To solve the need for better access to affordable, culturally competent, quality early childhood education services (ECE) in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood (West Bank)
What has been most instrumental to your progress?:
There are three primary components, or strategies that have been important to our project progress this past year. First is recruiting key community members to our Early Childhood Education (ECE) Task Force. Most Task Force members are from the East African community and all have some connection to or interest in Early Childhood and Family Education (ECFE). Parents, ECFE educators, including staff from Minneapolis Public Schools, ECFE providers, and program managers from Brian Coyle Center have all helped us stay focused on issues relevant to local families.
In addition, our Task Force members have provided valuable advice for how best to connect with Somali parents to encourage them to participate in our community forums. As a result, the participation of Somali families in our activities so far has been robust.
The third strategy contributing to our progress is engaging with ECFE providers, nonprofit ECFE agencies, and neighborhood religious institutions as supporters of our work.
Our Task Force has expanded its understanding of ECFE issues and resources through presentations by Think Small, Way to Grow, and Minneapolis Public Schools. These organizations share our passion for helping local families and children succeed. Their experience and knowledge guide and inform our efforts to increase access to ECFE resources in our community. Sharing news of our plans and progress with these entities has expanded our network of supporters and advisors and helps increase awareness in the broader community about the commitment our community has made to ECFE as a top priority for our neighborhood.
Connecting with religious institutions to help us spread word of our activities helps us to reach community members in ways that fact based presentations cannot. Religious leaders have been supportive of our activities and offered to host forums and ECFE classes in their buildings, providing a safe space for families to come to learn about what for some people is an unfamiliar topic.
Key lessons learned:
We’ve learned that many parents in our community are unfamiliar with ECFE. It was not part of their upbringing, nor was it widely available where they grew up. Before we talk to families about the benefits of ECFE, we found it’s important to first explain the difference between ECFE and childcare.
Further, providing fact-based presentations of ECFE’s benefits might, or might not move parents to action. One of our Task Force members suggested that if we talk about ECFE in conjunction with a recommendation, or exhortation from a religious, or community leader, our chances of success might increase. Therefore it's very important for us to engage with community and religious leaders to help provide the extra inspiration, or cultural context that will reach some of our parents with a message that inspires them.
Reflections on inclusive, collaborative or resourceful problem-solving:
While no single element of the innovation process has been more important than the others, inclusiveness and collaboration have been more operative helping us to make progress to this point.
As we mentioned in our answer to the first question of this report, inclusiveness was important to both our Task Force recruitment and community engagement. It has helped keep us focused on the priorities of our local families.
By inviting staff from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis Public Schools, and Pillsbury United Communities to be part of our Task Force, we’ve engaged those people and institutions as collaborators who help guide and inform our progress, as well as offer us access to a wealth of resources and expertise that will continue to help us move our community innovation process toward a successful conclusion.
Other key elements of Community Innovation:
Reflecting on our work and reviewing our progress versus our stated outcomes is helping us keep our focus on areas where we need to make more progress. It is informing our plans for the work we’re doing with the help of our communications and outreach consultant, including guiding plans for forums and neighborhood events we’re going to conduct in the near future. For example, this reflection has prompted us to re-assess our strategies for engaging a broader segment of our community, particularly for our outreach to the Oromo community and encouraging additional participation by women on our Task Force.
Understanding the problem:
Our work has led to more clarity in that not only are we hearing from local parents about their need for additional ECFE resources, we have also learned there is even more work to do educating parents about the benefits and importance of ECFE than we originally anticipated.
This fact has come through clearly for us as we consider that in spite of joint promotions by MPS, our Task Force, and the Cedar Riverside People’s Center, this collaborative was not able to recruit parents to take advantage of free ECFE classes offered at the People’s Center. This lack of success has led us to focus additional energy on education and outreach.
It has also prompted us to consider promoting ECFE classes only at certain well-known locations in our community, including a mosque, Brian Coyle Center, and the Cedar Riverside Opportunity Center. Our project might also benefit from a promotional strategy that includes asking our local mosque and its religious leadership to help us communicate with their worshippers about the importance and benefits of ECFE.
If you could do it all over again...:
Plan to have a bigger list of Task Force participants, making sure to include more women and a more diverse cohort local residents, including Oromo and Asian parents in the process. This way, when a certain amount of attrition comes to the Task Force over a period of a year, we would have more active members than we do at present. Additionally, a greater diversity of participants would promote inclusivity.
Also, plan an outreach strategy for each ethnic group that begins with building relationships first before trying to engage community members in conversations about ECFE issues.
For example, we’ve learned that Somali people are more likely to speak up, be heard, and ask questions about resources that might help their families make progress. Oromo people by contrast are less likely to speak up and therefore require a different engagement approach.
We have been given advice that if we first connect with members of the Oromo community to simply introduce ourselves, that in subsequent meetings, we would be more likely to enjoy success with our engagement around ECFE.