Closing the Gap is a four-part series by Grid highlighting education nonprofits working to make sure Philly’s literacy gap doesn’t get bigger during the Covid-19 pandemic. This is the fourth and final installation. Click on the following links to read the previous pieces on Mighty Writers, ATTRACT, and Springboard Collaborative.
Like the other nonprofits, ParentChild+ was initially focused on emergency needs rather than education at the onset of the pandemic.
The organization, which has been around nationally for more than 50 years with chapters in 15 states and six countries, serves nearly 400 families in the Philadelphia area.
Their program caters to children two to four years old, takes about 18 months to complete and consists of weekly at-home visits to promote positive parent-child interaction.
After realizing the families they serve were badly in need of resources, director of quality initiatives Katie Rubinstein says they applied and were awarded emergency grant funds to provide items like diapers, groceries and even a toddler bed.
Rubinstein also says that the emergency funds were used to write money orders to families who didn’t receive stimulus checks and who were struggling to pay their rent.
With just a glance at the numbers, the program seems impactful: according to data collected by ParentChild+ graduates of the program are 50 percent more likely to be prepared for kindergarten than other kids.
Their national office, located in New York, provided resources for the early learning specialists on how to stay connected to the families that they’d been helping, Rubinstein says.
“We were given a sort of a little script that we could use to make sure we’re checking in on their wellness report, their need for resources and also how their child is doing,” Rubinstein says. “So instead of the visit, the specialist will call the family twice per week.”
The calls have been over Zoom, FaceTime, and Facebook Messenger. ParentChild+’s Pennsylvania State Director Malkia Singleton Ofori-Agyekum says that they’ve been using a range of communication methods to help accommodate families at this time.
For a program like this, maintaining relationships between parents and the site coordinators and early learning specialists is more necessary now than ever before.
Singleton Ofori-Agyekum says that their home visitors and coordinators have become people their families truly trust. She says this is especially crucial in immigrant communities that face language barriers.
“They trust us enough to come to us and say they don’t know where to find information about certain resources,” Singleton Ofori-Agyekum says. “In an immigrant community where people don’t speak English, a lot of misinformation can be spread.”
ParentChild+ has also not been working alone. They’ve been collaborating with other organizations like Mighty Writers to help spread the word about resources they can utilize.
“They let us know what type of events they have going on and we just get it to the families and say, ‘here’s another activity you can do,’ ” Singleton Ofori-Agyekum says “We do it because we think it’s really hard for parents, especially parents who aren’t used to being around their kids 24/7.”
While the pandemic has uprooted the way ParentChild+ operates, Singleton Ofori-Agyekum doesn’t necessarily see it as a negative, but more of an opportunity.
“The way I’ve thought about COVID is you have the challenges but you also have the opportunities to see things that you maybe wouldn’t have seen before,” she says. “I think one of our lessons we’ve learned is how important the work is that we do.”