Empowering Families – ‘You can’t put a price tag on that’

Several thousand Providence families and educators now know how to strengthen the skills children need to succeed in school

In the past five years, Ready to Learn Providence has trained close to 2,500 parents, caregivers, educators and others in Mind in the Making, a powerful 16-hour interactive program that helps adults understand the social and emotional development of young children, and strengthen their executive function skills. These are the skills that regulate one’s thoughts, feelings and behavior, and that allow children to focus on a task, communicate with others, keep things in perspective, and think creatively and critically with the knowledge they’ve mastered.

Of those 2,500 participants, most were trained through a $3 million grant Ready to Learn Providence (R2LP) received in January 2014, in partnership with the Providence Public School Department (PPSD), from the U.S. Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation Fund. Since the launch of that program – called Empowering Families – 1,878 Providence parents and other family members, along with 425 PPSD educators and staff, completed the program. Those figures both exceeded the goals of the grant, which ends this month.

“It was just wonderful,” says Luzmilla Garcia, a single mother who took Mind in the Making in the fall of 2018. “Many times you know something, but you don’t know the way to do it better. The course helped me understand why my son, who just completed kindergarten, is doing different things at different stages of his development. And I can talk with more knowledge about his development with his teachers.”

Javier Montanez

“In lots of Latin countries, parents don’t feel they have the right to talk with, or question, a teacher,” says Dr. Javier Montanez, principal of Leviton Dual Language Elementary School. “Here we believe that it takes everyone to make sure a child is successful. Mind in the Making has given parents a voice, and I think they’re more comfortable in the school. And what parents learned about the social and emotional development of their children was huge. You can’t put a price tag on that.”

Over the length of the grant, R2LP offered Mind in the Making in both English and Spanish at all of Providence’s elementary schools – during the day, at night and on weekends to accommodate the schedules of family members. It also provided child care for parents with young children.

Tania Quezada

Of the 1,878 family members who completed Mind in the Making, some 90 percent of them speak Spanish as their first language. “This program let them know they’re welcome in the school system, and how they can get help if they need it,” says R2LP’s Director of Family and Community Partnerships Tania Quezada, who oversaw the Empowering Families program in the Providence schools.

Providence teachers and other staff members who work with children in Grades K through 3 were also encouraged to take Mind in the Making. Kindergarten teacher Rachel DeNofio has an early childhood background but says she still found a wealth of new material in the program. She also noted that with both educators and parents taking the same course, they now have a shared vocabulary to discuss a child’s social, emotional and cognitive development.

A final outside evaluation of the program by Wellesley College in Wellesley, Mass., will be complete by the fall of 2019. The findings of a midway evaluation, completed in February 2018, were significant: Participants consistently responded positively to the training, and reported gaining knowledge; educators reported more developmentally appropriate beliefs surrounding early childhood development; families reported considerably fewer authoritarian views toward parenting, which research shows leads to higher executive function skills in children; parents expressed more confidence in their ability to help and support their children in school; and parents reported growth in the social, emotional and cognitive development of their children.

The federal grant also funded family support workers who spent much of their day in the schools themselves, recruiting families not just for Mind in the Making, but also for other functions that brought parents, teachers and administrators together. Thanks largely to their work, principals said participation at their coffee hours and PTO meetings had grown significantly. Montanez says of Shirly Castellanos, who was assigned to his school: “She was always out there talking with parents or calling them. She was awesome.”

Rosa DeCastillo

Also offered through the grant were two-hour evening workshops that were held this spring on bullying and the appropriate use of technology. “Those topics were of particular importance to parents,” says Rosa DeCastello, who facilitated the workshops. “Some of the sessions attracted as many as 45 parents, and often we had to extend the length of the session to take all the questions.” More than 200 parents attended these workshops and other single-session programs funded by the grant.

Joselina Reyes

“All of the courses and workshops were well put together and the facilitators were great,” notes Montanez. “Every time I walked into a classroom the parents were happy and participating enthusiastically.”

“I have only one suggestion,” says Joselina Reyes, a parent who took Mind in the Making several years ago. “Get this program in more schools.”


Top photo: Parents of children about to enter kindergarten hold the certificates they received after completing Mind in the Making.

Mind in the Making was developed by Ellen Galinsky and is a program of the Bezos Family Foundation.

Empowering Families was funded with a grant from the Investing in Innovation Fund, administered by the U.S. Department of Education, and with matching funds from The Rhode Island Foundation; United Way of Rhode Island; the Anne E. Casey Foundation; The Campaign for Grade Level Reading; The A.M. Fund; The Bezos Family Foundation; and the Hasbro Children’s Fund.

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