Tag Archive: early childhood and education

  1. Motherhood: A Journey in Advocacy

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    Becoming a mother almost six years ago was a transformative experience that reshaped my worldview in profound ways. As I navigate the complexities of raising my children, I’ve discovered invaluable lessons about advocacy that have enriched my work in ways I never anticipated. 

    This Monday, as I accompanied my son to the Fund Our Schools Advocacy Day, I was struck by the parallels between motherhood and advocacy. President’s Day meant a school holiday, leaving me without child care. So, with my son by my side, I ventured into the halls of the General Assembly building, watching him confidently interact with legislators.  

    His ease in those corridors reflected my own journey, from a nervous intern to an advocate unafraid to speak truth to power. During this legislative session, I provided testimony to the House Appropriations Committee, highlighting that I’ve incurred child care expenses exceeding $87,000 over the past six years. Delegate Sewell acknowledged this during a chance encounter this morning when she paused, shook my son’s hand, and mentioned, “Your mommy talks about you all the time here.” 

     

    Over the years, I’ve woven advocacy into the fabric of motherhood, creating spaces where my children can witness democracy in action. From the Virginia General Assembly to the White House, they’ve accompanied me, absorbing the importance of civic engagement. These experiences have underscored a fundamental truth: motherhood and advocacy are deeply intertwined, each enriching the other in unexpected ways. 

    In my advocacy journey, I’ve spearheaded initiatives like Voices’ foster care policy network and the bipartisan foster care caucus with the Virginia General Assembly. These efforts have led to tangible change, including the creation of  Fostering Futures, Virginia’s extended foster care program. However, progress often unfolds slowly, mirroring the gradual development we witness in our children. It takes time, patience, and unwavering dedication to see meaningful results.  

    In my eighth legislative session with Voices, there is a glimmer of hope as we approach the potential passage of the Kinship Prevention Program. This initiative aims to allocate funding specifically for kinship caregivers, offering them essential wrap-around supports to better navigate their crucial role. This advocacy journey began with kinship listening sessions, followed by the successful passage of the kinship guardianship assistance fund, and later, the introduction of kinship maintenance payments. While the potential passage of this bill may not yield a perfect solution, it signifies a step forward—tangible progress in our ongoing efforts. 

    My children, like many others, have faced developmental delays, particularly in speech development. We’ve spent years in speech therapy, investing time and energy without experiencing immediate results. Yet, through perseverance and the support of programs like the Virginia Preschool Initiative, we’ve witnessed remarkable growth. It’s a reminder that change often comes gradually, but with steadfast determination, we can achieve remarkable outcomes. 

    As I reflect on my journey as both a mother and an advocate, I’m reminded of the profound impact of early intervention and investment. The disparities I see in my son’s kindergarten class underscore the urgent need for equitable access to resources and support. Motherhood has amplified to me that every child deserves a fair chance to thrive, and advocacy is the vehicle through which we can make that a reality. 

    Advocacy, much like motherhood, requires adaptability and a deep understanding of individual needs. Just as my children are unique, so too are legislators, each with their own backgrounds and motivations. To effect change, we must meet them where they are, speaking to what resonates on a personal level. Sometimes, the most impactful messages come from unexpected sources, highlighting the importance of collaboration and coalition-building in advocacy efforts. 

    In the intersection of motherhood and advocacy, I find a sense of purpose and resilience. It’s a reminder that our voices have power, and our actions can shape the future for generations to come. As I continue to advocate for the rights and well-being of all children, I do so with the knowledge that every small step forward brings us closer to a brighter, more equitable future. 

    My hope is that my advocacy today will spare my children the need to advocate for the same issues in their adulthood. In the end, I am both an advocate and a mother, and it’s in embracing these dual roles that I find my truest strength. Together, they form the foundation of my identity—a testament to the transformative power of love, determination, and unwavering commitment to a better world for our children.  

    Start your advocacy journey, take action on one or all of our active action alerts: https://vakids.org/take-action

  2. Social-Emotional Learning for Children & Youth in Schools

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    The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) describes Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) as the process through which children and adults acquire and apply the skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships and make responsible decisions. Extensive research demonstrates that school-based SEL programs can promote and enhance students’ connection to school, positive behavior and academic achievement.

    During the 2020 General Assembly Session, Delegate Sam Rasoul introduced House Bill 753 that requires the Virginia Department of Education to establish a uniformed definition of SEL and to develop standards and guidance for SEL for all public students in kindergarten through grade twelve. These standards must be made available to each local school division no later than July 1, 2021 with a report to be issued no later than November 1, 2021 on the resources needed in order to successfully support local divisions in the statewide implementation of a SEL program.

    Virginia’s Proposed SEL Standards

    The Virginia K-12 SEL Standards currently consist of five overarching competencies that provide clarity on the desired outcomes for SEL: self awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and decision-making. Concepts related to each competency include critical thinking, creative thinking, collaboration, citizenship and communication.

    As with academic Standards of Learning, the proposed SEL Standards outline the skills identified for each grade band to demonstrate the desired outcome under each overarching concept. The proposed Standards are intended to be developmentally appropriate based on grade-level and to build on concepts mastered in previous grades.

    As an example of the language in the standards, the proposed standards for those in 11th & 12th grades include:

    • Self-Management: I can demonstrate the ability to reframe challenging situations from a strengths-based and/or growth mindset perspective.
    • Social Awareness: I can recognize, describe and distinguish inequity and injustice at different levels of society.
    • Relationship Skills: I can identify ways to navigate unhealthy relationships.
    • Decision Making: I can make constructive choices by considering the personal, interpersonal, and community impacts of my choices.

    These Standards are intended to help educators and school personnel better support children’s social and emotional development at all ages. They include opportunities to address unconscious bias, mental health and conflict in age-appropriate ways. These standards represent important steps to make social-emotional competencies as important as academic competencies and to help all students succeed in the real world. However, this shift will take some additional resources to help prepare teachers, to provide the appropriate staff levels to support teachers in implementing these standards and to help schools create a climate where these standards are in concert with school practices.

    To further implement these standards, local school divisions should consider:

    • Funding for teacher training and preparation to implement standards
    • Hiring specialized support staff with additional state funds to meet new staff levels
    • Implementing school-wide practices such as multi-tiered supports and restorative justice.

    Earlier in May, the standards were posted for review and public comment on the Virginia Town Hall Comment Forum

    TAKE ACTION: Review the standards, provide any comments by May 26, 2021 and start discussions with local school leaders about what steps are needed to implement these standards.

    If you are having conversations with local school division leaders for how to use American Rescue Plan funds or additional state funds, encourage them to consider the necessary investments that should be made to implement the proposed SEL standards and how school climates can best support students.