We are ready to address systemic inequities in Guilford County

By Stephanie Skordas, Director of Marketing & Communications

Ready for School, Ready for Life (Ready Ready) has outlined our equity statement. The creation of this statement was the work of our Equity Strategies Committee of the Board of Directors. They sought the input of many stakeholders, including our parent leaders, staff, equity consultants, and the Board. We have posted this statement as approved by our Board of Directors on our website. Please read our statement below and join us in this important system-building work.

Equity statement
Ready for School, Ready for Life (Ready Ready) promotes equity, justice, diversity, and inclusion, which are woven through our mission, values, and principles. We stand against racism in all of its forms. Ready Ready will work with our community to address the structural inequities that drive disparate child and family outcomes and work towards an environment where equity, justice, diversity, and inclusion are core values. When we are working to address these structural inequities, Ready Ready will be bold in our actions.

When Guilford County Black and Indigenous children and families of color (BIPOC) feel welcomed, heard, respected, safe, supported, and valued, all of our community and our society benefit.

Ready Ready partners with Guilford Parent Academy for three-part series on early education

By Stephanie Skordas, Director of Marketing and Communications

It’s never too early to start making the brain connections children need for their healthy development. In the first three years of life, more than one million neural connections are formed every second. That makes early childhood a critical time for learning.

To help families prepare their preschoolers for school and for life, Guilford Parent Academy (GPA) and Ready for School, Ready for Life (Ready Ready) have teamed up for three virtual literacy workshops. Ready Ready’s Family Literacy Coordinator Megan LeFaivre will guide attendees through The Basics Guilford — five science-based, easy and powerful strategies to help ensure every child has a great start to life.

This early learning is experienced in a give and take or “serve and return” relationship between a child and their parents or caregivers. You can use The Basics at home, while running errands, or on a walk — wherever you happen to be.

The three-part series will be held online.

  • The Basics Guilford: Attendees will take a tour through the Guilford Basics tools and learn how to support brain development growth from birth.
    • September 8, 2021 — noon to 1 p.m.
  • Living the Basics: This session provides different ways families can use the Basics, such as in the grocery store, at the laundromat, and even just walking down the street.
    • September 15, 2021 — 6 – 7 p.m.
  • The ABCs of Active Reading: Active Reading is a simple tool to make reading fun and interactive for children. The shared reading experience of Active Reading helps children’s minds expand beyond the pages of the books and help them in all academic areas.
    • September 22 — 6 – 7 p.m.

To register for any or all sessions, visit https://bit.ly/3gwp0Nx. A link to join the virtual sessions will be sent via email after registration. To learn more about this series or other GPA offerings, visit www.gcsnc.com, email parentacademy@gcsnc.com or call 336.279.4924.

To learn more about The Basics Guilford, please contact Ready Ready Family Literacy Coordinator Megan LeFaivre at meganl@getreadyguilford.org.

11 Parent Leaders graduate from COFI Phase 2 training

By Stephanie Skordas, Director of Marketing & Communications

Eleven parent leaders have graduated from Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI) Phase 2 training. The COFI model makes positive changes in parents’ lives by using their strengths and commitment to their children and their neighborhoods. These Guilford Parent Leader Network (GPLN) members first engaged with the program through COFI Phase 1 last fall.

The COFI model focuses on self, family, community, and policy and systems in the various training levels. Phase 1 focuses on creating supportive parent teams, setting goals, and establishing plans. In Phase 2, the training focuses on creating community-based agendas that start with common concerns parents raise.

“COFI presents a platform for parent leaders to fulfill their desired roles in their respective communities,” said Harrison Spencer, a GPLN member who recently graduated from the COFI Phase 2 training. “In addition, COFI offers key training, resources, services, and compensation for participants and members that may be otherwise overlooked or not offered by other organizations. COFI encourages parents to become involved, engaged, and active leaders.”

COFI uses a “train the trainers” approach to delivering its model to communities like Guilford County. In April, three parent leaders were trained on the Phase 2 model and led the five training sessions for the 11 new graduates over the summer.

“As a recent social work graduate, one of the primary issues I had with the structure was the top-down and lack of autonomy that were/are rampant in our practice, support, and approaches,” Spencer said. “This is where COFI is unique in its approach and geared towards revealing some insight or new perspectives to others.”

According to its website, the COFI way has trained more than 4,724 parents in 44 communities like Guilford County. “About 50 percent of Phase 1 participants go on to Phase 2 within about six months, according to COFI,” said Heather Adams, Ready Ready’s Director of Engagement and Literacy Initiatives. “In November, we had 15 parent leaders graduate from COFI Phase 1, so 93 percent of our graduates have now gone through Phase 2. These parents will be the change they want to see in their communities.”

Adams says additional COFI Phase 1 sessions are in the works. Families with children involved in Early Head Start and Head Start through Guilford Child Development will be trained this fall. Plans are underway for families with children at Falkener Elementary to be the next cohort, and a High Point-focused series will be held in spring 2022.  “This training creates a powerful space for connection,” she said.

Spencer says he would recommend COFI to other parents and caregivers in Guilford County. “COFI not only creates a platform for others but a possibility for additional support and friends that could be considered family and commonalities from the group and organizational bonding.

For more information about the Guilford Parent Leader Network, please contact Heather Adams, Director of Engagement and Literacy Initiatives. Meetings are held on the third Monday of the month from 7-8:30 p.m. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these meetings are being held via Zoom.

Partner Spotlight: Greater High Point Food Alliance

The Greater High Point Food Alliance (GHPFA) is a grassroots organization formed to address food insecurity. When it started in 2014, the Greensboro-High Point Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) was number two in the nation in food hardship. The following year, it moved to number one. Since that time, it has moved to number 14, according to GHPFA’s website.

“We take a collaborative approach and work with four neighborhoods. We asked them how they would solve food insecurity, and then we work alongside them to help them achieve those goals,” said Carl Vierling, the organization’s executive director. “We work behind the scenes at a higher level to connect resources to each of the groups we work with.”

The High Point neighborhoods working with GHPFA are Burns Hill, Washington Street, Highland Mills, and West End. Representatives from each area are board members, along with a wide variety of community leaders. Recently, the organization held a “Walk to the Store” to demonstrate what it would take for a person in the Highland Mills neighborhood without transportation to walk to the closest store, the Walmart on South Main Street. The route has no sidewalks and crosses Business 85.

“Many of the people that we work with are one car repair bill away from walking,” Vierling explained. “When you have to walk to the store, you have a limit on how much food you can carry, so that means multiple trips each week.”

GHPFA built an app with information about food pantries, backpack programs, community gardens, hot meals, and feeding sites at Guilford County Schools. “The app is location-based, so it will not only show you the food pantry closest to you, but the hours that it is open, and what requirements might be needed,” Vierling said. “We also have emergency assistance, financial assistance, and shelters as resources on the app.”

According to Feeding America, before the COVID-19 pandemic began, food insecurity in the United States was at its lowest rate in more than 20 years. When it measured food insecurity in Guilford County, the overall rate was 13.1 percent in 2019. As a result of the pandemic, the organization projects that number has risen to 15.1 percent in 2021.

Vierling said he’s seeing benefits like the earned income tax credit, expanded child tax payments, and pandemic EBT (P-EBT) making a difference for High Point families, along with the work GHPFA is doing. The organization has work teams that take on the food insecurity issue such as food access, education, nutrition, urban agriculture, seniors, and policy.

Like Ready for School, Ready for Life (Ready Ready), GHPFA focuses on connecting programs, resources, and community members to break down silos and solve problems. “Our work overlaps with Ready Ready and we’re happy to be partners. We recently had some conversations about the work Ready Ready is doing with pediatric offices. It’s so important to recognize the impact of food insecurity on health,” Vierling said. “One of the things I love about Ready Ready is that it’s trying to wrap these services around people, around young children, and get them ready for school and ready for life.”

Vierling says GHPFA’s approach can be summed up in three words: empower, unify, and sustain. “We give people a voice who’ve never had one. We bring people together and give them the tools they need to solve problems,” he said. “We create sustainability through food education, urban agriculture, and leadership programs.”

Partner Spotlight: Reach Out and Read

Reach Out and Read believes all families should have access to books and the meaningful moments created by shared reading with children. Reach Out and Read is a two-generation intervention unique for its unparalleled access to children through the medical home, supporting families through the trusted voice of their medical provider.

The research-based model has three parts:

  • Medical providers prescribe books during well-child visits while teaching and training caregivers about how to share books and why it’s important
  • Each child is given a new, culturally and developmentally appropriate book to take home.
  • Clinic environments support literacy-rich messaging and resources for families.

“Spending time with a loving adult provides exceptional benefits for young children,” said Pam Bacot, Program Manager with Reach Out and Read North Carolina. “The simple act of reading aloud together helps create a lasting emotional connection, stimulates a child’s cognitive development, and lays the groundwork for a lifelong love of reading and learning.”

Guilford County has been a part of Reach Out and Read since 1998. Originally designed for children 6 months to age five, Bacot shared that Reach Out and Read has committed as an organization to shifting this model to begin at the earliest visit after birth. Across North Carolina, including Guilford County, Reach Out and Read will support parents and caregivers from the very beginning.

“Brains are built over time, from the bottom up. We know that 80 percent of a child’s brain develops by age three,” said Bacot, “Advances in our understanding of early childhood development over the last 25 years have shown us it’s essential that parents engage with their children from birth. While someone with a newborn may not be thinking about kindergarten readiness, this is the time for the foundation to be set.”

This extension adds four additional Reach Out and Read visits – newborn, one-month, two-month, and four-month well visits — for every child.

According to Bacot, Reach Out and Read serves more than 10,000 children in Guilford County in a typical year. During the pandemic in 2020, Reach Out and Read served more than 9700 children at ten participating sites and distributed nearly 16,000 books in our county. “Despite the challenges of the pandemic, we were so pleased to move forward with our mission,” Bacot said.

Ready for School, Ready for Life (Ready Ready) partners with Reach Out and Read, HealthySteps, Family Connects, and Nurse-Family Partnership through our Navigation system. Navigation ensures every pregnant person and their family has information and support as their family grows. Starting prenatally, dedicated Navigators meet with families to understand their strengths, needs, and goals. Then we work together to make secure connections to services, resources, or support that will make a difference, eliminating gaps and providing a seamless experience.

“We’re also pleased to partner with Ready Ready for The Basics Guilford, offering easy ways for parents and caregivers to enhance their serve-and-return relationships with their youngest children,” Bacot said. “This give and take model helps foster learning. Together, we guide high-quality implementation and integration of these programs in medical home settings, hospital systems, and other community locations serving pregnant persons and families with young children.”

Reach Out and Read is the only national pediatric literacy model endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The organization trains, supports, and engages medical providers. Because they work closely with infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and their families, they have a particular vantage point and understand how social determinants of health like poverty, literacy, housing, food insecurity, and access to parenting resources affect a child’s healthy development.

Reach Out and Read’s research shows that having a strong, loving bond with an adult can even undo some of the harm created by adverse childhood experiences – experiences that include the negative impacts of poverty and racism, abuse, a divorce, or an illness in the family.

“We like to say a book is a powerful tool. In the hands of a child, it can be a portal to a world of imagination. For a parent, it can be the catalyst that brings the family together, creating meaningful moments that forge strong bonds,” said Bacot.

Partner Spotlight: Center for the Study of Social Policy

By Stephanie Skordas, Director of Marketing & Communications

The Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) works to achieve a racially, economically, and socially just society in which all children, youth, and families thrive. Through community partners like Ready for School, Ready for Life, CSSP tests and shares lessons learned about innovative, comprehensive local early childhood systems across the country and advances policies that help parents succeed and young children flourish.

These partners are part of the CSSP’s Early Childhood Learning and Innovation Network (EC-LINC), which brings together communities across the country with the common goal of improving equitable outcomes for young children and developing a system that helps all young children and their families thrive.

“Ready for School, Ready for Life is one of 14 organizations that participate as learning partners. It’s a learning laboratory where system leaders at the community level learn from each other, share innovations, solve problems, and figure out how to make a stronger early childhood system, “said Ngozi Lawal, CSSP’s project director, prenatal-three initiative. Ready Ready joined the EC-LINC in 2018.

In Guilford County, CSSP is helping support Ready Ready to accomplish its prenatal to three agenda. “Guilford County has laid its PN-3 goals really clearly. For instance, the County is working to increase in HealthySteps usage, the pediatric intervention that helps more low-income families get access to parenting education, credible information about child development, and connections to needed resources,” Lawal said. “The foundation of all of this work is advancing racial equity and supporting parent and family engagement.”

“Ready Ready’s approach to universality, the premise that anyone, regardless of who you are, what you look like, what zip code you live in, can receive Navigation support is something that other jurisdictions can learn from because all families can receive support,” Lawal said. “When we take out the notion that only certain families need this support and just look at the humanity of having a baby and how hard that is, making the service available to everyone makes a difference and better supports families.”

Lawal says the prenatal-to-three work CSSP focuses on can be summed up in three areas: early care and education, family support, and health and mental health. On the early care and education front, she is encouraged by the Biden administration’s efforts to invest in better wages for early childhood educators, universal pre-k, and parental support. “Parents need high-quality child care. They need a place that is stimulating for their young children’s brains and teachers who are qualified and well-paid.”

Citing research that finds many early childhood educators in the workforce qualify for public assistance because of the historically low wages in the industry, Lawal added, “It’s a travesty. It’s an embarrassment for our country. The pandemic relief funds are a real opportunity to help raise the early childhood educators’ wages to help keep them in the workforce. It’s not just a good investment; it’s an investment that’s absolutely critical for the economic engine of the country.”

CSSP also helped Ready Ready develop the Guilford Parent Leader Network (GPLN), which was established as a decision-making body for Ready Ready. The group’s goal is to ensure that family voice is brought into every key decision as we work together to build an innovative, connected early childhood system in Guilford County.

“We shouldn’t have services without having had parents come to the table to have input on what the services look like,” Lawal explained. The Parent Leader Network brings together parents from across the country to collaborate, build leadership skills, advance racial equity, and advocate for change in their communities. Guilford County parent representatives were able to join the original group of Parent Leader Network representatives who developed the Manifesto for Race Equity & Parent Leadership in Early Childhood Systems, a document for early childhood agencies written by parents about parent and family leadership in early childhood systems.

Racial equity is a vital thread of CSSP’s work. With the anniversary of the Black Lives Matter protests of last summer, Lawal said she feels a sense of encouragement that the whole country is having a reckoning and that generally speaking, more people are willing to recognize that a problem exists, engage in conversation about it, and most importantly, beginning to develop the confidence to address it.

“You can’t address a problem until you agree there’s a problem,” Lawal said. “People are beginning to ask ‘what can I do at my level to make a difference?’ We are asking ourselves, “How can I educate myself, what can I learn so I can make better decisions, and what biases do I need to challenge?”


The Basics Enhance Tot Spot at Greensboro Children’s Museum

By Stephanie Skordas, Director of Marketing & Communications

The Greensboro Children’s Museum re-opened on May 29, 2021, after months of closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the museum was closed, several exhibits were added or updated, including Tot Spot, an area specially designed for infants and toddlers.

The new Tot Spot features The Basics Guilford, five fun, science-based parenting and caregiving concepts that anyone can do. Ready for School, Ready for Life (Ready Ready) is pleased to present The Basics. They are:

  • Maximize Love, Manage Stress
  • Talk, Sing, and Point
  • Count, Group, and Compare
  • Explore through Movement and Play
  • Read and Discuss Stories

Each one of The Basics is explained in Tot Spot, with a QR code parents can scan with their mobile devices. The code opens up The Basics Guilford website where parents can watch videos and learn more quick and easy tips to explore the tips. 

Ready Ready staff members were on hand for the Kickoff to Summer reopening event at the museum on May 29, 2021 to share The Basics Guilford materials and explain how they work to parents and caregivers.

Learn more about The Basics at www.guilfordbasics.org.

Community Survey launched

By Stephanie Skordas, Director of Marketing & Communications

Working with our partners at UNC-Greensboro, Ready Ready is developing a community survey to gather information on how best to prepare children for school. The survey will run May 10-31, 2021.

The survey groups follow targets established during the focus group campaign: parents/caregivers of children ages 3-5, parents/caregivers of kindergarteners, early childhood educators, community members, and early childhood service providers. 

Additionally, the UNCG team is gathering relevant early childhood data such as birth rate statistics, education data, kindergarten entry assessment, and more to inform strategy development of the Ages 3-5 design work. The Community Survey information will be added to this dataset.

Survey results are expected this summer.

Read our 2020 Impact Report

By Stephanie Skordas, Director of Marketing & Communications

We are pleased to share our organization’s first annual report. Our 2020 Impact Report shares information about Ready for School, Ready for Life and the work accomplished with proven programs and our community partners.

For example:

  • 15,000 Guilford County children were served in 2020 through well-child visits at pediatricians and virtual home visits.
  • We participated in 405 hours of parent-led leadership through training sessions, workshops, and monthly meetings with our Guilford Parent Leader Network.
  • Through our Continuous Quality Improvement process, 100 percent of programs in Cohort 1 improved in four or more quality areas.

An electronic version of our 2020 Impact Report is available for viewing here.

Parent leadership training

By Stephanie Skordas, Director of Marketing & Communications

Seven parent leaders in the Guilford Parent Leader Network have attended the Spiral of Transformative Change Equity Webinar Series. This education series is similar to the training Ready Ready staff and board members received through the Equity Strategies Committee. Parent leaders having access to the foundational information that guides Ready Ready equity work is key to living our value of being equity-driven.

Additionally, three leaders from the Guilford Parent Leader Network have completed training in the Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI) Phase 2. They will use their training to train their fellow GPLN members in community outreach and action. COFI Phase 2 teaches teams to reach out and build partnerships with parents and other community residents, community associations and organizations, businesses, schools, and other institutions. GPLN members completed COFI Phase 1 training in Fall 2020, and a second COFI Phase 1 training is in the works for this summer.