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)

Homeless Student Liaison Provides Books, Meals, Stability

Homeless Student Liaison Provides Books, Meals, Stability

Juliana Marez, as told to Ashley Walker

Coordinator, Roseburg School District Title VI Indian Education, McKinney-Vento Liaison

I’ve been really trying hard to keep in touch with my families, making 18-20 calls a day. I’m also a member of Altrusa International, which is a nonprofit organization focused on community service. One of the things we have is a program that provides books to children; Mary Marshall is our literacy chairman, and helped me get a donation of a thousand books! So when I’m calling families and talking to students, I’m asking their reading levels and reading interests, and I’m matching that with books I have access to through the program.

What I’m finding is that there are a whole lot more kids doubling up, their families moving in together because their parents have lost jobs or houses, or because child care is closed. So I can deliver several books to one home and you’ve got cousins and everyone all there and able to share.

I also got a tremendous donation of school supplies before all of this happened. So what I’m doing is sanitizing all of that, dividing it into Ziplock bags. I’ve sanitized a thousand books!

I also had a pastor give me grocery gift cards. I’ve got some craft kits and things. So I’m making care packages and I’m going to deliver them like pizzas! I think it will be really fun, and a real boon to parents, helping them promote family literacy. Marta Queant who works for our Head Start program will come with me, to help deliver to Spanish-speaking families.

I’ve always done food security bags for all the district’s homeless students, and now, that’s even more important. I’m working with the district’s nutrition specialist, and we’re providing meals for every child now, while schools are closed. We’re using the buses; bus drivers are just driving their normal routes, and we’ve dropped off 6,000 breakfasts and lunches so far! I’m grateful to my superintendent, Jarod Cordon, and my direct supervisor, Rick Burton, who believe in taking a healthy risk and have allowed me to do these things.

Stack of books

Juliana Marez is coordinating book and school supply drop-offs to her students in the Roseburg School District.

We’re connecting with people by phone. The populations that I work with are not always easy to track down. I had three new kids move into shelters with their families this week, so I’m calling shelter directors and coordinating things, like how to drop off the Chromebooks the district ordered for the students who needed them to be able to access online learning.

Any kid that needs a cell phone can also get one. That’s coordinated through the self sufficiency program at the state, where they also go for SNAP and those things.

One of my next steps is to connect with the Cow Creek Tribe here in Roseburg, and find out how I can partner with any programs they’re doing. I’ve been sharing lots of resources for my Native kids. Indigenous artists, poets, and musicians are doing a lot of free shows on the internet, and a lot of tribes are putting their language classes online. There are great opportunities for cultural education right now.

I worry about some of the kids getting enough fresh air and sunshine since all our parks and trails are closed. I wish there was some way we could agree and coordinate access for those who don’t have any outside space. It helps with everything; I have concerns about mental health and relapse in some of our families. 

Connection is so important right now. We have students and families struggling, and we want them to know we’re thinking about them.

How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting your corner of the early care and education world? Please email Ashley Walker at or click the button below to submit your story through our form. 

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! 

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 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! 

Echo Shaw Staff to Families: We’re Thinking of You and We Miss You

Echo Shaw Staff to Families: We’re Thinking of You and We Miss You

How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting your corner of the early care and education world? Please email Ashley Walker at 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.
Dr. Perla Rodriguez, as told to Ashley Walker

Principal, Echo Shaw Elementary in Cornelius, OR

Echo Shaw Elementary School is an entirely dual-language program serving students from pre-k to eighth grade. In this piece, Rodriguez shares how her school and community are meeting new challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Technology 

As far as the transition to distance learning is going, our district as a whole has been one-to-one for a long time, with technology for every student. That’s Chromebooks for the older students, a mixture of iPads and Chromebooks for kindergarten and first grade, and iPads for pre-K. So we’ve been able to try different kinds of apps with students at different times. I can’t imagine what we’d be doing if we didn’t have that one-to-one tech availability. Some families don’t have WiFi, and the district is working on getting hot spots distributed to them.

Students haven’t gathered in the cafeteria since mid-March. Photo courtesy of Echo Shaw Elementary.

Both of our pre-k teachers believe that screen time as a tool for learning can be important, but it hasn’t been a priority. But now that things have moved online, it’s becoming clear that an iPad is just a tool; you have to know how to use it. Pre-k, kindergarten, and first graders are just learning how to read and write. If you don’t know how to spell “Google Classroom,” everything is hard!

This is an opportunity for us to do some learning about appropriate doses of technology for the youngest children, and what to do with that time. Looking back, if we knew what was coming, we probably would have been doing technology as more than a center activity, more than another way to do math games, you know? I think it’s fair to say there would have been more direct instruction around how to really use the technology as a tool.

On Flexibility and the School/Home Connection 

More than ever before, we’re relying on that parent-teacher relationship, and we’re learning side-by-side with parents. We’re spending a lot of time right now walking parents through how to access all the tools online. It’s a balance between wanting to provide a lot of tools and support to parents, without making the technology feel like a requirement, or like somebody will be in trouble if kids aren’t doing it. We’re framing it as, “We want to give everybody as many learning resources as we can, and we know that you’re going to choose the ones that work for your family, and we’re okay with whatever you’re doing.”

This is going to pass, and when it does, we’ll have so much more work to do if by then, your kids hate school and hate learning and associate technology and their teachers with, you know, “My mom would yell at me because at nine o’clock I wasn’t doing my math work.” We do not want that!

We’re telling them, if nothing else, it would be great if the kids watched the lessons teachers post and joined the classroom meetings. Right now we’re organizing classroom Google Meets. Teachers are working up to 20 minutes every day, live. And then they are posting math and literacy activities. A pre-k teacher has created a website, she uploads videos on YouTube, and she has a Facebook page for the class, because it’s easiest for the parents that way.

I don’t know if we’re doing anything right. I just keep telling all the parents and all the teachers that we just have to trust our instincts and what our gut tells us, then change it if it isn’t working. We’re humbling ourselves. We don’t have to act like we have it all figured out; I don’t remember taking a class in global pandemic preparedness.

On Concerns for her Community

I’m worried about a lot of our families, especially a lot of our immigrant families who have lost their jobs, who don’t qualify for a stimulus check even though they’ve paid into the economy here. Families who, given their legal status, they’re afraid to use any community resources, even though it would be perfectly appropriate for them to do so. In this political climate, everything is scary. If you’re undocumented or even if you’re here legally, but as a resident and not a citizen.  You now see where one of the new regulations that they just started a couple of months ago is around families who are applying for citizenship. If they’ve ever taken advantage of any public help, then they wouldn’t qualify. It’s horrible. So I worry about our families, just their well-being. I worry if they’re eating, and if they’ll reach out about that.

Schools are figuring out the best ways to help families. The teachers here at Echo Shaw, we have what we call the “School Sunshine Fund,” and teachers donate at the beginning of the year, and we use those funds to celebrate different events, like staff appreciation week, or if someone has a baby, we can get them something from the whole staff. But we’ve decided to use that money this year on gift cards to Winco and Walmart, so if we hear of any needs, or if we just know our families, we can stick a card in the mail just to say, “We’re thinking of you, and we miss you.”

5 Things to Know About Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health

5 Things to Know About Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health

Advocates for children’s mental health envision a comprehensive network of supports for children and families that begins with mothers at the prenatal stage and continues throughout an individual’s lifetime. That’s reflective of continuing research which demonstrates that children who enjoy good health—including mental health—are better prepared for school and life.

Yet, general understanding of infant and early childhood health is still at an emergent stage. That’s partly because diagnostic classification of mental health and developmental disorders in children under 5 did not exist until 1996. While treatment and payment protocols have been established in Oregon since then, more work is needed to integrate infant and early childhood mental health into the larger array of available services and supports for families and children.

Here are five answers to questions about infant and early childhood mental health in Oregon:


What does mental health in an infant or toddler look like?

Social and emotional health in the youngest children develops within safe, stable, and attached relationships with caregivers. Children who have positive and engaging interactions in their earliest years are more likely to enjoy good physical and mental health over their lifetimes. They are also better able to experience, regulate, and manage their emotions—key skills for later school readiness.

What types of mental health issues and disorders do young children suffer from?

Children who suffer from abuse, neglect or trauma—especially those facing additional barriers such as living in poverty—are more susceptible to mental health issues, including attachment and emotional regulation disorders and other developmental or psychological disorders.

Laurie Theodorou, Early Childhood Mental Health Specialist at the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), says very young children can also suffer from the same disorders that affect older children.

“Depression and anxiety can be seen even at the pre-verbal level. Though they can be harder to diagnose, young children respond well to therapy that includes their parent,” she said.

She’s also careful to note that mental health issues and disorders are not limited to situations related to maltreatment. “It’s important to de-stigmatize mental health and mental health treatment… Parents can be doing everything right and still need additional help for their child’s social emotional or behavioral problems.”

How are infant and early childhood mental health issues treated?

Proper screening and assessment are key to identifying and treating young children who are at risk for or suffering from mental health issues or disorders.

Treatment for mental health issues and disorders can be provided in a variety of home and clinical settings. Evidence-based treatments are family-centered and use attachment-focused approaches, including infant-parent psychotherapy, Parent Child Interaction Therapy, and psychoeducation.

Source: The Oregon Children’s System Advisory Council (CSAC) 2015; Early Childhood Workgroup. Adapted from TACSEI, and April 2015

What policy strategies can help improve outcomes for young children?

Researchers Joy D. Osofsky of Louisiana State University, and Alicia F. Lieberman of the University of California, San Francisco, recommend four actions to improve awareness and action on early childhood mental health issues:


  • Expand early screening for infants and toddlers to detect mental health issues.
  • Train professionals in mental health, pediatrics, early childhood education, child welfare, and other related professions to recognize risk factors; and ensure that undergraduate, graduate, and continuing professional education include content on infant mental health.
  • Integrate infant mental health consultations into programs for parents, child care, early education, well-child health services, and home-based services.
  • Address insurance and Medicaid payment policies to provide coverage for prevention and treatment of mental health issues for infants and toddlers.

How is Oregon working to improve public policy and practice for infant and early childhood mental health?

Oregon’s efforts to build a system of care for infant and early childhood mental health have been steadily building. For example, Oregon’s adoption of developmental screening as an incentive metric for Coordinated Care Organizations has increased the numbers of children identified for further assessment. The creation of a diagnostic crosswalk—a guide that aligns multiple diagnostic classification manuals—has also made it easier for providers to be reimbursed for mental health treatment.

More recent and upcoming developments include the planned roll-out of universally offered, voluntary home visiting in Oregon, and Project Nurture, an integrated model of maternity care and addiction treatment for pregnant women with substance use disorders.

A number of workforce-related efforts have strengthened the existing network of support for Oregon’s youngest children. OHA and the Oregon Infant Mental Health Association have partnered to offer an infant and early childhood mental health endorsement for early care and education and mental health professionals. An infant/toddler mental health graduate certification is available at Portland State University and the school has also introduced a new, two-year scholarship program to study rural infant mental health with funding from The Ford Family Foundation.

Raise Up Oregon, the state’s early learning systems plan, and the passage of the Student Success Act also promise to bring more attention and resources to the ultimate goal: a network of support for all children beginning at the prenatal stage which sets children up for future academic and lifetime success.



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

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

It’s a gorgeous summer evening in Yoncalla, Oregon and community members are gathered on the high school football field to kick-off the start of the school year with a celebratory barbecue. A band is playing, children are running at full speed in no particular direction, and the sun is just low enough in the sky to force a squint from those soaking up a stunning panoramic view of the surrounding valley.

A young girl has just sprung out from a nearby photo booth—converted from an old VW bus and hired just for this occasion. Souvenir photo strip in hand, she’s bounced over to ask for an autograph from a local celebrity—new elementary school principal, Don Hakala.

While school principals don’t often claim the mantle of rock star, improving education for the kids of Yoncalla has been taking center stage, with demonstrated progress over the last seven years that continues to build the case for community-driven, collaborative initiatives like Early Works.

A Maverick Streak 

As picturesque as Yoncalla is, this small town of just over 1,000 people in North Douglas county struggles with challenges facing many rural Oregon communities; high unemployment and poverty rates, inadequate access to health care and limited access to high-quality early care and education programs.

It’s also a place of deep history, with an electorate that’s not afraid to show off a maverick streak now and again. In 1920, two months after women gained the vote, Yoncalla made national headlines for electing an all-female city council. Last year, Yoncalla voters elected a teenage mayor, 18-year-old Ben Simons.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that Yoncalla, with its demonstrated openness to new ideas and tight-knit community, might actually be a great place to nurture and support educational innovation for its youngest citizens. 

A Collective Effort

At the local community center, more than 70 people stand shoulder-to-shoulder preparing to introduce themselves at the annual Early Works and Yoncalla School District retreat, a gathering to help prepare for the upcoming school year.  Classroom teachers and school administrators are here, of course.  But so are parents, school kitchen and custodial staff, and a representative from the local breastfeeding support group.

There are school board members, instructional assistants, and representatives from the newly opened health clinic in Drain. In fact, there are so many people that organizers have to pull out extra chairs from a back room to squeeze in among the tables. 

Over the next few hours, these community members and partners are engaged in a sort of educational barn raising—reviewing data, brainstorming ideas on how to overcome health-related barriers to school attendance, and discussing how to improve teacher-parent engagement in upper grades.

Christy Cox, senior program officer for The Ford Family Foundation is excited by what she sees as the growth and transformation of the project. “As the kids and families involved with Early Works move into the elementary, middle, and high school grades, they are bringing the values and guiding principles of Early Works with them.”

Cox notes that while Early Works was originally focused on children ages 0 to 8, the leadership of Yoncalla Superintendent Brian Berry, teacher Jerry Fauci, and others have expanded the vision to a broader community of staff, parents, and community partners. This  expanded effort now includes support for kids from prenatal to grade 12. 

“It’s so gratifying to see how far we’ve come, ” said Erin Helgren, Children’s Institute’s Early Works site liaison . “And it inspires us to continue to work, improve, and do more.”

A Focus on Attendance and Engagement

Data presented by researchers at Portland State University shows solid progress on family engagement and attendance in Yoncalla over the last five years:

  • The percentage of families reporting that they feel connected to the Yoncalla community has more than doubled among students in preschool through sixth grade.
  • The percentage of families who feel welcome at the school is also climbing, as are increases in the frequency of parent-teacher communication.
  • The percentage of regular attenders has steadily increased for K–12 students, bucking a statewide downward trend.
  • Though regular attendance among Yoncalla kindergarteners is still lower than the state average, the gap has narrowed by 14 percentage points since 2014–2015. Among preschool students, the percentage of regular attenders has increased 21 percent in the last three years.

PSU/Yoncalla Retreat Slides

Meet the Community

A community-wide responsiblity to Yoncalla’s children means everyone has a role to play in education. 

Don Hakala, Yoncalla Elementary Principal and friend

Kim Gandy and Kendra Bickham, Umpqua Community Health Center

Melissa Peterson and Gail Jones, Yoncalla Elementary School Kitchen

Pam Ciullo, Sixth Grade Teacher

Madison Kokos, Parent

Alauna Bowen, Kindergarten Teacher

Yoncalla School Board Members

Sheryl and Richard Braun, Longtime Residents

Children’s Institute Staff

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