A story from Health & Education Fund Impact Partner Oregon Community Health Workers Association.
We know a quality education leads to greater opportunities and improved health throughout life. We also know setting children up for success in their earliest years is the best way to prepare them for their whole academic career.
Too often, we don’t set children up for success in their earliest years, especially children from communities of color. Our education systems are designed to support children from dominant culture, primarily white children. This means African American, Native American, Latinx, immigrant and refugee children start school already behind.
The Community Education Worker (CEW) program, a collaborative program convened by Oregon Community Health Workers Association (ORCHWA) with CEWs hired by Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO), Latino Network, Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA) and the Urban League of Portland endeavors to address this problem. The Community Education Workers support African American, Native American, Latinx, Somali and Zomi families with young children to prepare them for school in culturally-specific ways. They teach parents how to “hack” the education system, and they strive to change systems, with the end goal of equity in education.
CEWs are parents and members of the communities they work in. They’re also Community Health Workers (CHWs). They’re chosen by ORCHWA and their culturally-specific nonprofit partners to become CEWs, because they’re already respected leaders in their communities. ORCHWA and partners ensure they’re certified and pay them for work they were frequently already doing informally for free.
ORCHWA established their CEW program five years ago. Within the last year, they added another piece to this program: a parent leader steering team. Parent leaders come from all the families ORCHWA’s CEWs support. Previously, these parents only took part in culturally-specific gatherings and trainings. Through the parent leader steering team, they’re part of a multicultural experience. They can see how issues affecting their own community also affect other communities.
The parent leader steering team acts as a channel for parents to provide feedback to ORCHWA on their CEW program. More importantly, it is also an avenue for parents to receive more in-depth training and build power together. For example, ORCHWA offered a 60-hour change-makers training for parents interested in working for early learning systems, including trauma-informed, de-colonial and culturally-competent methodologies.
One of the most effective ways to improve education for children of color is by increasing educators of color. ORCHWA creates professional development opportunities for parents and other community members with this in mind.
As the parent leader steering committee spends more time together, building their capacity and their power, they’ll also consider policies they want to change or institute. They’ll join the CEWs in changing systems, so hopefully they won’t have to “hack” them anymore.