In May, four members of the Springfield Area Building Bright Futures Council had the opportunity to attend the Help Me Grow National Forum and learn more about Help Me Grow and how others are implementing the initiative. The team that was able to attend is made up of Rachel Hunter from the Springfield School District, Molly Oglesby from the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union, Stacey Sanderson from the Springfield Area Parent Child Center, and me, the Building Bright Futures Regional Coordinator. Not only that, the team was able to present about how we make collaboration work and how we engage families and providers in rural areas. We wanted to share our presentation from the Forum with Vermonters as well.
Our team has been working together for about 4 years and through this time we have figured out four different skills and rules that we follow to make collaboration work.
- Don’t be afraid of saying “no” or “yes”: Make sure to know your boundaries both personally and professionally, if you are unable to do something because it doesn’t fit in your job description or don’t have enough time to complete something be honest about that. If you don’t feel comfortable doing something, such as asking for donations, lean on someone else in the team. That is why there is a team.
- Have honest and direct communication: We also all have different knowledge of the community. It is important to be able to voice concerns over a project we may have. This only makes the team and projects stronger. Also what types of communication work for the team, is it email? Phone? Facebook messenger? Google drive? Snapchat? Whatever it is lean into that.
- Make it mutually beneficial: Most people are not at these meetings solely for the purpose of making a difference in the community. People come to meetings because they are getting a pay check, this will impact someone close to them, or they enjoy the meetings. What do you need to get out of working within this team, maybe it is a grant deliverable, maybe it is an event, and maybe it is something different. We all have constraints and limitations. If we realize why we are all here we can ensure each of our needs are met over time. Having a stake in the game helps everyone be more accountable.
- Make it FUN!: Make sure that there is some fun, this will strengthen relationships, make people want to keep participating, and lift your mood. There is no reason to be too serious.
We also had the opportunity to share some information about different family engagement activities that are working well in the Springfield Area as well as some that haven’t been successful.
- Parenting workshops/groups/etc: We have found that one of the most important to success in this environment is being relatable in many ways. Being relatable in the language used, sharing experiences from your own life, the way we dress, etc. We also found that it is important to bring people into the class and if the class is useful they will come back time and time again. Stacey Sanderson is our go to in this area.
- Family Film Series: We hosted free child friendly movies on the weekends at local libraries. Each movie was paired with a craft relating to the movie to enhance the learning from the movie both for caregivers and children.
- Time for A Change Diaper Bank: The diaper bank provides diapers to any family who needs them. The Just Us Moms Program, which is a group of local moms that meet monthly, also assists annually for our Diaper Dump (a diaper drive). This event has empowered moms who use the diaper bank to get involved in the community and they are integral parts of the Diaper Dump.
- Welcome Baby Bags: The Welcome Baby Bags have gone through a transformation in the last few years in this region, they started out primarily as information but have grown into bags that have gifts for the baby, siblings and caregivers. They have turned into a community project eliciting donations from across the region. This project took time but over the last year we have distributed almost 150 bags to families in the region.
You can’t win them all:
We have had many successful events but we have also had events that have flopped despite having everything you are “supposed” to have. Our family fun day included food, transportation and child care but had low attendance. We have wanted to host a Laundry and Learn event, an event where families are able to go to the laundry mat for free and learn some child development information, but have been unable to successfully find a laundry mat willing to work with us. We couldn’t find a mutually beneficial reason that was strong enough for the laundry mat to agree. It is important to learn from these events so that we can make adjustments but it is also important to keep trying new things to see what does work.
We share information on different ways we engage providers and the progress we have made. This region has been implementing the Same Page Initiative, an initiative designed to offer optimum education opportunities through collaboration and unique partnerships benefiting every child that will eventually attend Kindergarten.
We are still working on implementing this fully but have been successful in hosting 4 all day trainings for early childhood educators, including preschool teachers, kindergarten teachers and support staff. In those trainings we have had great feedback including:
- 100% of participants strongly agreed that they gained new knowledge and/or perspective by attending this training
- 100% of participants strongly agreed or agreed that they will apply what they learned in this training to network, strategize or collaborate with other community partners addressing this topic/issue, including parents
We have also been able to create mentoring relationships between preschool and kindergarten teachers so both are able to learn from each other’s strengths.
We hope that our team’s efforts inspire you in your work!