Brenda Smith has taught at Educare Chicago, a program of Start Early, for 13 years. In that time, she’s seen first-hand how providing for the needs of families can uplift not only her students, but the communities in which they live.
Partnering with Parents: The Educare Chicago Approach
Our quality early learning programs act as a vital resource that link families and entire communities to the tools they need to thrive. Educare Chicago teacher, Brenda Smith, shares her perspective on how this approach makes a significant difference on the children and families they work with.
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“We had one child whose mom was actually homeless… We treated them with so much care and love that when she came in, she would just stay the whole day,” Brenda says.
The student’s mom spent most of the day in the Educare Chicago Family Center, a space that gives parents access to a computer lab, family resource library and conference rooms. At the Educare Chicago Family Center, program staff made a point to connect with the mother and began building a meaningful, trusting relationship.
“She always came in when she brought him,” says Brenda. “She made sure he came to school… when she wasn’t coming, she would call us. We felt like she had really made us a part of her family.”
I’ve been in this field for a long time, and I have never been at a center that cared as much and had the same amount of compassion for its parents and families as Educare Chicago.Brenda Smith, Educare Chicago teacher
The team at Educare Chicago worked to identify the family’s needs and address them as much as possible. Start Early’s quality early childhood programs often help families access community services that they might otherwise not be aware of or are otherwise unable to use because of systemic barriers.
“We made sure that she was able to get him here,” Brenda explains. “We provided her with carfare. We gave her gift cards to get things that she might’ve needed, that she wouldn’t have been able to receive if she wasn’t here.”
Mental health consultants and family support specialists on staff also worked with the student’s mom, connecting her to a wide range of supportive services.
“We had wonderful mental health consultants that took care of her, mentally and emotionally, in ways that us, the teachers, couldn’t,” adds Brenda.
After her son graduated from the program, the mother continued to occasionally visit Educare Chicago’s campus and provide the team with updates on her life.
“She has her own apartment now, and she has a job now,” says Brenda. “We provide our parents with so much information and so much family support.”
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For over 40 years, Start Early has provided doula, home visiting, and Head Start programs while advocating for policies and adequate funding to make quality early education programs, like Educare Chicago, accessible to communities across the nation. Support Start Early today and help us continue to build and offer quality programs to children and families living in under-resourced communities.
Partnering with parents and connecting them with services and resources to help understand their children’s developmental needs is a core component of Educare Chicago’s approach to ensure students grow up healthy, supported by their families and ready to learn.
“We have a program that links parents up with other organizations,” Brenda says. “These organizations help them if they want to go to school, if they have loans that are overwhelming them, if they need a car, if they need somewhere to live, if they need furniture… They provide that kind of help for our parents.”
The focus on providing for parents and families at Educare Chicago is indicative of the support that well-resourced early childhood learning programs can provide. Brenda, who worked at several daycare centers prior to her work with Educare Chicago, says that this approach makes a significant difference in the educational and social outcomes of its students.
“I’ve been in this field for a long time, and I have never been at a center that cared as much and had the same amount of compassion for its parents and families as Educare Chicago,” she says.
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