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Evaluating an Innovative Program that Supports Families and School Readiness
Evaluating an Innovative Program that Supports Families and School Readiness

It takes a village to raise a child, the saying goes. In Southeast Portland’s Powelhurst-Gilbert neighborhood, a coalition dedicated to improving educational outcomes for children and their families has come together to bring the village to an area school.

Early Works at Earl Boyles Elementary School is a ten-year initiative of the Children’s Institute. The initiative develops effective approaches for increasing school readiness and third-grade achievement by convening partnerships with community members to implement universal, outcome-focused early childhood services integrated and aligned with the needs of the community. Early Works brings together parents and children in the Earl Boyles catchment area, educators, and community organizations to support kids from birth to age eight to see that they arrive in kindergarten ready for school and on track to succeed through third grade. Early Works’ partnering organizations include the David Douglas School District, Mt. Hood Community College, the Multnomah County Library, Metropolitan Family Services, the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization and Portland State University’s Center for the Improvement of Child and Family Services, among others.

The initiative focuses on developing programs and interventions that support healthy development and school success through early education, family engagement, and health and social support services. Since its launch in 2010, Early Works has established free, universal, high-quality preschool at Earl Boyles for neighborhood three- and four-year-olds. A neighborhood center located within the school now provides parents and young children a place to gather, learn, play, and navigate a variety of health and social services. Parents receive training to become community health and education leaders through the initiative’s community ambassador program. Early Works promotes family engagement in learning, offering education opportunities, increasing access to children’s books, and improving the quality and quantity of family/teacher interactions. School leadership and educators in preschool through third-grade classrooms work together to promote quality instruction and smooth transitions into school and between grades. Additionally, the initiative brings stakeholders to the table to better align systems of support and education that benefit children’s school readiness and health during their critical early years.

“Early Works at Earl Boyles built a collective impact approach towards kindergarten readiness,” said Dr. Marina Merrill, senior research and policy advisor at the Children’s Institute. “The goal is to develop and implement programming that creates a seamless transition across key developmental points from birth to age eight and to help connect families to services that promote family stability.”

Children in Yoncally Early Works ProgramDr. Beth Green, director of early childhood and family support research for PSU’s Center for the Improvement of Child and Family Services, partnered with the Children’s Institute and Early Works when the initiative launched eight years ago. Green, a social psychologist and expert in early childhood, along with the team she leads, collaborate with Early Works stakeholders to provide research and evaluation services that support decision-making and continued programmatic improvements by documenting progress and measuring critical benchmarks for success.

“Early Works is an innovative program,” Green said. “As a ten-year initiative, partners have had time to build programming from the ground up that can change the system. From the beginning, there’s been a commitment to engaging with families as the best partners in supporting children’s learning. And infused into every aspect of the initiative is a drive to identify place-based interventions for children from birth to third grade that support education, health, and families.”

Each year, Green and the center’s team of researchers gather and analyze data from a variety of sources covering multiple factors including assessments of early literacy, language, math, and socio-emotional skills—benchmarks for school readiness. They evaluate administrative data provided by the school looking at attendance and classroom performance indicators. They survey parents, conduct community focus groups, and interview key stakeholders. According to Green, the program evaluation supports decision-making that aims to improve services provided to children and families in the neighborhood, promote school readiness, and provide more consistent education experiences for children and their parents in support of healthy development and school success.

“It’s been amazing to have a research partner at the table from day one,” said Merrill. “The research provided by PSU helps everyone involved, from parents to educations, to community partners make decisions based on what the data tells us and use the data in more meaningful ways.”

Reports from Green’s group show that the program is leading to improvements in early literacy, numeracy, and socio-emotional skills for participating children. That includes Latinx children and children who are of Asian and Pacific Island descent. There have also been substantial gains in family engagement in children’s education in the Earl Boyles community. Green and Merrill discuss Early Works, student gains, and the program evaluation in a podcast produced by the Children’s Institute.

School Children in Early Works Program“Early Works has helped us develop and implement community-driven strategies at Earl Boyles that have transformed the school into a neighborhood center,” said Ericka Guynes, Principal at Earl Boyles and a PSU alumnus. "It’s had a profound impact on the way the school interacts with the community and operates. The partnerships we’ve formed with the Children’s Institute and PSU have helped the school and the community identify and address critical needs. And that’s powerful. The partnership has changed the trajectory for our children and our families.”

The period from birth through third grade has long-term effects on the lives of children, affecting everything from educational attainment to future earnings and health. Social and health disparities, however, can create barriers that impede a child’s readiness for school. The Children’s Institute Early Works initiative at Earl Boyles Elementary School in Southeast Portland and its sister program at Yoncalla Elementary School in Yoncalla, Oregon have convened over a dozen partnering organizations dedicated to providing wraparound support services to families with young children in the schools’ catchment areas and communities. Guided by the Center for Improvement of Child and Family Services’ evaluation of what works and where there are opportunities for improvement, the Early Works community of partners have coalesced into a village of sorts. That village is capable of addressing the social and health disparities that negatively affect family stability and school readiness, helping put children in Southeast Portland’s Powelhurst-Gilbert neighborhood on track for success in school and throughout life.