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Moving Forward: The Next Steps of Lucas County’s Aspire Program

By Mariah Hicks

Sojourner’s Truth Reporter


An interactive community meeting was held last Monday at the United Way of Greater Toledo for Lucas County’s Aspire program. Members from the community assembled to discuss the next steps of the program’s agenda for their Kindergarten Readiness and Graduation Networks.


The meeting consisted of highlights of the program’s efforts, an update on the program’s assessment, overview of the data collection process, examination of two areas from the data and an engaging discussion of identifying problems and solutions for those areas.


Aspire was introduced to Lucas County in 2012 as an offspring of Cincinnati's Strive Together program. In partnership with Strive Together, about 70 cities throughout the country are bouncing off of the program’s work in order to strengthen the success rates in children’s education.


Aspire was introduced to Toledo because community leaders realized that residents continue to suffer educationally because of poverty and lack of resources despite the efforts of agencies intended to help families within the community.


Aspire generally holds the same value as Strive Together, which is to advance educational and economic outcomes for children within the community. As stated on Aspire’s website, “Our  objective is to build transparency into the system to ensure that we are doing the right things for our children and families -- establishing the right support structure to allow kids to learn, grow and thrive in Toledo.


Aspire is a collaboration of United Way of Greater Toledo, The Toledo Community Foundation and Lucas County Commissioners.


A main goal of the meeting, as noted by Aspire's Executive Director Katie Enright, was to get people of the community to come together and focus on common outcomes.


“You’ll see the kind of expectations that’s become of the networks is really how information coming from these assessments and coming from some of the data that’s going to be gathered here, and we’re really looking at where are the bright spots, where are there gaps, where do we need help,” said Enright. “Maybe there’s things we need to offer in terms of parent engagement to lift the programs up, maybe there’s things we need to offer in terms of cultural competency to help lift programs up and in turn lift families up in the community, so that’s kind of some of the work we’re going to start doing today.”


A video from Jeff Edmondson, founder and former executive director of Strive Together, was displayed in order to highlight the importance of taking personal action. “The number one insight after 12 years is this: collective impact ironically depends more on the individuals than it does on the collective,” Edmondson said in the video.


Before moving forward to the next part of the meeting, Enright summarized Edmondson’s overall moral of the video, which she described as asking oneself  “What personal action can I take?” and “What can I do to help drive something forward?”


Kristen Kania, Aspire’s Data and Outcome Network Manager, then discussed the assessment overview. Forty early childhood and school-age programs participated in a voluntary assessment where they were graded on four core secondary indicators; program evaluation, parent engagement, cultural competency and program supports.


As explained in a Powerpoint shown by Kania, the used program assessment tool was created to provide a clear, common language for assessing outcomes, secondary indicators and contributing factors while it relied on the use of qualitative and quantitative data to measure results, direct program improvement and inform overall decision making. The assessment consisted of weighted questions, which affected the overall performance of the programs.


“The thought is, if we can lift up the programs and improve the programs in meaningful ways based on best practices, based on the qualitative data that we gathered here in this community, then we will deliver higher level programming to our kids and those outcomes that we’re looking at across that cradle to career spectrum should start to improve,” said Kania.


During the joint meeting, attendees went over two areas of the assessed data, which were parent engagement and cultural competency. Out of the four core secondary indicators, these were the areas that showed the largest gaps, as explained by Enright. Definitions for the two areas were provided, as well as the questions that the programs were assessed on and the data that was collected in the process.

Each question was graded on a color scale; green representing the best practice, yellow highlighting the need to emerge and red implementing the need to improve. Table leaders were given the task of leading discussions after their table observed the collected data.


The working definitions for the two observed areas are shown as follows:


Parent Engagement

      Tracking of parent participation and efforts toward continuous improvement (at least twice during the program delivery cycle; quarterly is preferred)

      Collection of parent satisfaction data, used to improve the program

      Evidence of parent inclusion in a valued decision-making role (on agency board, program oversight committee and/or parent advisory group)

      Regular, two-way interactive communication between the program and parents

      Education of parents about child development/parenting skills

      Tools empowering parents to participate in student learning at home (e.g., replication of successful program strategies in home as applicable)

      Parent social connection opportunities


Cultural Competency

      Agency policy that reflects the value of cultural inclusivity, respectfulness and safety

      Culture that fosters inclusivity and positive identity development of children/youth/families

      Program evaluation, including cultural competency assessment

      Written staff development plan that includes trainings, follow-up meetings, and implementation to build multicultural competence in teaching and/or social development and to address poverty, language, and homelessness

      Leadership team and staff who are inclusive and representative of the population served

      Staff able to demonstrate culturally appropriate responsiveness

      Knowledge and responsiveness to children/families regarding concrete supports

      Flexibility required to meet the needs of the population served


After attendees concluded their observations and table discussions, the room was brought back to a group discussion led by Kania. Members of the audience were able to share their thoughts on the assessed data of parent engagement and cultural competency.


Many people realized that in both areas, early childhood programs were doing better at things that school-age programs were slacking on, and vice versa. A general curiosity arose among the attendees on how the programs could help each other improve and participants wondered how they could bring the programs together and get them to share what they were doing in areas where they showed best practice.


Recognizing that there are successful programs and wondering how to take the steps to tap into them was a factor that was mentioned throughout the discussion. Multiple attendees realized that though some programs had areas where they were red and yellow, it didn’t make sense to reinvent the wheel where there wasn’t much success when they could be looking at the models of green that have been working in the community already.


Concerns arose as attendees pointed at areas where they located problems and gave some of their ideas of solutions.


Many people pinpointed parental engagement as an important factor in being able to reach more children. Questions that arose about the assessed data were if the programs supported deep parental engagement or just surface requirements to the level of engagement.


“Parent engagement is a soft target, a soft thing to fund. But it’s really powerful. And parents need to feel like they really are a partner and we’re treating them like a partner and we’re just not trying to tell them what to do. They don’t need another person telling them what to do,” Enright said.


Cultural competency showed questionable areas as well. Attendees were concerned with the working definition provided for this area and pondered on how to understand the operational meaning on a groundwork level that could be applied within agencies. Learning and understanding the difference between diversity and the complexity of cultural competency was something that people stressed needed to be implemented with agencies.


After further discussion amongst the group, the meeting was closed out as Kania announced the plans for the next steps. She also provided a sign-up sheet for those who wanted to meet with her with further concerns on Aspire’s work.


“What we’re going to do is, we’re going to have more network meetings obviously and focus on those indicators as well, but now this will become where we have a network where we can share those values, share those best practices about the parent engagement. That’s an easier section. The cultural competency is always going to be hard. It’s not comfortable to tackle, but it is so needed. People are excited to see that we’re going to tackle it and not leave it alone,” Enright said.


Aspire plans to have more joint network meetings in the future with the understanding that parent engagement and cultural competency are two factors that need to be observed on a deeper level. To keep up with the program’s next steps, you can visit their website at http://www.aspiretoledo.org/.



Copyright © 2017 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 08/16/18 14:12:33 -0700.

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