Act Will Allow Parents to Choose Faith-Based Child Care and Pre-K

From CAP: Build Back Better Act Will Allow Parents to Choose Faith-Based Child Care and Pre-K

This article was published by the Center for American Progress, and written by Rasheed Malik.

Despite claims to the contrary, the Build Back Better Act envisions

an important role for faith-based child care providers.


In a recent letter to Congress, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) highlighted some of their policy positions for lawmakers, offering what they called “moral principles for consideration.” This was not unusual, as the organization has frequently penned letters to Congress when legislation has been prepared or debated. What did stand out in this case, however, was a curious subsection suggesting that the Build Back Better Act’s expansion of child care and pre-K would somehow exclude faith-based child care providers.

The authors of the letter are concerned with what they interpret as two separate, but related, issues: 1) that faith-based child care providers would be considered “recipients of federal financial assistance” and thus, among other things, not able to teach religious curricula; and 2) that faith-based providers would be subject to what the authors refer to as “new and troubling compliance obligations.” Fortunately, this interpretation of the bill is not correct.

It would be shocking if policymakers implemented design choices that burdened faith-based providers, as faith-based child care is a vitally important part of the current child care system. A 2020 survey found that approximately 16 percent of working-parent households enrolled their children in center-based care affiliated with a faith organization. That’s why the Build Back Better Act has language that explicitly includes subsidies for faith-based programs: “Nothing shall preclude the use of such certificates for sectarian child care services if freely chosen by the parent.” Any licensed faith-based provider will be eligible to participate in the new child care program, just as they are under current policy.

Some other important facts regarding participation include the following:

  • Child care dollars from the Build Back Better Act would count as indirect federal financial assistance, just as under current child care policy. Faith-based programs would be able to participate in the same way as any other child care provider.
  • Faith-based providers would be able to participate in both the child care and the mixed-delivery pre-K program.
  • Faith-based providers would still be able to teach religious curricula, as the Build Back Better Act does not dictate curricula.
  • Faith-based providers would be eligible for facilities grants to expand or improve their classrooms or play areas; the only limitation is that funds cannot be used for facilities that are primarily for sectarian instruction or religious worship. For example, renovating a sanctuary would not be allowed, but building a playground would be. Many religious institutions celebrate these stipulations as allowing them to still participate in federal programs without infringing upon the separation of church and state.

The “new and troubling compliance obligations” that the USCCB mentions are also based on an inaccurate interpretation of the legislation. It is not entirely clear what this phrase refers to, but the news media has interpreted it to mean the nondiscrimination provisions cited in the bill. The language in the bill, however, is similar to existing nondiscrimination provisions with which faith-based providers already comply. The Build Back Better Act does not require them to meet any additional compliance obligations or to make any changes to the religious tenets of their programs. The bill also cites existing federal civil rights laws rather than creating new mandates, so faith-based providers would remain eligible for existing religious exemptions from certain federal anti-discrimination laws. For example, faith-based providers would not be required to build new entrances or become fully ADA compliant, as some critics of the bill have suggested.

Children's Institute

Equitably expanding access to child care does not conflict with the mission of faith-based child care providers.


Existing nondiscrimination statutes serve to ensure that all eligible children and their families can access child care without discrimination based on race, sex, disability, and religion or belief. This is squarely in line with one of the primary goals of the Build Back Better Act: to increase child care access for children and families that have been historically excluded. It is also squarely in line with the goals of religious organizations, which have long expressed similar moral cases for helping children and families.

One of the communities for which the Build Back Better Act’s child care provisions specifically intend to expand access is the disability community. 1 in 8 children ages 3 to 5 enrolled in early education programs have some significant disability or developmental delay, and families with disabled children face significant barriers to accessing affordable child care. In a 2016 Early Childhood Program Participation Survey (ECPP), 1 in 3 parents of disabled children reported facing “at least some difficulty finding care.” Parents of disabled children report job disruptions at three times the rate of parents of nondisabled children. The Build Back Better Act provides opportunities to increase worker wages and training to ensure that child care providers can provide developmentally appropriate care to all children, including disabled children. Faith-based child care providers should view this as an opportunity to expand care to some of the most underserved members of their communities.

Faith-based child care providers engage in their work because they believe in caring for children and families. They provide a lifeline of support to young parents, supportive community relationships, and care environments that may reflect families’ values and practices. It is frankly unimaginable that any faith-based child care provider would be interested in turning a child away because of a disability—and yet, this is one of the key provisions from which these groups purportedly seek to be newly exempted. Similarly, it is in direct conflict with the mission of most child care providers to turn a child away because of their race, sex, religion, or any other protected characteristics.

The Union for Reform Judaism, which maintains a network of 275 early childhood education centers across the country, has expressly called on Congress to pass the child care provisions of the Build Back Better Act, including its nondiscrimination provisions: “[T]axpayer funds should never be used to discriminate within government-supported programs. … No one should be denied access to federally funded childcare and education programs because of their religion or identity.” The Union for Reform Judaism is among numerous, diverse religious organizations that have voiced strong support for the Build Back Better Act, including and especially its child care provisions.

Finally, an accessible child care system must take into account that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, same-sex couples with children are more likely than different-sex couples to have both partners working. Unfortunately, LGBTQI+ people and their families face widespread discrimination, with more than 1 in 3 reporting facing discrimination in the year prior, according to a 2020 Center for American Progress survey. Nearly 20 percent of LGBTQI+ people reported not seeking out services that they or their families needed in an attempt to avoid the trauma of discrimination. The Build Back Better Act’s investments in child care and universal pre-K are extremely important for ensuring that all families, including LGBTQI+ families, can access child care.




The Build Back Better Act’s transformational investments in child care and universal pre-K are focused on expanding supply so that parents have more quality child care options. For many families, this will mean finding a faith-based provider that represents the values they seek to instill in their children. For generations, faith-based organizations have played an important role in the care and early education of children. The Build Back Better Act is designed to leverage their role so that all families can find the child care options that are right for them.

The author would like to thank Mia Ives-Rublee, Maggie Siddiqi, Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons, and Sharita Gruberg for their immense contributions to the analysis of the legislative text and the writing of this column.  

No Such Thing as a Bad Preschooler: Dalia Avello on Senate Bill 236 and the Dangers of Misrepresentation in Early Childhood

No Such Thing as a Bad Preschooler: Dalia Avello on Senate Bill 236 and the Dangers of Misrepresentation in Early Childhood

Dalia Avello, MA, IMH-E, serves on the board of Directors of the Oregon Montessori Association. She trained as a psychologist, is a certified Montessori teacher, has expertise in the education and international development fields, and has the Endorsement® certification at the mentor level in infant mental health – policy. She has led her career internationally, but has called Oregon home since 2014. 


There is No Such Thing as a Bad Preschooler

During this legislative session, and after witnessing the misrepresentation of children overtly discussed in such an important public forum, I was compelled to testify in support of Senate Bill 236. The language used during public testimony and by elected officials during the legislative hearings was disheartening to hear. It is both inaccurate and dangerous to depict preschool children as conniving and aggressive beings.

Although SB 236 is designed around support for providers, it will ultimately protect children. 

Being part of the only country in the world that has not ratified the Convention on Children’s Rights, Oregon now has the opportunity to demonstrate that it is not afraid of acting to solve an issue that is long overdue. 

During my testimony, I considered it necessary to state for the record, that when we are using the word “children,” we are talking about toddlers and little children—children who have been alive less than 1,800 days, whose physical and socioemotional development is highly dependent on the adults in their lives, and whose brains have more than 20 years left to fully mature.

During the hearings, I identified four troubling themes:

1) The representation of children experiencing behavioral issues as “bad and violent.” 

These “out of control” children bully, target, taunt, hit, bite and are overall mean to others. From a developmental perspective, I can tell you with confidence that there is no such thing as a bad preschooler. Children will typically have antisocial behaviors. They will act up if they are frustrated, angry or in pain. Just like adults, children that have suffered trauma, or are experiencing distress, need a way to express the pain they feel. Because they are little, they will express this in the only way they can. We should expect children to have these antisocial behaviors in the same way that we should expect adults to have grown out of them. Instead of referring to preschoolers as “bad and violent,” I propose we talk instead about children with behaviors that are expressing a need for help, support or love.

2) The idea that in spite of providers’ noble intentions and vast experience, they do not have the capacity to serve these “bad children.”

The implication is that expulsion and suspension are the only way of protecting the rest of the students, as well as their own wellbeing. I question the professional tools these providers use daily in their work. A child who is suspended or expelled due to limited self-regulation skills, tells me that the caregivers don’t have the experience and training needed to be helpful and nurturing in that situation. The strategies we use with children who don’t have distressing behaviors are not the same ones we turn to when we have a child who does, and is expressing a cry for help.  This change is part of a process, and requires time, which is why SB 236 establishes a coaching relationship and not a one time training. Childcare providers wanting to be successful with all their students need the practice and support included in this bill to get them there.

3) The argument that children with disabilities, or with externalizing behaviors that are derived from neurodiversity, have needs that some providers could not fulfill.

It was argued that this gap between needs and means was a valid reason to exclude them. Not only are these situations illegal under the ADA, but also part of a vicious cycle. In this cycle, rejected children learn that they are “damaged goods”. The providers want to send children to another program that “will serve them better,” even though such a program may not exist or be accessible to that family. Their classmates then learn that children who struggle are not deserving, while being robbed of the opportunity to learn compassion and tolerance.And thus, adult professionals and young Oregonians alike cannot learn that neurodiversity has positive elements, and that we need all kinds of brains to move the world forward.

4) In spite of comments asserting that preschool suspension and expulsion are behavioral and not racial problems, the numbers don’t lie.

I know this is an uncomfortable topic to bring up here in Oregon, but avoiding it and pretending won’t make it go away. The more you deflect and gingerly walk around an issue, the more evident it becomes for those around you.

These misleading representations of children cannot hide the fact that SB 236 considers support for all providers, even those who think it’s easier to avoid than to work through a problem. It develops a system, provides useful information, clarifies key terms, and gives everyone 5 years to practice these new skills and strategies—a greater and longer opportunity to improve than what adults have given some little children to heal. 

I hope that the way that we speak about and treat babies and young children will change; this bill brings possibilities for both children and teachers to blossom together.


Senate Bill 236 would reduce/eliminate suspension and expulsion in early care and education programs. With leadership from Black Child Development-PDX, this bill is part of the Early Childhood Coalition’s (ECC) 2021 legislative agenda.


Pin It on Pinterest