Video: Early Works at Earl Boyles: The Power of Partnership

Video: Early Works at Earl Boyles: The Power of Partnership

Kids begin learning before they’re even born. By the time children start kindergarten, their brains are already 90 percent developed. Children’s Institute believes our education system can do more for kids during this critical period of development. Neighborhood schools can serve children long before they enter kindergarten and provide meaningful support to parents and families before and during elementary school.

Our Early Works initiative demonstrates what happens when school districts, community partners, parents, and funders come together with a shared vision to support the early learning and healthy development of young children: Kids arrive at kindergarten ready to learn, parents feel welcome at the school and empowered to support their children’s learning, and the school community flourishes.



Located in the David Douglas School District in Southeast Portland, Oregon, Earl Boyles Elementary School is one of two Early Works sites.

The school serves a culturally and linguistically diverse group of low-income families. Through our comprehensive, community-based Early Works initiative, Earl Boyles now offers high-quality preschool, an Early Kindergarten Transition program, summer literacy programs, infant-toddler play and learn groups, a food pantry, and connections to housing and health care supports.

Since 2010, children at Earl Boyles have improved their kindergarten readiness and parents have become leaders in the community and empowered participants in their children’s learning. Going forward, Early Works aims to increase participation in 0–3 play groups and support children’s learning at home, ensuring all children in the area are ready for preschool and beyond.

Many partners, including the David Douglas School District, Mt. Hood Community College Head Start, and Multnomah Early Childhood Program, have come together to provide high-quality early learning programs and supports starting at birth, parenting education to engage families, and health supports and other social services for families.

Other partners also operate within the school, supporting early learning, engaging families, and offering health supports and other social services:

  • Children’s Book Bank
  • Home Forward
  • Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization (IRCO)
  • Latino Network
  • Metropolitan Family Services (MFS)
  • Mt. Hood Community College Head Start
  • Multnomah County Library
  • Multnomah Early Childhood Program (MECP)
  • Padres Unidos (Parents United)
  • Reading Results
  • SMART (Start Making a Reader Today)

As a community-driven initiative, Early Works must continue to be responsive to the needs of a diverse and changing population. Too many children from linguistically diverse backgrounds continue to enter preschool at Earl Boyles with low language skills, and too many families struggle to access the resources they need to support learning at home.

In the next phase of the initiative, we will deepen our work in early health and reduce academic disparities through culturally responsive teaching and learning from preschool through fifth grade.

The Potential to Transform K–12

The Potential to Transform K–12

By Dr. Perla Rodriguez, principal of Echo Shaw Elementary School in the Forest Grove School District.

Forest Grove is one of two districts selected to participate in Early School Success, Children’s Institute’s newest initiative connecting preschool and elementary school instruction. 

I am extremely proud to serve as the principal of Echo Shaw Elementary School, especially because our school was the first in our school district to offer an aligned preschool program staffed with our very own teachers and assistants. Our school is a full dual language school with a goal of creating bilingual and bi-cultural children. And though we are a Title I school with over 85 percent of our students qualifying for free or reduced lunch, we are rich in culture and learning.

Using federal funds, we had offered full day kindergarten for several years. However, we struggled to meet the challenge of “school readiness” even with a full day program. When we began our preschool program, we thought it would be an academic boost for our students. What we quickly learned was that we had the entire idea of what “school readiness” really entails all wrong!

This is our seventh year with a preschool program. Our first cohort of students are now in fifth grade! And while the families of our students often thank us for the program, we are the ones that should be thanking them for allowing us the opportunity to learn with their children. We are learning to adapt our school to the developmental needs of our students, rather than expecting our students to fit a dated model of early kindergarten.

For example, two years ago we had a student in our preschool program we could not figure out. He displayed behaviors that were explosive at times. His disposition would switch quickly and with little warning he would have huge blow outs that none of us could explain. After exhausting all the reasons that we could think of, I thought we would have to chalk it up to parents that were spoiling their son. (I will add something here about poor parents! School systems always blame them when we can’t get it right.) Right before throwing in the towel, our district’s occupational therapist and behavior specialist agreed to observe him.

We learned that he wasn’t a spoiled little boy. He displayed behaviors consistent with sensory sensitivity and he was easily overwhelmed by input. His inability to filter the input led to his impulsivity. With the support of the occupational therapist and behavior specialist, we learned about the importance of multiple sensory breaks, and about deep pressure activities. We were also reminded that children do not come to school with the tools that are required for working with other children. We need to teach children how to be part of a group.

I know for a fact that had our first experience with this student been in kindergarten, we would have had him referred to our special education program. He is now thriving in first grade and was recently recognized as the student of the month in his classroom for being “polite.” There was nothing wrong with him. We were the problem. Our lack of knowledge about how his 4-year-old brain worked was the problem. I think about him a lot and feel deep gratitude for the learning that took place while he was in our preschool. The greatest lesson was that one size does not fit all.

Over the past seven years we have begun to shift our thinking. We began our preschool by looking at K–12 and mapping backward from there. I want to reverse that. I want to take what works in preschool and look forward, to use what we learn from preschool to transform what happens in K–12. Why is the kindergarten and elementary school system not built to support students the way preschool does? I still care very much about academic outcomes. But I’m learning that if we can meet the needs of our students, beginning with their basic developmental needs, then academic success follows.

My goal is no longer to make a preschool program that fits into our current K–12 system. We need to change our system to fit with what we are learning from preschool experience. This is what Early School Success will help us do and I am so excited to see where it will take us.

Two months into the school year, we are already benefiting from our collaboration with Children’s Institute. Children’s Institute helped us launch our school year with professional development for our district’s preschool through first-grade teachers: three hours of learning about early childhood education, with our early childhood educators! Our teachers are amazing, hard-working, loving, and determined individuals whom our school system has failed. We have assumed teachers need constant training strictly on the mechanics of teaching content; we’ve overlooked the need for shared learning on early childhood development.
Children at Forest Grove Elementary School. 

After the professional development session, a 21-year veteran teacher said, “The training validated what I’ve often thought about young children. My only regret is that I didn’t get this professional development when I was a first-year teacher.”

Our school staff is energized and so am I! We are ready to learn more and to do things differently—in a way that nurtures and supports the natural development of our students. There is no magic wand for success in kindergarten and beyond. But with the help of Children’s Institute and Early School Success, I know we are on the cusp of transformational change.

Originally delivered as a speech at Children’s Institute’s “Advocacy in Action” dinner, October 10, 2019

We’re Working to Ensure the Benefits of Preschool Last

We’re Working to Ensure the Benefits of Preschool Last

In 2015, a landmark study by Vanderbilt University found that the benefits of Tennessee’s pre-K program didn’t last. It’s not the first time researchers have questioned the long-term impact of high-quality preschool. 

“Many early childhood stakeholders have been discussing and arguing about whether Head Start ‘works’ ever since the beginnings of Head Start. The first big report on the ‘fadeout’ effect of Head Start was in 2010, and that raised questions as to whether or not Head Start was effective in improving academic outcomes for children,” says Soobin Oh, Children’s Institute’s senior early education advisor. 

Why Do Gains Made in Preschool Fade?

New research into the same Tennessee program, released in July and discussed in Chalkbeat last week, begins to answer the question of why gains made in preschool might not last. According to Chalkbeat: 

“Pre-K benefits wore off if participants went on to classes with ineffective teachers, in low-quality schools, or both—with preschool graduates eventually faring even worse than their peers who didn’t attend pre-K. 

“The study adds to emerging literature showing that pre-K is not a cure-all to later factors like poor instruction and a poor learning environment, said Dale Farran, a Vanderbilt University professor involved with both studies.”

“We can’t depend upon pre-K to cure a K–12 system that’s not working for poor families,” Farran said. “We can’t put the blame on children who are placed in low performing schools and then just say that they weren’t ready. If we really care about children from low-income families and the schools that serve them, we’ve got to take a bigger view.”

Early School Success Is an Approach to Sustaining Preschool Benefits

The idea that instruction during elementary school must build on preschool is the basis of our Early School Success (ESS) initiative. “This Tennessee study supports our new work with districts to build high-quality, well-sequenced experiences for the early elementary grades. This will ensure investments in preschool pay off in the long-term,” explains Dr. Marina Merrill, our director of research & strategy. 

Soobin Oh adds: 

“Early childhood education and care does not exist within a vacuum. Ensuring practices are consistently high-quality and aligned is critical to sustaining benefits.  We need to move towards applying the research of child development, which implies that childhood should be treated by the education system as one continuum, whereas most people tend to separate and make distinctions between birth to 5 and elementary education.”

What State Leaders Can Do to Help More Students Start Their Education on the Right Track

What State Leaders Can Do to Help More Students Start Their Education on the Right Track

By Allan Golston

Reprinted from Medium with permission from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 

Allan Golston visits with students at the Earl Boyles preschool. 

Principal Ericka Guynes could see the problem clearly. Students at Earl Boyles — a Portland, Oregon elementary school where more than four-out-of-five students are eligible for free or reduced-priced lunches — were starting kindergarten at least a year behind where they needed to be, socially and academically. And data showed that despite the school’s best efforts, gaps that started before kindergarten were persisting into later grades. The question was what to do about it.

Following a survey of the community and working closely with the school district and the Children’s Institute, the school started an early intervention classroom. After more than a year of additional planning, the school opened its own preschool in partnership with Head Start/Early Intervention. Fast forward to 2019, Principal Guynes and the team at Earl Boyles now face a different problem…

“Students are now coming into kindergarten where they need to be, and we’ve actually had to adjust our curriculum and increase the rigor in later grades because our students are ready to learn at that level. It’s ever-evolving,” Principal Guynes explained to me during a visit to Oregon to meet with early learning leaders last month.

Visiting with Principal Guynes and meeting with some of the teachers and parents at the school, I was inspired by the progress they’ve made, as well as their commitment to meeting the needs of their community and ensuring that students are starting their educational journey on the right track.

There are schools across the country that have similarly focused on Pre-K as a critical milestone for students (which research backs up) and acted on that information. But it does raise the question — is there more policymakers can do to help more kids attend high quality Pre-K programs like the one at Earl Boyles Elementary? (Spoiler: the answer is “yes!”)

 Currently, 1.5 million children are being served by state Pre-K programs across the country, with another 730,000 4-year-olds enrolled in Head Start. And as governors from across the country gather in Washington, D.C. this week to discuss crucial issues facing states, I hope they will spend some time discussing ways those children can be better-served through consistent, high-quality Pre-K programs.

While the majority of our foundation’s investments are directed towards supporting secondary and post-secondary student success — particularly among low-income families and students of color — our Early Learning strategy is centered on learning and codifying strategies for improving quality of state-administered Pre-K programs. We are doing this work in partnership with Washington State, Oregon, and Tennessee. As we work with partners to improve the quality of Pre-K programs in those states, we hope to learn best practices and share those lessons with other states.

Based on work we’ve done with researchers, program leaders, advocates, and other funders, we have a much clearer sense today of what it means to be a “quality” public Pre-K program. Certain program elements — things like a strong curriculum and positive interactions between children and families — help secure lasting gains for young learners. When these elements of quality are in place, it makes sense to maximize public investment.

There are also policies states can put in place that make delivering quality programs more likely and reliable. Here are three policy considerations that deserve more attention:

1. Increasing funding for Pre-K is great. But increasing predictable, streamlined, and sustained funding for quality Pre-K is even better. While many states are increasing funding for Pre-K, early learning programs across the country don’t have the resources to improve their quality. And where there is funding in place, the complicated nature of tangled funding streams across federal, state, and district dollars both increases unpredictability and puts a large administrative burden on school staff — which can detract from emphasizing quality.

2. Support early learning educators with professional learning opportunities. The low wages Pre-K teachers are paid, coupled with the expense of continuing their education and certification, often leads to many Pre-K educators leaving their classrooms in pursuit other opportunities. As a result, we’re losing lots of great Pre-K teachers across the country. States should prioritize professional learning for educators that can help them grow, earn degrees, and continually improve their craft, which will make it more likely they’ll stay in Pre-K classrooms.

3. Use data not just to track compliance, but to drive improvement. The story of Earl Boyles Elementary reinforces the power of providing leaders with quality data they can use to engage their community and improve the type of instruction students receive. Pre-K program providers, K-12 schools, and communities can similarly use data to “connect-the-dots” and show how students are doing as they start kindergarten, how they progress from grade to grade, and to make sure that the social, emotional, and academic gains students receive in quality Pre-K programs are being sustained over time.

Research has shown that if students receive a high-quality Pre-K experience that includes strong teacher-child connections, skilled and supported educators, and a strong curriculum, they are far less likely to fall behind in the first place. They are also more likely to read earlier, graduate from high school on time, and are more likely to go to college. School leaders like Ericka Guynes and the team at Earl Boyles are making those opportunities a reality for their students. I hope state leaders in D.C. this week explore how they can do the same.

Advocate for Children in Oregon

Advocate for Children in Oregon

Learn more about the programs and services in Oregon that support young children and families: home visiting, child care, early intervention, early childhood special education, and preschool.

Parenting is hard work, especially with young children. Fortunately, Oregon has great services and programs for families.

These include home visiting, child care, early intervention, early childhood special education, and preschool.

Home visiting improves child health and development, parental confidence, and school readiness. And it reduces maternal depression, child abuse, and low-weight births.

Today, home visiting reaches only 1 in 5 eligible families. What if every family who wanted these services could access them?

Oregon also helps many working families access quality child care by providing subsidies or, in some cases, paying for the full cost.

But many working families don’t have access to child care because there aren’t enough providers or it’s just too expensive. What if we could help more parents?     

Early Intervention and Early Childhood Special Education services support children with developmental delays and disabilities.

They help kids build skills and get ready for school.

But only 1 in 50 kids with high needs get the EI/ECSE supports they need. Where does that leave the rest?

Children who attend high-quality preschool are better prepared for kindergarten and more likely to graduate high school.

And the benefits of preschool last. Adults who attended preschool have better job prospects and better health.

30,000 children in Oregon could benefit from high-quality preschool. Imagine if all of them had that opportunity.   

From birth to age 5, kids grow and develop at an astonishing rate, and they need loving, nurturing environments and relationships.

Parenting young children is challenging, but together we can work to make it easier.   

Join Children’s Institute in advocating to expand home visiting, early intervention, early childhood special education, child care, and preschool so more kids and families have access to these proven supports and services.

You can make a difference.

And we need your voice.


Advocate for Children in Oregon

Learn more about our 2019 Policy Recommendations to support young children and families in Oregon and join our movement to let lawmakers know: Early Childhood Matters!

Parents, Educators Call for “More Time, More Hours” to Improve Early Special Education Outcomes

Parents, Educators Call for “More Time, More Hours” to Improve Early Special Education Outcomes

The transition to kindergarten is tough for a lot of kids, but for those with developmental delays and disabilities, it can be especially challenging.

Tristan Davis, who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder through Early Intervention (EI) services offered by the Clackamas Educational Service District, was primarily non-verbal when he began preschool at Sunset Primary’s Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) classroom. 

His mom Tracey described preschool-aged Tristan as a happy boy who struggled with regulation and anxiety. Looking back, Tracey says she was nervous as Tristan began preparing for the transition to kindergarten as his ECSE preschool class met for only two and half hours each day, a few days a week.

She compared that to the experience of her older son, Anthony, who attended a traditional preschool program for five hours a day, 3–4 days a week. 

 “[Tristan’s] teacher, Eric, was amazing with him, but I noticed there was not a lot of consistency with the aides who were there. They seemed to have more children than help, sometimes. There were children all across the board developmentally.”

Tracey, who later became a special education paraeducator, is frank about the reality of EI/ECSE services given current funding levels, including the impact that pay and other workforce issues have on the special education field.

 “Eric does it because he loves it and he’s great at it. But he was definitely not paid what he should have been.”

When asked what might have made more of a difference for Tristan as he transitioned to kindergarten, Tracey said, “More time, more hours.”

EI/ECSE Saves Taxpayer Dollars, But Is Still Underfunded

Tracey’s recollection of the stretched resources in her son’s classroom echoes reports from Children’s Institute and others that shows most children in EI/ECSE programs are not being served at recommended levels.

According to state data, only 28 percent of children enrolled in EI programming receive the recommended level of service. On average, children enrolled in ECSE with high needs only receive 8.7 hours of preschool per week, rather than the  recommended 15 hours per week. EI service levels have actually decreased by an average of 70 percent from 2004 to 2016.

The governor’s latest budget proposal devotes $45.6 million to EI/ECSE, about $30 million less than what the Early Childhood Coalition and the Alliance for Early Intervention says is needed to adequately serve children. In the 2014–15 school year, more than 21 percent of children exiting EI had caught up with their peers and did not require ECSE services, saving the state nearly $4 million annually. 

Those who work in the field see the need firsthand. Carla Moody Starr, a speech language pathologist on the EI/ECSE evaluation team at the Northwest Regional Educational Service District, says EI/ECSE evaluation staff are often the first point of contact for families who may be overwhelmed, in shock, or in a state of grief if their child is significantly delayed. 

We take into consideration family and child trauma, socio-economic differences, language, and cultural differences— being sensitive to parents, but also educating and advocating for their child is an art. More service is needed for kids with developmental or communication delays before kindergarten. More service is needed for family coaching and education as well. Without adequate EI/ECSE service, these children with disabilities may not develop the skills they need to be successful once they enter elementary school.”


Despite insufficient funding for EI/ECSE services, Tracey has high praise for the West Linn-Wilsonville school district’s ability to provide a wide array of resources to support her son’s learning and development.

In advance of his kindergarten school year, Tracey met with the staff at Trillium Creek Primary School to map out an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

“Before school started, his kindergarten teacher left Tristan this long [voicemail] message saying, ‘I know you can’t talk to me, but I want you to know I’m so excited to see you.’ It meant so much to him and so much to me.

“I was so lucky with West Linn. My rent is outrageous and I’m a single mom, but I really felt there was never a question of—does he really need this? His teacher noticed he liked to jump and they got him an indoor trampoline, just in case he needed to jump it out.  They just want him to be successful. That’s the community they foster there.”

EI/ECSE Supports Broader Inclusion Efforts

West-Linn Wilsonville is considered a full-inclusion district, meaning both neurotypical children and children with special education needs are taught in the same classroom. While the Oregon Department of Education sets a state target of 73 percent of special education students being served in a general education classroom, West-Linn Wilsonville far exceeds that standard, reporting that 85.7 percent of its special education students are served in that setting.

Tristan is now a third grader at Trillium Creek Primary and Tracey reports that he’s doing well.  “He loves school and has many friends that he loves. He still has hard days and struggles with anxiety. Overall, school has been a positive experience for him. His team is always communicating with me, and I feel they are invested in his success and happiness.”

Benefits For Typically Developing Peers

Ginny Scelza is a parent of two children who attended the Multnomah Early Childhood Program (MECP), operated by the David Douglas School District. The program runs preschool classes at 11 locations across six school districts and offers an inclusive environment where children with special education needs learn alongside typically developing children.

Ginny, whose son and daughter are typically developing admits that her interest in the program was due to the affordable cost and convenient location, initially just a few minutes from her home.  MECP tuition costs $32 a month for a twice-a-week program, much less than private preschool programs in the area. Free and reduced tuition is available for qualifying families. 

“The fact that the preschool was in the same building that [my son] would be in for kindergarten was a big draw—that made so much sense.”

Ginny also valued the program’s emphasis on social emotional development.

“I saw [preschool] as a transition from the home environment to a classroom community. How do you share? How do you develop friendships? How do you work as part of a team?  Having my kids in the program helped strengthen their empathy for other people and that was more important to me than academics.”

Ginny credits the program for creating a smooth transition to kindergarten for both her children. She also notes that the benefits of such programs have a positive effect that goes beyond just those children who have disabilities and delays. 

“At age 3 or 4, [my daughter] was learning that kids who were in wheelchairs or needed extra help—they were also a part of her school community. It was normal. How does that not become part of who you are?”


Learn More and Support Increased Funding for EI/ECSE Services

EI/ECSE 2019 Fact Sheet

Oregon Must Invest More in Young Children With Disabilities: A Conversation With FACT Oregon’s Executive Director

Join us and a growing coalition of Early Childhood advocates in requesting an addition $75 million investment to increase service levels for children with disabilities and delays. 


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