NH Listens flipped the typical lecture format of meetings into an audience driven work session with tangible outcomes during the recent Monadnock Region Community Action Forums on Early Childhood. The series of forums were sponsored and organized through community partnerships. Dr. Marjorie Droppa, Director of IMPACT Monadnock, discussed the months of planning and inter-district partnerships that brought a series of 5 forums to the Monadnock region. SAU 47 Superintendent, Reuben Duncan, chaired the coalition of Monadnock regional superintendents that partnered with IMPACT Monadnock, NH Listens,The Endowment for Health and the United Way. One forum event, hosted at Conant High School, put participants to work discussing the climate of early childhood learning in the Rindge and Jaffrey communities.
The well-attended event included parents, local police, leaders from several church groups, members of the school board,diverse educators, administration, town officials and leadership from IMPACT Monadnock and NH Listens. Information gathered throughout the evening will be collated, analyzed and given back to the communities for further action. Keene State College and IMPACT Monadnock will utilize the information to screen for candidates supportive of early-childhood friendly policies in the upcoming election.
Participants were divided into three working groups guided by NH Listens facilitators. Groups were asked to brainstorm issues promoting or preventing access to quality early-learning in the towns. Facilitators guided groups toward a final summary including key issues and recommendations for improving future access to early-learning. Below are summary points from the three work groups:
Group One Summary
Group one highlighted the difficulties for parents who work long hours in accessing full-length childcare to cover the entire work day. Also discussed was raising awareness with employers whose employees may be adversely impacted by child care challenges. Employers may not realize that these challenges could be affecting the productivity and profitability of their business. Another idea reported by the group suggested studying a successful Finnish program for new parents in which a new baby “kit” is given to the parents. New parents would receive basic resources along with links to parenting resources and playgroups where additional supports could be provided for children ages 0-3. Another key point was the benefits of collaboration among community organizations such as Chamber of Commerce, libraries, recreation departments and church groups to share resources and promote services offered.
Group Two Summary
Group two discussed the lack of integration between all the different services available in the communities. They believed that connecting services was vital to reach more people and share resources. The second group wanted to create a collaborative or a board that would gather people from different organizations in the community. Included in this board would be members of schools, municipalities, members of the community and government officials. The board would serve to identify services that are available, determine organizational cross-over and maximize the number of people being assisted.
Group Three Summary
Group three posited that many of the issues with limited access to quality early-learning opportunities were derived from socio-economic issues. Also addressed was the need for communities to focus on building job opportunities in the area. The members in this group discussed the need to reach the most vulnerable families with children ages 0-3. The group rallied behind the idea of developing home visit programs to support parents of young children. They further mentioned that the development of such a program would best be achieved through evaluating other successful statewide initiatives and the pursuit of partnerships with other local organizations.
Over the next several months, NH Listens will be compiling the results from the five forums and distributing the reports to participating Monadnock communities. Communities will continue the early-learning conversation and an important step forward will be to identify the resources that are already available.
“My biggest takeaway from last night is that there was an openness in our community to work together because we listened to each other. There is nothing more important: ‘Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.’ Winston Churchill
I left feeling hopeful that we can have an impact on the most vulnerable and we are willing to come alongside parents and families to truly make them the heroes in this fight for education and stability.”
Director, Monadnock Bible Conference