Early Childhood Summit Connects Wichita Falls Providers
Early Childhood Summit Connects Wichita Falls Providers
Summit helps workers answer the question, “Where could I send this family to get help?”
Staff members from various Wichita Falls-based organizations share ideas about child care problems and opportunities locally.
The Wichita Falls community is filled with get-back-on-your-feet resources, but that might contribute to one city problem: There are so many resources that not everybody knows what everybody else does.
Such knowledge is crucial when a volunteer or staff member at one organization seeks to find a complete solution for his or her clients from other organizations. To create better coordination, communication and cooperation, WFISD Superintendent Mike Kuhrt spearheaded the first meeting of the Wichita Falls Early Childhood Summit.
The Summit was held at Region 9 Education Center on Nov. 27.
Representatives attended from a wide variety of organizations, including WFISD’s Head Start, Workforce Solutions, First Step, Vernon College, Midwestern State University, Boys and Girls Club, WIC, Parents as Teachers, several child care centers, Inheritance Adoptions, Sheppard Air Force Base, Helen Farabee Center, Wichita Falls Housing, Nortex, Rolling Plains Management, and more.
Sharing strengths and challenges
“We want to hear what YOU do,” said Trish Dillmon to participants. They met in small groups centered on similar specialties, such as child care, food, and 2-1-1 response. They shared their greatest strengths as an organization and their greatest challenges.
“We have an after-school hot meal program at the Boys and Girls Club,” said Wichita Falls Area Food Bank representative Jim McMahan. “That’s our strength: feeding families in the public schools. Our main challenge is (getting) parent involvement).”
His organization’s goal: “To get more food into families’ hands,” he said. While it is easy to identify hungry children once they get to school, the Wichita Falls Area Food Bank wonders, “How do we help families with a 2-year-old?”
One participant suggested that Food Bank workers turn to child care centers, which often have long wait lists of families with young children. “We have a group on our wait list. We could share that with you,” said participant Courtney Comer. If they got a consent, they could make a referral.
Better training needed for teachers
Another participant suggested that some teachers need more training on the habits of children who are food-insecure. One told the story of a third-grade teacher who complained about a student who wouldn’t release his backpack or take off his coat. The reason? He was hoarding food for his hungry family.
Teachers need training to teach them that a hungry child may not necessarily be disobedient but may be somehow trying to take care of his family. “We need to work with our teachers,” said one. “Do they really understand? The (students) are not disobedient; they’re in survival mode.”
Parents as Teachers
A Parents as Teachers representative said some teachers may label a child as having ADHD when perhaps they’re just hungry. The symptoms of both are similar, she said. The Parents as Teachers organization serves more than 100 families, going into homes twice a month, and has a wait list.
One participant complimented Parents as Teachers for having a wait list. “Word has gotten out about how great you are. To have a wait list is awesome,” she said. “You don’t have to gain the community’s trust anymore.”
The wheels were turning in Mr. McMahan’s head as he envisioned the Parents as Teachers workers visiting homes twice a month. “I can see those two times you could get backpacks of food (from the Food Bank),” said Mr. McMahan. “We could coordinate with your people who go to those homes.”
2-1-1 in rural areas
A 2-1-1 representative who works the rural county of Montague said some programs only serve Wichita County, so the biggest way to help some needy families is to drop them off at the county line so they can take part in provisions to Wichita County residents.
The rural areas have little Section 8 housing and few apartments. Not a single dentist in Bowie, for example, will take Medicare, forcing many to travel to find health care.
Mike Kuhrt introduced the group to the theme of the Resilience documentary, which addresses stress levels in poor children and how such stress can affect their health for a lifetime.
WFISD Superintendent Mike Kuhrt explains the research behind the Resilience documentary to Summit participants.
Studies show it takes only one adult to bond with a child and help him cope, said Mr. Kuhrt.
This is the first gathering of so many needs-based organizations, said Carol Marlar, United Way representative. “Wichita Falls has a wealth of resources,” she said. “These are the areas that people come and say, ‘Help me.’”
One United Way worker said she was surprised to learn that transportation was a challenge in all groups.
Such networking is vital, said Trish Dillmon of United Way. “It’s important to find out what others in the community are doing. We’ll have a community wide coalition. I think it’s been tried, but now we’re putting out more of an effort.”
The research from the Resilience documentary has been powerful and is driving this renewed networking and partnerships, said Ms. Dillmon. “This is the missing piece – the research on The Adverse Childhood Experience. Resilience can be built.”
Upstart All Call!
Mr. Kuhrt announced a new WFISD initiative beginning in January to find 100 families with 4-year-olds who are not connected to pre-k, Head Start education or a quality day care.
His plan is to give the families a free Chrome Book, with wifi access, and telephone technical support to enable them to work with their children 15 minutes each day on a reading program.
The initiative is being funded by a gift from the West Foundation.
“We know if we can get those students ready to read when they start kindergarten, they’ll be so much farther ahead than they already are,” said Mr. Kuhrt.
Great progress is being made with the school district’s youngest, but research shows families need help long before their children walk into their first kindergarten class. To participate, contact Travis Armstrong at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jane Ann Bruner at email@example.com.