Community Education Workers Teach Parents to "Hack" the Education System

A story from Health & Education Fund Impact Partner Oregon Community Health Workers Association.

A smiling child curls up with a babydoll and a stuffed animal.

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.

Community members serve themselves food from a buffet line.

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.

An adult holds a toddler, smiling at them.

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.

Student Community Health Workers Address Racism at Kelso High School

A story from Health & Education Fund Impact Partner The Noble Foundation.

When Kelso High School passed out the 2018-19 yearbook, students discovered it contained a quote by Adolf Hitler. Unfortunately, incidents like this aren’t unusual. Kelso High School students of color often hear inappropriate comments about topics like the Ku Klux Klan or slavery that their classmates claim are jokes. This doesn’t make for a comfortable learning environment. Racism at school harms students’ educational attainment and health. 

Ophelia Noble speaks to a library full of Kelso High School students.

Ophelia Noble speaks to a library full of Kelso High School students.

Responding to this reality, The Noble Foundation and several other community-led organizations met with 170 students (80 students of color and 90 white students) at Kelso High School in 2018 and held two caucused community conversations with students around their experiences with racism in both the education system and surrounding community. These conversations led to the establishment of the first credit-offering elective “Diversity Class” at Kelso High School in Spring 2018, which continued into the 2019 school year.

After visiting this class in Spring 2018 as a guest speaker, The Noble Foundation Executive Director Ophelia Noble heard students of color voice multiple requests for support. Around this same time, the Health & Education Fund Partners opened applications for Impact Partnerships. The Noble Foundation and some partner organizations rose to the occasion, submitting a successful application for funding to support a high-school-based, culturally-specific community health worker program.

Students submitted 79 applications and resumes for the original five community health worker slots. Responding to the high demand, the program organizers increased the number of slots to ten.

A group of Kelso High School students gather around a table in the library during one of the caucused community conversations.

A group of Kelso High School students gather around a table in the library during one of the caucused community conversations.

Every week for six months, the group of ten met in what is now recognized by staff and students as the school’s “Safe Space” to complete 90 hours of community-based, self-led community health worker training together. Although Ophelia and other adult community leaders attended to facilitate, for the most part the students led the work themselves. The students also committed to 20 minutes weekly of self-guided research on topics like communication, advocacy, leadership, team building, social justice, restorative justice and self-care, which is being used to develop the first culturally-specific, by-and-for community health workers curriculum in Southwest Washington.

Not only is the community health worker program a space for autonomy and leadership development, it’s also a space for students of color to spend time together and support one another. Three out of four Kelso High School students are white. Of the ten Kelso High School community health workers, two identify as African-American, three as Latinx, one as LGBQTIA, one as Korean and only three as white. The community health workers report feeling accepted and respected in this space.

During the school year, the community health workers planned and hosted outreach events, which they invited all students to attend. At a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event, community health workers taught classmates about MLK Jr. and Black History Month. On Earth Day, they celebrated and informed their peers about social justice. Each event drew more than 200 students.

The community health workers also identified trusted school staff, built long-term relationships within the group, and began building relationships with Kelso School District administrators, including Superintendent Mary Beth Tack and Kelso High Principal Christine McDaniels.

The community health workers pose around one of the trifold posters they created for their MLK Day outreach event.

The community health workers pose around one of the trifold posters they created for their MLK Day outreach event.

When students received the yearbook with the Adolf Hitler quote, the community health workers quickly called a special meeting for students to discuss their concerns. The meeting included facilitators and the newly formed Southwest Washington Communities United for Change (SWCUC). In this meeting, students determined they would reach out to the principal.

On the last Thursday of the school year, the principal met with the community health workers to answer questions, give feedback about yearbook policy updates, and apologize for the incident. The students stated they “wanted to continue to be the voice for their communities and were appreciative of the principal’s visit. But, also that this is just one event of the many they experience on almost a daily basis.” They plan to continue conversations with the principal next year.

Afterward, the community health workers gathered in the library to celebrate their successes. They deserved it. These students are contributing to a safer, healthier environment for themselves and future generations.

The Next Door Organizes Latino Parents in The Dalles

A story from Health & Education Fund Impact Partner The Next Door.

A family with two parents and two children runs through a park.

Every month since November 2018, Latino parents of children zero to eight-years-old gather in The Dalles to discuss health and education issues and develop their leadership skills. They’re brought together by Liliana Bello, a Community Health Worker at The Next Door. Liliana wants to hear about the barriers these parents face, meet their needs and help them become advocates for their children and families. 

Having been active in her community for the last fifteen years, Liliana knows how to meet Latino parents where they already are. She visited schools to recruit parents for this coalition. Twelve parents attended the first session. Through word of mouth, the coalition has grown to 17 participants. The Next Door gives parents $15 per meeting and provides child care with constructive activities, including art, games and walks around the building. These supports allow parents to attend consistently.

Community Health Worker Liliana Bello

Community Health Worker Liliana Bello

At the first coalition meeting, Liliana asked parents to voice their concerns about education and healthcare. A few of the concerns they listed: lack of communication between schools and parents, lack of bilingual staff at schools, discrimination against Hispanic children, unfair punishments, unhealthy cafeteria food, dangerous parking lots, bullying, uncertainty about how to help their children with mental illness, teachers’ ignorance of students with disabilities’ needs, healthcare providers’ discrimination against patients on the Oregon Health Plan and poor translation during healthcare visits.

Parents’ concerns guide the agenda for each coalition meeting. Liliana invites guests to speak on topics of interest. So far, guests have spoken about food and nutrition, child care provider requirements and parents’ rights, child development and Head Start, and how to spot and respond to child abuse. In June, parents will learn how to support children with depression.

One of the coalitions’ most fruitful visits was from North Wasco County School District’s superintendent and the director of their migrant education program. They listened to parents’ concerns about their children’s education and told parents who they can contact in specific situations. They also encouraged the parents to consider running for an open school board seat. Currently, no Latino or bilingual representatives serve on North Wasco County School District’s board, which means Latino students needs are not heard or represented. The director of the migrant education program later followed up with an invitation to a day-and-a-half long symposium and information about applying for a school board position. Fifteen people attended the symposium; nine of them were from The Next Door’s coalition!

One parent from the coalition already sits on a local board – the One Community Health board of directors. Thanks to the coalition’s encouragement, more parents have expressed interest in leadership positions, including on the school board, Head Start’s board of directors and policy council. The coalition participants feel supported by one another, often calling each other between meetings. They wish each meeting lasted longer, because they have so much to talk about.

Northwest Health Foundation looks forward to finding out what these parents do next!

Learn more about The Next Door.

FACT Oregon: Empowering Families Experiencing Disability to Pursue Whole Lives

A story from Health & Education Fund Impact Partner FACT Oregon.

Three photos: One depicts a woman and child swimming together in a pool. One depicts an adult running, a child biking, and a youth using a recumbent bike, all wearing matching green t-shirts. And one depicts two youth running on either side of a third youth in a power chair, all three with race numbers pinned to their shirts.
When we received Lizzie’s diagnosis of Down syndrome just after her birth, I had no context for what it meant for her or us. I feared she might not walk, talk, or count to three. I did not know if she would make friends, play sports, or do homework. As her parent, my preconceived thinking about disability — my ignorance — could be the biggest limiting factor to her living a full, whole life. What do you DO with that?
— Elliott Dale

From diagnosis, disability is often presented as a deficit and a reason to segregate. This leads to lives of limited growth, social isolation, loneliness, poor health outcomes, and underemployment for too many Oregonians. FACT Oregon empowers families experiencing disability to pursue whole lives and change the trajectory for their kids to one of unlimited potential.

Parents are hungry for support, resources, and ways to engage in community. FACT Oregon provides trainings, peer-to-peer support, and community building programs for families of youth experiencing disability to help change life trajectories. We support families across all 36 Oregon counties and are parent-led. Our board maintains a majority membership of parents, and all leadership and program staff are parents of youth or young adults experiencing disability. Our person-centered, collaborative support services and trainings cover special education, assistive technology, behavior as communication, inclusive recreation, disability awareness, becoming a welcoming community, family networking, navigating disability service systems, person-centered planning, transition to adulthood, and more.

We are experiencing record-breaking call volume, with a 32% growth in calls from families seeking support over the last year. One question we often ask families when they call or attend a training is: "What is your vision for your child's future?" That one question reminds families that they have the power to change trajectory, to hold high expectations, and to give their kids the opportunities they need to live whole lives of self-determination and inclusion.

One of our newest programs, the All Ability Tri4Youth, helps improve the health and well-being of young people experiencing disability by encouraging physical activity in community. A major factor in the high obesity rate for people with disabilities is limited access to sports and recreation. FACT Oregon's All Ability Tri4Youth, the only barrier-free triathlon on the West Coast, actively demonstrates how to design programming that welcomes people with disabilities more fully into sports and recreation. Participants get a chance to explore swimming, biking, and running, and families connect with local sports and recreation resources that their youth with disabilities can access.

Elliott’s story didn’t end in fear and ignorance. He got involved in FACT Oregon, currently chairs our board, and is on a journey, living a whole life:

Our family was fortunate to connect early with people who helped us challenge our norms. People who held high expectations, showed us that disability is natural, and modeled how to navigate the next step for Lizzie and the step after that. These are the people and families of FACT Oregon. Today, Lizzie counts, she runs, she has play dates, she has ballet practice and plays soccer, she does homework. And she is in first grade in a typical class in our neighborhood school— the first child with Down syndrome to attend for as long as anyone can remember. The people at FACT Oregon helped us make that happen.

Find out more about FACT Oregon at www.factoregon.org, and register today for our All Ability Tri4Youth, which will take place August 10, 2019 at Tualatin Hills Athletic Center in Beaverton.