Refugee Family Services Parents as Teachers
“In Somalia, we don’t have Head Start or pre-kindergarten, everything starts in 1st grade.”
Cultural norms kept Somali native Halima Habib from enrolling her oldest two children in any type of preschool or pre-kindergarten program. But by the time her youngest two children were born, Habib had met Asha Ali, a fellow Somalian-born mother, who touted the benefits of early education. Ali was able not only to convince Habib to enroll her children in preschool, but also participate in the Parents as Teachers program, through which Ali serves as a parent educator at Refugee Family Services.
The Refugee Family Services Parents as Teachers program reaches Atlanta’s multi-ethnic refugee population and serves families in nine languages. The program is supported by Partners Advancing Childhood Education (PACE), a school readiness initiative of the United Way of Greater Atlanta that provides technical assistance and resources to address the early learning needs of young children by implementing a parent engagement and school transition program model, coordinating services and advocating for policy and systems change.
“First of all, I can identify,” Ali says of the relationships she has cultivated with refugee parents like Habib living in the Clarkston area of Atlanta’s DeKalb County. “In Somalia, we don’t have Head Start or pre-kindergarten, everything starts in 1st grade.”
Despite her initial hesitancy, today Habib is a stalwart advocate for early literacy initiatives in her community. Through the Parents as Teachers visits, she has emerged as a leader among her peers and her family. Habib was named a Head Start Parent of the Year and was selected by the local PTA to participate in a six-week school etiquette training program so she could educate other refugee parents as their children prepare for kindergarten.
As for her own children and school readiness, Habib says Parents as Teachers contributed to a marked difference between the preparedness level of her oldest and youngest ones. “They were ready to go to school,” she says of the younger children.
Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority
Housing authority partners with Parents as Teachers to break cycle of poverty
“All of our kids are at risk.”
Chris Yuhasz gets straight to the point when she explains why Parents as Teachers is a good fit for the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority (AMHA). As director of strategic engagement, Chris oversees AMHA’s Early Childhood Initiative which has been offering Parents as Teachers services to residents since 2010.
The program builds on the commitment inspired by executive director Anthony W. (Tony) O’Leary, that community spirit and adequate resources will empower AMHA residents to become independent, educated, healthy, and self-sufficient.
“Our goal is to get rid of our customers, to get them out of subsidized housing and contributing to society through jobs and taxes,” Chris explains. “We have an ability to make an impact in our residents’ lives, and the biggest bang for our buck is early childhood development.”
That’s why AMHA launched its Early Childhood Initiative in 2007, originally serving residents at just a few of AMHA’s larger family developments. Today the program has expanded to serve all AMHA residents, 3,000 of whom are children under 5 years old. “That’s 10 percent of all children under the age of 5 living in all of Summit County,” notes Chris, “and we are serving more of them every year.”
AMHA’s program closely links Parents as Teachers with family outreach events which are designed to foster a sense of community around the importance of early childhood education and to serve as a recruiting tool for home visits and other early childhood programs. AMHA will hold 45 of these events during 2013, each one based in the community room of an AMHA development and each offering a meal and early childhood activities with other service providers on hand, like Head Start, the health department, and the public library.
“We recognized that parents couldn’t concentrate on parenting if they had so many unmet basic needs,” explains Katie Collard, community partnerships coordinator, “so we started by working to remove some of those barriers to positive parenting by linking families to services in the community. It really is all about relationship-building. You have to meet parents and build trust before you can do parent education. Without that trust, we will never get in the door.”
AMHA's four staff members who conduct home visits have found the Parents as Teachers’ new curriculum to be highly adaptable for different families and in different situations. “We really enjoy using it,” Katie says.
Although AMHA is federally funded, its Early Childhood Initiative is funded through private foundations, some state dollars, and individual donations. Its partnership with Parents as Teachers has been important to securing that funding.
“Today funders want to support evidence-based programs, but it will be at least five years until we can begin to measure the results of our program,” explains Chris. “It’s been great to have the backing of Parents as Teachers’ data. It really improves our chances of getting grants.”