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Latino families with infants and toddlers in Minnesota face different obstacles to achieving a successful transition to kindergarten for their children. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Latino and Native American children have the lowest proficiency rates, at 68 percent and 62 percent, respectively. Additionally, Latino children have one of the lowest rates of participation in early childhood programs. This issue is not new; Minnesota has had a trend of unequal school readiness for decades. If we want to achieve permanent and sustainable solutions, we must be creative and implement strategies grounded in community empowerment and engagement.
In late 2019, the Minnesota Department of Human Services issued a Whole Family Systems Grant “to uncover and address systemic influences related to racial, geographic and economic inequities.” CLUES was one of eight organizations that were awarded this grant, and our work started in November 2019. Our objective is to achieve innovation through community empowerment.
Research shows a strong positive relationship between student achievement and parent involvement in their children’s education. But what do parents need to engage in their children’s learning process? And what barriers do Latino families in Minnesota face to access high-quality services of early care and education? We believe that parents and caregivers are the experts on their children’s learning experience. Therefore, they are a pilar component in our processes of design, implementation, and evaluation of programs addressing unequal school readiness.
First, CLUES recruited 30 parents living in the Twin Cities area with children ages 0-5 to be part of our Parent Advisory Group (PAG). We conducted individual interviews and facilitated workshops and focused conversations. We asked them what they would need to achieve a more successful transition to kindergarten. As a result, the PAG and CLUES co-created four pilot programs to bolster school-readiness levels among Latino children that will be implemented this year. One of these pilot programs is “Sembrando Éxitos: padres y madres como primeros maestros”. The PAG established the general topics of the curriculum, and CLUES developed the content and activities in collaboration with external partners and staff members.
We launched the first iteration of Sembrando Éxitos in February. Before the program, only 16% of the participants knew about the early childhood screening, 56% felt comfortable talking with their children about sex education, and 55% felt confident or very confident in themselves and their abilities to take care of their children. After the program, 100% knew about the early childhood screening, 100% felt comfortable talking to their children about sex education, and 88% felt confident or very confident in themselves and their abilities to take care of their children. Additionally, the percentage of parents who read to their children one or more times a day increased from 22% to 27%, and the percentage of parents who read to their children three or more times per week increased from 44% to 53%.
Involving the community in the design and evaluation of our pilot programs allows us to tailor the content and materials to their needs. But it also facilitates us to identify opportunities for systemic change. Families are the experts of their own experience, and any sustainable change has to come from empowering the community and listening to what they have to say.
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