An Albuquerque organization just got awarded scientific research help and an instant brain trust in cities like Boston, Austin and Salt Lake City to determine whether the services they offer young Bernalillo County parents are helping them develop emotional bonds with their children. The hope is that this connection will set their children up to become good learners.
Birth to age 3 is the fastest developing period in a person’s life and policymakers and child advocates in New Mexico are trying to find the best way to make that time count and to change the trajectory of poor educational outcomes, an underprepared workforce, and a new generation that will repeat the pattern.
Cue Mission: Graduate. The 5-year-old organization was just chosen as one of 29 communities to join the StriveTogether Prenatal – Three Impact and Improvement Network by the National Institute for Children’s Health Quality and StriveTogether.
“There’s a lot of technical assistance, helping us build our capacity and our capabilities to work more effectively with children and families,” said Mission: Graduate Executive Director Angelo Gonzales.
Mission: Graduate, a cradle-to-career education partnership with a goal to create 60,000 new college graduates in the Albuquerque metro area by 2020, built its proposal around the work of the Early Childhood Accountability Partnership. ECAP has focused on working with parents and early childhood service providers to make sure Bernalillo County kids are ready to learn when then show up to Kindergarten.
Colleen Murphy, an NICHQ project director, said ECAP’s work was a key reason Mission: Graduate was chosen for the network, as was the group’s interaction and feedback from the community to create tools for children, families and caregivers, including its “Making Moments Matter” campaign.
“Our ultimate goal here is to ensure all Bernalillo County children are ready for and will succeed in school,” Murphy said via email, explaining the idea, in part, is to make sure the Albuquerque team is measuring the right things.
Tracy McDaniel, the ECAP coordinator for Mission: Graduate, said Making Moments Matter teaches parents about early literacy and attachment practices with their children. They’re working with young people to help them better target young parents ages 15 to 25 — they have a Pinterest page with pins of songs for parents to sing to their kids and “23 No Screen Toddler Activities,” and a Facebook page to share parenting resources. And have been working on a community campaign to get the word out on the importance of children’s development from birth to age 3.
“What we’re really hoping to do is to be able to test some of these strategies and some of these messages, and really be able to measure whether we’re doing what we think we’re doing,” McDaniel said.
One concrete thing they’ll try to solve during the one-year project, which begins in June, is just getting parents to step away from their cell phones and interact with their kids one-on-one.
“We’ve gone out and talked with direct service providers, and particularly home visitors, and one of the questions we’ve had over and over is ‘How do you get families off their phones?’,” said McDaniel. “People will tell me ‘I can’t even get them to put their phone down during a home visit; how am I going to get them to play and sing and snuggle with their child when I’m not there?’”
As part of the project they will work with home visitors from YDI in Albuquerque, and the Native American Professional Parent Resources Inc., which has a tribal home visiting program that targets Native American families with children from birth to age 5.
“We’re just at the very beginning of this project,” McDaniel said. “We’re not sure exactly how it’s going to roll out, but we’re really excited about this opportunity.”
While the main beneficiaries will be in Bernalillo County and on some tribal lands, Mission: Graduate plans to use what they learn from the experience to share with other early childhood initiatives throughout the state, including the Santa Fe Birth to Career Collaboration and the Success Partnership in Dona Ana County.
The project is funded by the Pritzker Children’s Initiative, and the Sorenson Impact Center at the University of Utah will work with the partner organizations.