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Mathematica next steps; Tackling mental health needs and efforts to fill critical teacher positions
Updates from Head Start Learning Network                                    View this email in your browser

Innovation Fund grantees continue to implement evidence-based, thoughtful approaches to focus on systemic challenges. In this newsletter, we learn more about how agencies are tackling student and teacher mental health needs and efforts to fill critical teacher positions. We also share next steps with the Mathematica team. I encourage you to read on for the details.

Sincerely,
Kamilah Henderson
Senior Program Officer
Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan

Mathematica Continues Partnership with Head Start Innovation Fund
In the next few months, Mathematica staff, Diane Paulsell (below left) and Megan Angus, will be working with Head Start Innovation Fund grantees in several ways.

First, they will be sharing grantee specific survey results from the evaluation they concluded in the spring. As an additional resource, Megan and Diane will hold calls to discuss those findings in detail with each grantee.

Following that effort, they will host a series of learning collaborative meetings to explore high priority topics: 1) Early Head Start enrollment, 2) individualized professional development, including coaching and reflective supervision, and 3) teacher recruitment strategies. They will use a framework called Learn, Innovate, and Improve to guide the work, with grantee staff as active participants in this learning and sharing.

Later in the year, they will hold additional focus groups with teachers and staff as well as individual interviews with lead grantee staff. Lastly, the Mathematica team will prepare a final report and share the results with grantees in an in-person briefing.

Focus on Mental Health to Improve Student Learning and Staff Wellbeing
Head Start providers across the network have seen an increase in the number of children with mental health issues and challenging behaviors, which takes a toll on teacher wellbeing and the classroom environment. Additionally, agencies have noted that staff often are experiencing trauma and in need of therapeutic support that will help them as they engage with children and their families. Providers are employing a number of strategies to support children, families and staff to deal with these complex needs.

With Innovation Fund dollars, agencies are tapping into partnerships and programs that allow them to quickly enhance and scale their mental health services to children and families.

Macomb Community Action Head Start 0-5 continues to leverage its Innovation Fund grant to support its innovative partnership between the agency’s Trauma Smart team and Macomb County Community Mental Health to streamline service delivery to children and families.

“Before the Trauma Smart partnership existed, families had to manage a multi-step referral process to ultimately be put on a waitlist for services or work with therapists who were less familiar with the birth-to-5 age group,” explained Maralyn McNally, program manager of Head Start 0-5 at Macomb Community Action. “Now, Head Start children are immediately accepted for services and can meet with their therapist in a timely manner on a schedule that meets the family’s needs.”

Families who did not meet Community Mental Health criteria for services were still able to receive mental health and trauma therapies through the Trauma Smart partnership because of the Innovation Fund grant.

Between January and June, Community Mental Health therapists provided nearly 400 hours of services to Head Start children and families who were dealing with traumatic experiences, including classroom and home interventions. More than 40 children were referred between January and June, with 100 children supported during the 2018-2019 school year. Since the Trauma Smart partnership started two years ago, total consults have increased by 56 percent for services to staff and parents.

Matrix Human Services’ Head Start is expanding its partnership with the Detroit Institute of Children (DIC) to  provide dedicated, comprehensive support for both teachers and parents—from training to prevention services to evaluation. Due to the growing need for mental health services, Matrix also is creating an in-house mental health department that will be devoted to managing resources provided internally and via the DIC.

“We are committed to increasing our mental health services,” shared Cristal Claussen, Head Start program director at Matrix. “With the current Head Start Innovation Fund grant, we’re able to go a step further with our in-house capabilities and coordination of services. The team will work with staff to anticipate caseload and coordinate our in-house and partner resources.

“We must build up our teachers so that they feel competent and supported. Ultimately, this will produce improved outcomes for our children, with CLASS score improvements a by-product of this work.”  

New St. Paul Head Start Agency introduced Conscious Discipline, a new evidence-based mental health curriculum to address the needs of children with difficult behaviors and support social emotional health. The educational program provides strategies and structures for teachers that help with challenging behaviors and promote a positive learning environment.

“Previously, we would have been fortunate to send individual members of our education team and our mental health manager to receive this training,” said Cheryl McFall, deputy executive director of New St. Paul Head Start Agency. “Our Innovation Fund grant allowed us to roll out Conscious Discipline training for our entire team.

“Within a few months of starting the program, our mental health manager saw improvement in classroom behavior, which promotes a better learning environment. It’s a benefit for our teachers’ wellbeing and we expect to see improved student outcomes as well.”

Filling the Head Start Talent Pipeline, Addressing Employment Barriers
In a challenging hiring environment, Head Start agencies are being creative in building a pipeline of talent to fill immediate openings and staff classrooms for funded enrollment. Even as the number of undergraduate students pursuing education degrees declines, only 8 percent of aspiring teachers are majoring in early childhood education, according to an Education Week article. Largely agencies must “grow” their own talent—personalizing support for willing prospects and promoting the field to younger audiences.

Wayne Metro’s teacher apprenticeship program, Leap to Teach, continues to focus on developing Early Head Start and Head Start teachers to match the agency’s immediate talent needs. Building on a long tradition in Head Start of promoting career opportunities in the program for Head Start parents, Leap to Teach largely recruits parents to participate in its fast-track program to earn a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential, providing mentorship, a stipend, and financial savings assistance to ensure candidates successfully earn their CDA and gain employment.

“The Innovation Fund has sustained our successful ‘grow your own talent’ approach that offers an intensive, supportive, and fast-track to entry into the early childhood profession,” said Katy Kibbey, chief programs officer of youth and family services at Wayne Metro Community Action Agency. “From our partnership with Wayne County Community College to the stipend, the comprehensive support offers candidates a path to immediate employment as well as puts them on a solid footing to pursue an associate credential.”

Twenty-seven apprentices have participated in Leap to Teach with 77 percent earning their CDA or in the final stages of securing their credential. Nine candidates are now employed in Head Start with more pending from the recent Cohort 3 interviews for school year 2019-2020 positions.

Wayne Metro and other Head Start agencies often move candidates as a cohort, which has the additional benefit of creating emotional support within the group, Oakland Livingston Human Service Agency’s (OLHSA) early childhood services team is taking an individualized approach by helping candidates with a variety of employment barriers.

“Through our Come Grow with Us workforce development program, we noticed that interested participants had employment barriers beyond just earning the necessary CDA credential,” said Linda Vanderwaal, associate director, early childhood services at OLHSA. “With our Innovation Fund grant, we help candidates resolve specific issues, such as getting their transcripts translated into English, developing repayment plans for student loan debt so that universities will release transcripts, paying for driver’s education classes so that candidates earn their required license, and helping pay for unpaid tickets to resolve a suspended license. Ultimately, we want to provide an entry into stable employment and fill our need for teachers.”

The employment barriers assistance has helped 11 staff gain employment, filling critical teacher vacancies for OLHSA.

Additionally, OLHSA is using its Innovation Fund grant to offer a referral incentive to employees. The first 40 staff who refer someone for a Head Start position will earn $250 after the new hire successfully completes their probationary period.

Macomb Community Action Head Start 0-5 is reaching deeper in the pipeline with outreach to local high school programs to cultivate talent for the field. In addition to continued work with early childhood education university programs across the tri-county area, Macomb is developing relationships with six Macomb high schools via teacher cadet programs for interested students. Staff have visited classrooms to present about opportunities within the field.

“It’s going to take a while to see what these efforts yield,” shared Maralyn McNally, program manager of Head Start 0-5 at Macomb Community Action, “but we feel it’s a necessary part of our talent recruitment work. With a declining interest in teaching, we need to promote the field earlier to attract more students to pursue early childhood education.”

 
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