Schools Push for Equity Against Forces of Pandemic

Schools Push for Equity Against Forces of Pandemic

After the pandemic closed Oregon schools this spring, teacher Nicole Odom and her assistants at McKay Elementary in Beaverton depended on parental help to remotely teach their preschoolers.

They prepared video lessons, learning activities, songs and Zoom sessions, all of which required help from parents. Some parents, however, worked outside the home, and only half of the 36 students in Odom’s two half-day classes showed up for Zoom video sessions.

“There were kids we would see or not see on Zoom,” she says. Her team looked for other ways to reach students who didn’t show. But whatever they did required parental help.

“Many parents were dealing with jobs, both remotely or in person, as well as many other significant challenges,” she says.

One of the powers of preschool is to reduce inequalities and prevent an achievement gap between less advantaged children and those with more support. The pandemic, however, is forcing preschoolers to get some or all of their learning at home, where learning opportunities are unequal, says Steven Barnett, co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) in New Jersey.

“The pandemic has thrown us backwards,” he told reporters in a July webinar organized by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center for Health Journalism.

Among the scores of challenges facing schools as they open in a pandemic this fall is how to ensure all children get an equal shot at quality education, no matter their zip code, race or household wealth. State guidelines require schools to make their back-to-school plans through an “equity lens” with heightened attention to disadvantaged students.

COVID-19 already has put children of color and low-income homes at a disadvantage by disproportionately infecting their parents, who are more likely to work in risky jobs such as driving buses, processing food or caring for the elderly, says Colt Gill, director of the Oregon Department of Education.

“That’s another trauma that some children are going through that others are not,” he says.

Social interaction vital

Eighty-five percent of the parents in the small Yoncalla School District 45 miles south of Eugene want to send their children back to school this fall. District leaders want that too, says Superintendent Brian Berry, but if virus cases continue to climb in Douglas County, it may have to open with distance learning. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has declared schools must not allow students into classrooms until the statewide positive COVID-19 testing rate is at or below 5 percent for three weeks in a row.

Megan Barber, Yoncalla Elementary’s preschool teacher, is making plans to teach her students in person, possibly in smaller groups. She may wear a mask, keep students distanced, clean thoroughly and take other precautions.

If she must teach them remotely, she’ll face bigger challenges. Low-income parents, a majority in Yoncalla and many Oregon districts, often are single and working outside their homes. They cannot always help teachers provide young children lessons, activities and vital social interaction. Some lack adequate computers and internet connections.

More affluent parents, on the other hand, are more often able to work at home and help teach their children. Some groups of parents this summer already have teamed up to hire tutors who will teach their children in what they’re calling pandemic pods.

A nationwide survey by NIEER shows these home inequities played out among preschoolers last spring. Efforts to serve preschool children were “a disaster,” says Barnett. “No one was prepared.”

The survey of a representative sample of 1,000 parents showed that while most of their 3-to-5 year old children received some remote educational support when schools closed, less than half continued to do so within two months. Of those who did continue, most participated less than once a week in preschool activities.

What’s more, most young children with disabilities experienced loss of services required by their Individual Education Plans, Barnett says.

Darcy Jeffs and Kevin Wolpoff’s son, Miles. Special education students like Miles, who is autistic, are facing additional barriers to learning due to the pandemic. 

Darcy Jeffs and Kevin Wolpoff live in Florence on Oregon’s coast, where Darcy can be at home for their son, Miles. But Miles, 6, is autistic and needs services harder to get in a pandemic.

Before COVID-19 arrived, the parents sent Miles to The Child Center, a non-profit in Eugene, for highly specialized therapy six hours a day, five days a week. The pandemic reduced that comprehensive schedule to six hours of distance teletherapy per week. Jeffs received training to help fill the gaps with home strategies.  Still, she says, “Without in-person access to his prescribed schedule, we were experiencing setbacks.”

Now the couple, like most parents, is weighing what to do this fall. They hoped to send Miles to kindergarten with a Child Center therapist, but the public school districts in their area will not allow that. Besides, most plan only distance learning. Miles will return to The Child Center late August, and one private school that plans to physically open might have room for him and his therapist. But these options risk exposing him to the virus.

“There are no easy decisions,” says Jeffs. “We face a health risk on either side. Do we risk exposure or losing access to a very necessary therapy for our son?”

After schools shut down in Drain, a small town near Yoncalla, Jessilyn and Nathan Whiteman received no special education services for their son, Christopher, who has autism spectrum disorder. A private speech therapist in Eugene provided Christopher some service on Zoom. The Whitemans hope Christopher can attend kindergarten in person this fall.

“Christopher is already behind,” says Whiteman, “and we are doing what we can at home. But he needs help from a special education teacher. When his academics are behind it also affects him socially and emotionally.”

Losing ground

Ericka Guynes, principal at Earl Boyles Elementary in Southeast Portland, is concerned her youngest students already have lost ground after the spring closure.

“It is possible they may have lost a year of learning,” Guynes says.

Earl Boyles offers half-day public preschool classes that enroll a total 102 children and, along with Yoncalla Elementary, is a partner in the Children’s Institute’s Early Works program.

Another inequity is inherent in Oregon’s patchwork of early education programs, which have never been open to all children. The state’s public preschool programs and the federal Head Start programs serve less than two thirds of the low-income children who qualify. And private programs have become increasingly out of reach for low- and middle-income families. The state provides child care subsidies for only 15 percent of the low-income families that qualify. Parents pay for 72 percent of all funding for early care and education and thousands of them have lost their jobs because of the pandemic.

COVID-19 has “exposed a fundamental and underlying challenge of the financial mechanism for supporting early childhood education,” says David Mandell, policy and research director for the Oregon Early Learning Division.

So even if Oregon’s preschools are able to open this fall, they will open only for a fraction of the state’s 3- and 4-year-olds. And if those students are taught remotely, the quality of their education will be lower, says Barnett, with learning losses “much deeper in things like language, math and social/emotional development.”  This deficit could have negative effects on children through life, he says.

Early education has a “profound impact on children’s development and their acquisition of social-emotional, language and cognitive skills, all of which are critical to their school and life success,” says an Early Learning Division report to the Oregon Legislature last December.

Reducing inequities

Oregon state guidelines emphasize schools must keep all students from falling behind whether they are disabled, learning English, homeless, in foster care, living in poverty or with parents who must leave home to work.

“It is not enough to make statements about equity without following those statements with concrete actions,” the guidelines say. The state recommends schools train staff on culturally responsive, anti-bias teaching; hire more diverse teachers; provide more individualized and project-based instruction; and help diverse students connect across cultures. Schools are urged to explicitly address systemic racial injustice exposed by the nation’s massive Black Lives Matter movement.

“Create learning opportunities that address white privilege and the dismantling of white supremacy,” the state says.

Education leaders say they will work to get more resources and support to the children who need it most. The state, for example, needs to steer emergency federal money for child care support to low-income communities where it always has been scarce, says Mandell. Oregon’s 275,000 children under six comprise its most diverse population sector, with one in four speaking a language other than English at home.

The Legislature created the Early Childhood Equity Fund last year to provide about $10 million a year in grants for parenting education, early literacy, native language preservation and other programs aimed at closing opportunity gaps for historically underserved families.

Many districts, including Beaverton, acted last spring to close digital divides by providing computers and WiFi hot spots to families without Internet connections. Salem School District teachers connected with 95 percent of their students through distance learning, says Gill.

ode pandemic equity guidance

ODE’s companion guidance on equity works with districts, in part, to align federal and state requirements for the education of students furthest from opportunity. (Click image to view)

The federal government has given Oregon schools $115 million in pandemic relief money through the Cares Act, and they can use that money for distance learning technology. The state also received another $28 million to improve remote connections with computers, broadband and adult training.

Schools also can use their Cares Act money to sanitize facilities, organize long-term closures, and reduce inequities for children who are disabled, in low-income or minority households, English learners, homeless or in foster care.

Some districts are exploring ways to bring their youngest children in grades two and below into school a few times a week for socializing and “short bursts of instruction around numeracy and literacy,” says Gill. 

Educators also may need to provide at least some services to children with disabilities in person. Schools will need to determine what can be provided online and what must be provided one-on-one, says Guynes, principal of Earl Boyles. 

In its latest version of guidelines, released last week, the state told districts that they should prioritize in-person instruction for special education students, English language learners and other groups, even if county-wide cases are not low enough to allow a return for all students to the classroom.

Beaverton School District wants to address disparities resulting from race, poverty, language and other barriers, says Superintendent Don Grotting.

“We’re trying to look through our equity lens and make sure we come through with plans to address disparities.” Under COVID-19, he adds, those disparities are “growing wider and wider.”

Kindergarten Readiness Programs Support Equity, May Lose Funding

Kindergarten Readiness Programs Support Equity, May Lose Funding

In Oregon, Kindergarten Readiness Partnership and Innovation Grants (KPI) fund a diverse range of programming that supports early school readiness and family engagement, as well as professional development for early childhood and early grades educators. Data shows that KPI programs are especially impactful for children and families from historically underrepresented communities.

-But as COVID-19 began working its way through the state in March and state budget projections have plummeted in its wake, those who work on behalf of young children are facing a challenging new reality: some KPI programs may not have the funding to continue.

That’s unfortunate for thousands of kids and families who benefit from such programs and contrary to the equity goals that the state has laid out for itself. Spanish-speaking children and families are among the historically underrepresented communities that have benefited most from KPI programming.

“We rely on KPI funds to provide a number of our culturally specific early learning and parent engagement programs,” says Sadie Feibel, early childhood director at Latino Network. “These programs are critical for supporting Latinx children and their parents to become confident learners and engaged advocates in our schools.”

On a scale of 1 [definitely disagree] to 5 [definitely agree] all families surveyed reported increased benefits of participating in KPI-funded family engagement programming, but Latinx families showed the greatest levels of growth across a range of school readiness indicators. Source: Early Learning Division, Kindergarten Readiness Partnership & Innovation Grants, Outcomes Survey Summary, 2018

A Systems-Change Strategy, Embedded with Equity

KPI’s vulnerability in the budget may partly be due to the fact that it’s part of a larger effort to drive systems change in early education and early grades learning.

Improving the alignment between what have traditionally been two separate systems of care and support for children and families is the overarching goal of “P-3,” or prenatal to third grade work.  That shift in thinking and approach is a key strategy for closing opportunity and achievement gaps.

“We know that opportunity gaps are evident before children ever step foot in a kindergarten classroom,” says Brooke Chilton-Timmons, early learning coordinator for Multnomah County’s SUN Service System. “So the work to address them really needs to begin much earlier than age 5, and to be truly effective and lasting, it needs to be woven into other supports in the early health and social service sectors.”

Molly Day, director of Multnomah County’s early learning hub, worries that because KPI-funded programming is so innovative, that the big picture, long-term benefits can be hard for some to grasp. She fears that the positive momentum gained over the last seven years of the program will be lost if funding is interrupted.

For those struggling to understand the nuance and complexity of this multi-system, multi-pronged approach, she offers a simple distillation: “KPI work is equity work.” 

Nurturing Family Engagement in Multnomah County

Chau Hunyh, a former P-3 coordinator with the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO) worked at Lincoln Elementary in the David Douglas School District. The surrounding neighborhood includes a number of Bhutanese and Nepalese refugee families.

Hunyh served as an important cultural broker between families, the school, and the community, hosting relationship-building parent education events and by connecting families to available food, health, and other resources. She is particularly proud of her work with two Bhutanese parents who are deaf. She was able to connect them to interpretation and other assistance that gave them the confidence to converse with school staff and participate in school-based activities and events like a play and learn group and Bingo night.

Prior to Hunyh’s involvement, no Bhutanese families had registered for a SUN after school program or for summer program opportunities. Afterwards, ten families signed up.

Photo Courtesy of Youth and Family Services Division, SUN Service System, Multnomah County

The work of P-3 coordinators often goes beyond supporting kindergarten readiness, as parent Charmaine Worthy shared in a letter she wrote about Ventura Park Elementary’s P-3 coordinator, Jacqui MacDougal. It reads in part: 

“Jacqui expertly led a week-long program that built a great foundation for those lucky kids – from familiarizing them with their new school environment, to practicing the routines and expectations that their kindergarten teachers would have of them in the weeks to come.

[Her work] has been especially meaningful to us because of financial challenges we’ve experienced in the last few years. From [connections to resources like] Backpack Buddies to food pantries and food boxes offered to us, Jacqui has been a dependable source of comfort, encouragement, and relief at times when we did not have the means to fully provide for ourselves.

We are humbled by the kindness and respect that she has always treated us with. We are so grateful for “Ms Jacqui” and the tireless work that she does for the Ventura Park community.”

From Participants to Parent Leaders 

“P-3 work not only benefits families who receive services, but it also empowers the parents to serve as leaders and advocates for their own communities, from within their own communities,” said Mani Xaybanha, a program specialist for Multnomah County’s SUN Service System.

Xaybanha notes that four former P-3 program participants are now serving as P-3 coordinators in elementary schools. 

“The impact those parents have is amazing,” she said. 

Learn more about the power of parent leadership in this story from our Early Childhood Coalition partner, the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO). (Click image to view)

Podcast: BLM Organizer La Mikia Castillo on Systemic Change and Dismantling Racism

Podcast: BLM Organizer La Mikia Castillo on Systemic Change and Dismantling Racism

Early Link Podcast Episode 21

In this week’s episode, host Rafael Otto talks with La Mikia Castillo, a Black Lives Matter activist and community organizer, about what it looks like to dismantle systemic racism.  

Guest

La Mikia Castillo is an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California Sol Price School of Public Policy, a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant and an organizer with Black Lives Matter, Los Angeles.

Summary

Castillo clarifies the message around defunding the police and shares how we can start to reimagine a new idea of safety. She also explains the ways in which systemic racism has impacted the health and education of Black children and children of color and what it will take to see real change in these institutions. Finally, Castillo shares her idea of what a world free of racism would look like for her and her son.

Resources:

Please visit our Racial Equity Resources for Early Childhood page for more information on racial justice and equity issues that connect to early childhood. It is not comprehensive, but will be updated regularly.

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Your tax deductible contribution of any amount allows us to continue our outreach to communities across Oregon impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Every dollar counts! 

Racial and Economic Injustice Persists; Our Actions Must Make a Difference

Racial and Economic Injustice Persists; Our Actions Must Make a Difference

A statement from Swati Adarkar, President and CEO, and Rafael Otto, Director of Communications.

We are heartbroken by the recent loss of life in cities across America and our failure to uphold a society based on racial and economic justice.

The reasons for fury, disbelief, grief, and destruction across the country in recent days are many. Among them: the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor.

The excruciating video of a police officer slowly taking the life of George Floyd is another painful reminder of the experience that being Black in America is laced with fear and the threat of violence. During the COVID-19 crisis, it also exacerbates the pain and economic hardship experienced by the Black community. Historical trauma, institutionalized racism, and structural discrimination continue to hold America back from making real progress.

The evidence supports this. Our systems need reform, including law enforcement, health, and education. We can see that they do exactly what they are designed to do. They reinforce inequality, poor health outcomes, opportunity and achievement gaps, socioeconomic disparities, poverty, and structural bias.

It is time for our elected leaders and policymakers to act boldly and change the course of history. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us, silence is a form of betrayal.

In the work ahead, we must recognize that we still live in a divided America. Prosperity and opportunity are not available equitably. Disparities continue to grow. More children are living in poverty, and the basic rights of low-wage workers and families are largely being ignored.

As advocates, we will not stand by and watch in silence. We must do much more to lift up the needs of Black children and the thousands of other vulnerable children, families, and communities in the work we do, the policies we shape, and the vision we hold for a more equitable Oregon. We know that to level the playing field we must prioritize the needs of children of color, children experiencing poverty, English language learners, children with disabilities and developmental delays, children who are immigrants and refugees, children in geographically isolated communities, children in foster care, and children experiencing unstable housing.

At present, young children in Oregon are more racially and ethnically diverse than adults. We must work harder than ever to ensure that they grow up in a world that values their lives and creates the conditions for them to thrive.

We must build alliances and recommit to transforming our state and our society.

Your voice — our voices ­— are important. So are our actions and our votes.

We can and will make a difference, as individuals, as an organization, and as partners in the protracted struggle for justice, equality, and human rights.

 

 

 

Podcast: How Culturally Specific COVID-19 Liaisons Are Reaching Communities

Podcast: How Culturally Specific COVID-19 Liaisons Are Reaching Communities

 

In this week’s episode, host Rafael Otto talks with Regina Ingabire and Virginia Luka about their role as culturally specific COVID-19 liaisons.

Guests:

Regina Ingabire is a Community Outreach Manager at the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management (PBEM). She leads public engagement initiatives focusing on disaster risk awareness, community resilience, and household preparedness in historically underserved communities.

Virginia Luka is a Program Specialist for the Pacific Islander Community at the Multnomah County Health Department. Her research experience includes Pacific Islander culture and history, with a focus on Micronesia.

Summary:

Regina Ingabire and Virginia Luka share what it means to be a culturally specific COVID-19 liaisons and the importance of considering culturally specific needs during this time. They also discuss why accurate demographic data collection matters, and how they are focusing on building community resilience.

The Multnomah County Health Department has a dedicated COVID-19 resource and information page available here. 

Transcript has been edited for clarity and length
Rafael Otto:  I know that you have your roles with the Portland Bureau and the Multnomah County Health Department, but you’re also serving as culturally specific COVID-19 liaisons. Can you tell me what that means? Regina, could you start for us?

Regina Ingabire: This role – culturally specific COVID-19 liaison ­– was created at the Multnomah County Emergency Operations Center at the beginning of March. The goal was making sure that we can be point of contact for culturally specific organizations and individuals to make sure that we are sending updated information because as you know, information was changing really fast. Those culturally specific organizations kind of surveyed back information to us, what they’re hearing from the communities, their concerns.

Rafael Otto: Virginia, what does that look like for you?

Virginia Luca: Yeah, I’m, before I share, I also want to acknowledge that Beth Poteet is the third liaison that we have. So I wanted to give a special shout out to her.

Other than checking emails and responding to folks, the biggest share that I do is the communities of color, COVID-19 partner call. That happens every Thursday in which we have about 116 folks from the community come in to share resources, catch up on what people are doing and trying to find out what is the best ways that we can help our community members. Which, of course, when we hear feedback, then we have to do something with it, right?

We have to pass it on to whoever it needs to go to. We have to find out why isn’t it being done already. Is there already a system that’s doing it? So there’s a lot of untangling that happens. There’s a lot of background information that happens and because we’re trying to do this work from our position in a larger model, always trying to understand the system and making sure that we are honoring the community voice and we’re honoring the community for what they’re needing. What can we do to uplift their voice and their needs from their standpoint.

Rafael Otto:  Could you talk about key priorities, needs and challenges within communities that you’re working with? What are you seeing? 

Virginia Luca: Before I was on this cultural liaison work, I was doing Pacific Islander-specific research and community engagement. I feel like I can speak pretty clearly about the Pacific Islander need in Multnomah County and Oregon. Even before COVID-19 happened, we already had our disparities. We already had lots of things in our community that they we were not having access to that were, where there were barriers.  COVID-19 just made things even worse.

The way we collect data does not help everybody because we don’t disaggregate in a way that is informative for our specific communities.

It isn’t easy to just go to a website and find out how many people, Pacific Islander communities have COVID-19 and Multnomah County, Yamhill, Clackamas, Marion, because each county has its own separate way of collecting things and sharing it out.

It’s hard to tell the story of the community if we don’t have the data to back it up. And vice versa. So many times we, I’m hearing things from my community that is not being reflected in the data

It’s our responsibility to make sure that the stories are uplifted-the story and the data need to work together.

Rafael Otto: Regina, what are you seeing?

As Virginia states, it’s true, for most of these communities, the coronavirus made things worse in so many ways. People are finding hard time getting food into their homes and also there is a lack resources to help their children continue their education at home. As most of education right now is online, parents who don’t have the technological savvy to know how to support their children, and some parents cannot read or write themselves.

So now you can imagine that in the long-term, the impact it’s going to have on the children when the schools are back in the fall. We try our best to connect [communities] to existing resources and the school districts they are coming from but still there are challenges there. And the challenges we hear from the community is how to take care of someone who has COVID-19 at home. Some of these communities could be living in a small space, a small house or apartment. How do you make sure they are taking some care of someone without exposing the rest of the family members? The challenge is real. We’re doing our best.

Rafael Otto: The needs are many out there. I would also imagine that in some cases there’s, from the health perspective, there’s a language need. How are you thinking about that? Virginia, I know you touched on sort of that systems view. What does that look like? 

Virginia Luka: One thing that we struggled in in the beginning was we have all of the messages usually come out in English right? Automatically. And then, you know, people deciding, well, what other languages should we advocate for this, you know, message to be translated into and having to advocate for Pacific Islander languages.  People might not even realize that we have a large Chuukese population, a large Marshallese population.

Normally only people who are doing work in that community know what the language access is.  And kind of showing people that when we do translations, it’s not a word for word. You can’t just give me something in English and have it translated word for word into a Palauan language – that’s, that’s my ethnic group, my mom’s from the Island of Palau.­

There has to be this back and forth communication of, “What are you trying to convey? What are you actually trying to have people do?” And then from a cultural perspective of what other underlying things do I have to point out that maybe in an English form you’re kind of reading between the lines already. And having to know what culturally specific way do you need to convey this information cause it’s not just enough to tell people to wear a face mask. You know you have to also say things like, you know, it’s not a good idea to share the face mask. This is how you should take care of the face mask.

You have to be very specific and try to think of ways that our communities, our immigrants and refugees are going to take that information, even in their language, how they’re going to compute that information. At the end of the day, we want them to be safe and secure. What is it that we have to say to make sure that is understood?

For my community, the Pacific Islander community, some of these directives don’t work for multigenerational households. For example, I have a friend who lives in a house with 12 people and two bathrooms, three bedrooms. So, you can’t tell people to self-isolate, be in your own room. We are still taking care of children. We’re still taking care of our elders. My 80-year-old mother lives with me.

When I read a directive, I have to say, well, this doesn’t really work for my community. This doesn’t work for my own household. Right? You’re asking [people] to do something that I can’t even do my own home. So constantly thinking about what are ways that our messaging has to be community informed and community driven and even community created. It should start with the community because it’s for the community.

Rafael Otto: That makes a lot of sense. Regina, do you have comments on that?

Yeah, just to touch base on what Virginia said, it’s true. We try our best to translate information into different languages to make sure that I can reach the wider audience. I’ll give you a quick example. We created a poster which had information about how to stay safe and also created videos. We then translated those into 37 languages. That was a very successful project in terms of reaching out to the communities. However, as Virginia said that when you translate a message from English to a different language, there’s likely a piece that is missing. So you need to elaborate.

Information moves really fast. It’s evolving every day and sometimes no matter how much we try there is a delay because we can’t keep up with all the information coming out. New guidelines are coming back every day and we try our best. Each day we send information out to our community contacts. We have about 1,400 contacts or even more, and we ask those community members to share that messaging directly with their community members and maybe translate where it’s possible.

Rafael Otto: Have you seen the need to be addressing myths or questions around COVID-19? I know that things that have been circulating, like certain foods will prevent it or certain people are immune from it. Those kinds of things. What are you seeing along those lines and how are people, like, what’s the efficient form of communication for communities? How are they sharing that, those kinds of things?

Virginia Luka: I was on a Zoom call, I think it was two days ago, and one person said like, I heard that it’s caused by 5G.

That the 5G network is the reason why we have COVID-19. I remember saying we need to use true information, real evidence from people that we trust, people who do this for a living, you know, researchers, scientists, we need to make sure that when these things come up, that we are saying something.

I know that one way a lot of these myths are shared are through social media. I’m not huge on social media myself, but I definitely have had people tell me things like, “Oh my gosh, this, did you hear this?”

I’m like, please do not spread this information because you’re actually harming our community by, by spreading these things that are not true. Let us focus on things that are true, that are evidence-based, that are from reliable sources. I just try to tell people to question. Where did you get that? Where did you hear that? That we have this other narrative that I do believe and if you can help me spread that, that would be great.

Rafael Otto: Regina, what kind of things are you hearing?

 

Regina Ingabire: I heard from the East African community of immigrants and refugees a myth that this is another form of Ebola. So to be able to say that this is not Ebola, this is coronavirus, they have different symptoms. This one is actually spreading really fast. Just to make sure that we’re providing a sense of calm, really providing information that’s needed. It’s always important to debunk that myth as soon as possible because that person can influence the community too.

Rafael Otto: That can be such a tough process because those kinds of things arise really quickly. How do you stay on top of all of those different kinds of messages?

Regina Ingabire: I found out working directly with the community partners, it helps us to be able to reach out to community members and communicate information as soon as possible. Otherwise, we just rely on our other ways of disseminating information to the people, you will be too late. But these culturally specific community leaders are very key in terms of getting information out and back to us to like, this is what we’re hearing, how can we make sure that our community is getting the right information right away.

Rafael Otto: How are you thinking about building community resilience in these times?

Virginia Luka: How I see it is reminding our community of the strengths that they have. So many of us who are people of color, indigenous people, there are so many narratives that you know, a lot of us statistically shouldn’t be here. Because of institutions in place to make sure that people like us don’t survive, that there is no next generation for us.

As someone who is Pacific Islander, you know, hearing stories like my mom being born during World War II in Palau with Japanese rule, while you know, had to hide in caves while the United States was bombing the islands and having to rebuild because a lot of the bombs had torn up the taro patches, polluted the lagoons where they go fishing. We talk about the ways that we have survived and that we will continue surviving.

Yes, it’s really hard. And it’s not to downplay that this is not hard, right? Let us think about the ways that we have gone through things in the past and what are those practices that we can do right now? What is medicine in our life? Cause we don’t always practice things from a Western point of view. Making sure that my mom has enough ginger and lemon for her daily tea. That’s her medicine. Making sure she has enough Vicks and coconut oil to rub all over her body. That is medicine. So constantly thinking – what are the ways that we have thrived?

And how can we uplift that and make sure that we don’t forget who we, we don’t forget where we came from and that we are strong and resilient people.

And that’s only one way. And then you have to actually have systems in place to support.

I sit on the board of APANO, the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, and when COVID-19 was coming up, they were able to find ways to get grants from different community organizations, banks to the communities who are in need.

For example, these phone calls, these Zoom calls, right? I am not normally someone who likes to be on a digital call. I’m from a population of people that wants to be in the same room together. We want to smell the same air together. We want to touch each other and hold hands and eat. That is our medicine. That is how we connect. That is how we show we love each other and this is very hard. But that doesn’t mean we don’t meet, we still continue to meet in new ways in order for us to still be in community.

Rafael Otto: Regina, what are your thoughts on building community resilience?

What we’re planning to do and continue to do is to have that relationship with the existing community based organizations knowing that they have that strength, they know what the community needs. As government agencies, we need to listen to them and value what they say. We as key stakeholders to make sure that we work together closely, not just to meet the needs of the people, but to do our part as individuals, as community to make sure that we can survive. At the end of the day to make sure that there’s that collaboration, that acknowledgement of what everyone brings on the table.

I know the city has shared out a lot of economic relief programs so we can disperse funding back to the community based organizations. Just rethinking resources that so we make sure that no one’s left behind.

Rafael Otto: What would you say are the avenues for community voice and making sure that government or institutions or systems are actually listening to the communities? What are the best ways to make that happen? What are the avenues for which community voice can be elevated?

Regina Ingabire: I know from Multnomah County they’ve organized a press conference with Dr. [Jennifer] Vines, to listen to the community members who speak Spanish directly and ask her questions directly.

I think what that helps is a community understanding that now we have someone who is speaking to us, responding to us and she’s hearing from us direct as well. I think that builds that trust and bond knowing that the communities are not left by themselves. And I know Mayor Wheeler has also been communicating, having those press conferences on Zoom to hear from community members and the community organizations and the city. When you provide that space and time to listen to community needs, in the end, not only do you build trust, you show true leadership.

Rafael Otto: Virginia thoughts on that? 

Virginia Luka: In the Pacific Islander community in Multnomah County, we have something called the Pacific Islander Coalition. It’s made up of Pacific Islander-serving organizations. And because we are a smaller community, we tend to have the same leaders show up to the same table and people in the community have some kind of personal connection with them.

I’ve been a community leader for so many years, even before I started at Multnomah County, people know my telephone number. I get personal phone calls, you know, people share my number, I get phone calls from family who are like, Oh, you know, my daughter is going to be applying to Portland State University. Can you tell her how to apply? I think it just shows how connected our community is. It really is about relationship – relationship and connections. Because of the trust building we’re going to the people right now that we trust, that we see stepping up, that we see who have been active leaders, that are the go tos. Right now in my community, that is how things are getting done.

 

 

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BPI’s Bahia Overton on COVID-19’s Impact on Black Community

BPI’s Bahia Overton on COVID-19’s Impact on Black Community

Bahia Overton, as told to Ashley Walker

Executive Director, the Black Parent Initiative

Bahia Overton is the executive director of the Black Parent Initiative (BPI), which supports African American, African and multi-racial families by providing culturally specific services that help them thrive.

 

COVID-19’s Impact on the Black Community

In our work with Black families in Portland, we see that the stresses caused by the coronavirus crisis exacerbate other existing issues our people are facing. Health issues, financial situations, whatever. We’re working with families on finding ways to be creative in their situations while stressed.

School and child care closures haven’t been the greatest challenge for many of our families. Some of them are new parents, with children who aren’t school-aged. Some live in multigenerational households, or multi-family households where child care needs are met if a parent does still have to go to work.

The biggest impact on our programs has been the need for flexibility in funding to come up with creative solutions to situations that pop up because of the pandemic. For example, all the people making numerous runs to the grocery stores and frantically clearing the shelves leave our families who use WIC unable to get what they need. We’re working around the clock to write grants to help us provide emergency relief and fund non-food purchases so people can use that for diapers or food, or whatever they determine would help their family the most.

Why Culturally Relevant, Community Based Organizations Matter

A disproportionate number of Black people are being diagnosed and dying from coronavirus—in some states, 40-70 percent of those dying are Black. But that’s not because it’s our fault, or something is lacking in our response to the pandemic. It’s because so many of us are frontline workers, in industries like public transportation, where there’s only so much social distancing you can do. We want to communicate fact over fantasy: Black people are disproportionately impacted by this virus, but we aren’t the problem. Actually, we hold solutions.

Let’s not forget, along with other health implications, racism is a preexisting condition. The stress of walking through this life as a Black person contributes to stress-related illness. Racism compounds all other health vulnerabilities. But there is a bright side! Our strength and resilience will help us get through this! We have used joy and creativity and innovation because we have had to make a way out of no way forever.

Photo courtesy of BPI.

Culturally Relevant Self-Care

BPI has an opportunity to reach folks in a way that others can’t. I frame suggestions for “self-care” by introducing ideas that are culturally relevant. I suggest using games and family activities to relieve stress and to calm kids. Today I introduced a candle activity where a candle is lit in the middle of a table and as family sits around the candle, each person takes a deep breath in and out toward the candle, but nobody blows it out. It’s a controlled breathing exercise for stress relief, but you don’t have to call it that.

We want to help families identify their locus of control. We tell them, “There are things we can’t know, so think about how you’re going to get through this month. Lights on, food in the fridge, joy in your home,” and then we help them identify the areas where they can have a direct impact.

Bridging Physical, not Social Distance

Axiologically, relationships are the most important thing to Black families. So focusing on physical distancing rather than social distancing is key to maintaining those relationships.

A lot of our clients don’t have internet access, or their phones are getting cut off because they’ve lost a job, so our home visitors have become extremely creative. They might do a “knock and run,” knocking on the door and then standing six feet away to deliver a message about an appointment or to provide information about food services, diaper drop-offs and job info. Sometimes home visitors will do home observations by walking “with” the family from across the street.

For those with access to technology, we have lactation consultants working remotely, virtually. Our new moms are okay with our consultants getting on the Zoom screen and showing them how to breastfeed, in some cases using self-demonstration. This might be awkward and uncomfortable at first, but our consultants understand the cultural nuances of supporting Black mothers; if we weren’t doing it our way, it would be far less successful.

We are also creating online support services, phone trees, and picking up and dropping off supplies. Individually, we are providing free online fitness classes, and Facebook and Instagram livestreams, where we can give culturally relevant information to our community from people they know and trust.

Helping Our Helpers

I’m trying to find ways to pay our home visitors more, because they have always deserved that, and now, their lives are changing. They have kids being sent home from college that they now have to support on a limited salary. We need to do a better job at helping our helpers. We need emergency relief to compensate the families we serve and the people doing this work right now.

How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting your corner of the early care and education world? Please email Ashley Walker at ashley@childinst.org if you or someone you know can help us to illustrate the on-the-ground reality for educators, families, small business owners, child health workers and others.

Support Our Work!

Will you help us advocate for children, families, and the early care and education community?  

Your tax deductible contribution of any amount allows us to continue our outreach to communities across Oregon impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Every dollar counts! 

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