Leading Leaders: A New Partnership Promoting Equity In Minnesota’s Early Childhood Sector

In recent years, amid a renewed public conversation about racism, bias, and exclusion, early childhood educators and leaders are finding new ways to promote racial justice in the classroom. Across all of Greater Twin Cities United Way's work in early childhood, we support these efforts with an eye toward "systems change" — transforming our institutions and public systems to ensure that all young learners get a great start. As one of our key initiatives in the early childhood space, 80x3: Resilient from the Start reflects this ethos as we champion holistic well-being and create new healing opportunities for children and families.

In the realm of early education in Minnesota, researchers and advocates have used data to paint a clear picture of our state's glaring opportunity gaps and disparities. Yet, without formal opportunities for collaboration and relationship-building among early childhood leaders, progress remained stagnant, stuck in the realm of transactions rather than transformation. Enter the disruptor: The Leadership Residency, a groundbreaking collaboration between 80x3 and Embracing Equity, rises to the challenge. This innovative initiative is not just another program; it's a force, a game-changer in the early childhood sector, boldly moving people from well-intentioned to well-equipped when it comes to addressing racism within trauma-informed practices. The Leadership Residency isn't just aiming for change—it's igniting a revolution, sparking seismic shifts in the landscape of early childhood education through personal, organizational, and systems-level shifts. We work with 11 organizations across Minnesota:

Organizations participating in the Leadership Residency program work through a 12-month process with Embracing Equity, undertaking a comprehensive equity audit, tailored coaching, virtual Communities of Practice, and a multi-day summer retreat guided by expert facilitators. 

Embracing Equity’s framework focuses on individual development, creates cultures of belonging, and transforms systems and structures. "We have this network of people across all of Minnesota... building a shared language and a shared culture around social change," said Carly Riley, Senior Director of Learning at Embracing Equity. The program encourages participants to identify central problems of practice and set goals aligned with individual learning, organizational culture, and systemic change.

“At the core of trauma-sensitive care is anti-racism and racial justice, so there's a lot of ways in which you can be trauma-sensitive and trauma-informed. The backbone we really believe in at Embracing Equity is an anti-racist and intersectional lens because we have to understand how racialized trauma has impacted all of us in a country where racism exists,” Carly explains.

Think Small, a network of caregivers, educators, policymakers, & families first connected with Embracing Equity through the Leadership Residency program as they sought strategic approaches to embedding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in their work. “We did our first organization-wide equity audit, and then they provided the support and helped us to think through what goals we wanted to work on that year,” recalls Candace Yates,  Vice President of Equity & Early Childhood Programs at Think Small. 

The power of the Leadership Residency partnership with Embracing Equity was evident to Candace from the beginning. “We impact and touch a lot of the same child care programs, a lot of the same families. We work in the same communities. So it makes sense for us to align and to do this work together,” she said. “Ultimately we have the same goal, right? We want healthy communities and families to have access to high-quality child care so that all children can be socially, emotionally, and academically ready for their futures.”

As she sees the work of Embracing Equity playing out in Think Small’s setting, Candace emphasizes how important it is for everyone in the space to have a shared language and commitment to shifting how we do our work. “As we talk and engage with your families and child care educators, we risk causing harm and reopening wounds of trauma that they and others have worked so hard to heal if our organizations are not equipped to take an anti-racist approach to everything we do. That is the bridge between programs and 80x3 and why they exist and why we have the Leadership Residency in the first place.”

This groundbreaking Leadership Residency partnership forged between 80x3 and Embracing Equity isn't just about taking a step forward; it's about charging headfirst into the heart of racial inequities, disrupting the status quo with a laser focus on trauma-sensitive and healing-centered care practices. Brace yourselves: this group of leaders is paving the way for truly inclusive environments where every child,  family, and staff feels supported and valued.
Stay tuned for opportunities to work with the Leadership Residency. Embracing Equity also offers a free 30-minute call to introduce your organization to the work and discuss your options. Click here to schedule a consultation today.

Supporting Trauma-Sensitive Early Childhood Education in Minnesota Through 80x3

The early childhood education sector is facing a crisis in Minnesota and across the nation. Amidst a shortage of staff and teachers for our youngest learners, educational programs are looking to take significant steps to bolster support for families and educators alike. "The cost of child care is ridiculous and completely unreasonable. Families aren't able to pay for child care, so they're not able to work. It really affects our entire economy and our entire well-being as a state,” says Krystal Shatek, new member of the 80x3 Advisory Committee. Krystal has been in early childhood education and administrative roles for over 20 years and also served on the Great Start for All Minnesota Children Task Force

Child care costs have skyrocketed to unsustainable levels for many families, putting many of those families in a position of working multiple jobs or sacrificing an income to take care of their children. Not only that, but many of the families that are served through Krystal’s program are coming from traumatic circumstances. Krystal notes, "Children that are from families that have gone through significant trauma... are coming from the highest number of adverse childhood experiences you can imagine." This trauma often manifests in disruptive behaviors in the classroom, further exacerbating the challenges faced by educators.

"Their trauma is expressed through their behavior, which affects the whole classroom," says Krystal. “However, many early childhood educators feel ill-equipped to handle these challenges without proper support and training.

On July 1, 2024, the state of Minnesota’s Early Learning Scholarships Program will be expanded to offer more comprehensive support to families. Krystal emphasizes, "The scholarships available right now don't cover the entire cost of child care." By increasing scholarship funding, more families will have the opportunity to access high-quality care for their children, supporting their academic and emotional development.

Creating a sustainable future for early childhood education requires a multi-faceted approach that addresses the needs of both families and educators. Minnesota is taking significant steps toward transforming the early childhood education sector and ensuring that all children have access to high-quality care and support by expanding scholarships, prioritizing trauma-informed care, and investing in educator support and training.

Krystal says there is a need for "quality over quantity" in early childhood education initiatives. Greater Twin Cities United Way’s 80x3: Resilient from the Start initiative is focused on "making sure that these teachers, these kids, these families all have safe spaces to work and learn and bring their children." This commitment to quality programming and support reflects a broader shift towards holistic, trauma-informed approaches to child care and education.

"The research that they put into it is incredible. And they have an amazing training program that they have designed for educators to help increase trauma-responsive programming and understanding," says Krystal. This evidence-based approach ensures that initiatives like 80x3 are not only effective but also sustainable in the long term.

The success of early childhood education initiatives hinges on the ability to support both families and educators. By addressing the systemic challenges facing the sector and prioritizing trauma-informed care and support, Minnesota is paving the way for a brighter future for all children. As Krystal aptly puts it, "We need to have a child care system that can support these families, not just until they hit the bare minimum of getting out of poverty, but until they're able to feel secure and thrive in the community."

Building Community: How 80x3 Transforms Family Support at Wilder Child Development Center

When a child has gone through adverse child experiences (ACEs) and developed stressors and trauma, family and caregivers are often the first to notice. To help children develop healthy coping mechanisms to buffer the negative effects of trauma, it falls to those families and caregivers to create a safe, trauma-sensitive environment that cultivates resilience. Greater Twin Cities United Way’s 80x3 Resilient from the Start initiative works directly with program administrators to develop those trauma-sensitive care skills and in its first year alone has helped over 440 families in Minnesota. 

From resources, guides, and training modules to funding parent rooms and providing dedicated staff support, 80x3 empowers child care providers with invaluable resources, fostering stronger connections and a supportive community environment. These resources help develop the skills of teachers, have a direct impact on families and caregivers, and create an environment for children to develop the critical skills to rebound from ACEs.

The Wilder Child Development Center is witnessing the realization of a long-awaited dream with a helping hand from the 80x3 initiative—a dedicated parent room. This innovative space is poised to revolutionize family support in child care settings, offering a sanctuary for parents to decompress, connect, and thrive.

 “We've been a long-time partner with Greater Twin Cities United Way. Our partnership with 80x3 hit us at a really good time because we were really looking at how to support teachers in a different way,” said Angela Clair, Director of Early Childhood Services at Wilder.

Parents, the true architects of this initiative, expressed their longing for a haven within the center. The vision was clear: a room designed by parents, for parents. They envisioned a space where they could recharge before reuniting with their children, where they could share experiences and advice with peers, and where practical amenities, like access to a computer for printing documents, could ease the burden of administrative tasks.

“For a good amount of our families, social isolation is a big thing. And that's due to trusting those around you. We're a small enough center that we're pretty tight-knit. And I think when families are able to make those connections with another parent, that's someone that they can rely on and, and have as a support where they wouldn't have had that before,” said Angela.

Transforming this vision into reality required creativity, resourcefulness, and, most importantly, external support. The 80x3 funding provided the crucial catalyst needed to breathe life into the parent room project. What was once a dimly lit office space cluttered with paperwork has undergone a remarkable transformation. The room, now affectionately named "The Den," stands as a testament to the power of community collaboration and collective empowerment.

The parent room at the Wilder Child Development Center is a testament to the profound impact of trauma-sensitive care and holistic family support. By investing in resources and spaces that support parents, early childhood education programs can acknowledge the vital interplay between parental resilience and child development.  A parent who feels supported, heard, and valued is better equipped to nurture their child's growth, fostering a cycle of positivity and empowerment within the community.

By embracing trauma-informed approaches and prioritizing holistic family support, child care centers can foster stronger connections within their communities, empower caregivers with valuable skills and resources, and ultimately shape a brighter future for all children

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Expanding Access to High-Quality Child Care: A Beacon of Hope for Minnesota Communities

Starting July 1, 2024, the Minnesota Department of Education will be broadening its Early Learning Scholarships Program to offer additional support to children dealing with traumatic circumstances. Alongside continuing to prioritize children who are children of teen parents, in foster care, involved with child protective services, or have experienced homelessness in the last 24 months, the program will now extend priority to children whose parents are incarcerated, undergoing substance use treatment, receiving mental health treatment, or have experienced domestic violence. This expansion reflects a compassionate approach, aiming to ensure that all children have access to vital early childhood education and care opportunities.

Kendrea Dickson, Director at the Center of Excellence in Minneapolis, knows firsthand the impact these updates to the pathways scholarships will have on the families in their community. "The updates will help us reach more families and children," she explains. "We take pride in providing quality, healing-centered care for our community."

The Center of Excellence has served families and children in Minneapolis for the past decade. Established as an extension of the child care services at People Serving People, the Center is dedicated to providing trauma-sensitive and healing-centered support care to its community.

Why are the priority scholarship updates so crucial? Kendrea points to the needs of families, especially those in priority populations such as those affected by domestic violence, incarceration, mental health issues, substance abuse, and teen parenthood, who are in dire need of additional resources. "Children did not ask to be born into these circumstances and deserve quality care," she says. "Families need a village to provide care while they navigate these challenges."

Access to high-quality child care programs using scholarships is essential not only for families but also for the staff.

The Center of Excellence's collaboration with 80x3: Resilient from the Start enhanced the Center of Excellence's ability to provide trauma-informed and culturally responsive care in classrooms. "80x3 has provided the necessary training and conversation starters that help educators understand the children and families they are working with," says Kendrea. "It also helps teachers to be sensitive, as opposed to judgmental, of the struggles that families endure."

However, challenges remain in implementing trauma-informed and culturally responsive practices in early childhood settings. While scholarships provide more access for families, educators require additional support in the classroom to provide the best quality care possible for every child that comes through their doors.

Looking towards the future of early childhood education in Minnesota, Kendrea envisions continued advocacy efforts focusing on providing more support within the classroom. Despite these challenges, success stories abound at the Center of Excellence, where families have found respite and support through scholarships and professional development opportunities.

"We have many success stories from families who have been in a shelter with no village," Kendrea shares. "Being able to take self-care time and mental health breaks away from the stressors of parenthood because they qualify for scholarships."

The collaboration between the Center of Excellence and 80x3 highlights the importance of community support and partnership in addressing the diverse needs of families and children. By expanding access to high-quality child care programs through scholarships, the state of Minnesota is not just investing in the well-being of individual children but also fostering stronger, more resilient communities. Together, 80x3 and our community partners can continue to advocate for equitable access to early childhood education and ensure that every child receives the care and support they need to thrive.

Building Resilient Early Childhood Educators: How 80x3 Supports Teacher Well-Being

 A 2022 study showed that 45% of early childhood educators reported to be battling mental health challenges and burnout. Just as educators care for children, they must also care for themselves and each other. To ensure teachers can give their all to every student, Greater Twin Cities United Way’s 80x3: Resilient from the Start initiative partners with educators and program administrators to provide a wide array of resources promoting teacher well-being and professional development. 80x3 works with professional development providers and early childhood programs to give teachers growth opportunities focused on trauma-sensitive care, including training, workshops, and cohorts.

Educators like those at the Hallie Q. Brown Community Center located in the Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul, MN utilize the training offered through 80x3 to recognize triggers and traumas in their classroom and it has “opened their eyes” as teachers. The Hallie Q. Brown program was founded as part of an effort to address the growing challenges facing marginalized communities, in particular African American families, in Minnesota’s capital city. The mission of the center is to enhance community well-being by offering essential human services, preserving African American heritage, and promoting personal development, self-reliance, and community leadership.  96% of the program's enrollment is African American and 95% of the families are low-income.

Hallie Q. Brown and many other early childhood centers have seen an uptick of students entering their programs with stresses and trauma that were not being addressed in traditional child care settings. When left unaddressed, trauma and stresses experienced by children in the first few years of their life can significantly impact their brain and body development, potentially leading to long-term consequences on their physical, emotional, and cognitive well-being. Angelica Goettl, Assistant Executive Director at Hallie Q. Brown, and her staff saw the need to help and jumped into action, utilizing the partnership with 80x3 to prioritize trauma-informed care development programs for staff to get ahead of the curve. The team noticed an incredible improvement in the children and the classroom atmosphere as the impact of this training became more evident. Caring, communication, and a consistent feedback loop between child and educator have created a more constructive, growth-oriented classroom for each student. "The training has made such a difference, not just for myself or the staff, but for the kids,” Angelica said.

Angelica stresses how important it is for the holistic success of the program for teachers to be feeling their best, something professional development programming through the 80x3 partnership has highlighted as a key to providing the best care for every child. "When life is getting in the way, you're not giving 100% to those little people. We want to give every teacher the resources so they can be here 100%," she remarked. “They bring us the resources to face the challenges that we are dealing with. They do the legwork, they do the research, and we can feel confident doing our work with their support.” Angelica and her colleagues recognize traumas and triggers within each other, just as they would with the children in their classroom.

High job turnover and burnout are a critical challenge in education as teacher shortages continue to worsen across the country. According to Forbes, roughly one-quarter, 24%, of teachers have expressed the inability to cope with job stress compared to just 12% of workers in other professions, underscoring the need to prioritize the well-being of educators as essential to maintaining a positive and effective learning environment for young children. Hallie Q. Brown’s partnership with 80x3 has given educators like Angelica and her team access to resources they otherwise wouldn’t have, allowing them to impart trauma-informed care practices not only in their classrooms but also in their interactions with one another. When educators take care of themselves and each other, they can create a more nurturing and positive learning environment.

If you would like to learn more about opportunities for educators and classrooms through 80x3 Resilient from the Start, click here.