RAISING OF FORT WORTH: Early Social Emotional Development Benefits Students, Families, and Communities


The Raising of Fort Worth hosted its second breakfast event of 2018 on June 28th at Lena Pope, continuing its 2018 theme of “Strong Beginnings for a Brighter Future.”  Sadie Funk, CEO of First3Years, kicked off the event with a recap of local Fort Worth early learning successes – also illustrated in the one-pager created for the event (accessible here).

The June 28th event panel included:

  • Amanda Moreno, PhD, Erikson Institute

  • Karen Ponder, Build Initiative

  • Matt Rose, BNSF Railway and Read Fort Worth

  • Adrián Pedroza, Abriendo Puertas/Open Doors

  • Doug White, UNTHSC

  • Bret Helmer, R4 Foundation (Moderator)

Full panelist bios are accessible here.

Opening from Mattie Parker, Chief of Staff for Mayor Betsy Price

Mattie Parker welcomed the audience and expressed her appreciation to the Raising of Fort Worth community for its dedicated work to ensure every child has access to quality early learning experiences, regardless of zip code.  Mattie shared that early education has been a priority for Mayor Price – because it is the right thing to do for children, for families, and for the future of Fort Worth.  While employers struggle to fill open full-time positions, she shared, 1/3 of highly qualified women are dropping out of the workforce every year – and the primary reason is due to lack of quality child care. 

“We must do better to support all families to be able to access quality early educational experiences for their children – no woman or parent should have to sacrifice quality child care for their children because they cannot afford it.”

We want Fort Worth to be a great place to raise a family. The Raising of Fort Worth community is leading the way to make sure every child has a quality early education – regardless of zip code.
— Mattie Parker, Chief of Staff, Mayor Betsy Price

Introduction from Dr. Cheryl Mixon, Executive Director of Early Learning for FWISD

Dr. Cheryl Mixon noted that while she has only been in her position for one year at Fort Worth ISD, she is incredibly encouraged by the progress the Fort Worth community has made collectively toward making quality early education a priority.  She applauded the many partners around the table – the District, funders, Child Care Associates, and many other local agencies – who have linked arms to create innovative solutions and supports for Tarrant County families.

We are all responsible for helping ensure our children have quality experiences from birth in every environment – whether it is at school, child care, home, or other community settings.
— Dr. Cheryl Mixon, Executive Director of Early Learning, Fort Worth ISD

Expert Voices on Early Learning, Social Emotional Development, and Building a Comprehensive Early Childhood System

  • SOCIAL EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Dr. Amanda Moreno pointed out the misconception that social emotional skills “naturally develop” in children in the early years. While some social emotional competencies may emerge in varying degrees in children, providing children with tools that encourage their own development and exploration is important to ensure continued social emotional growth. Mindfulness is one practice Dr. Moreno is studying in Chicago public schools as one method to help encourage children to begin to connect their mind and body so they can build self regulatory and executive functioning skills as they age.

All states have pre-K standards for social emotional learning (SEL), but only 8 states have those standards for grades K-12. SEL needs to be a priority throughout the educational continuum.
— Dr. Amanda Moreno, Erikson Institute
  • EFFECTIVE FAMILY ENGAGEMENT: Adrián Pedroza shared how Opening Doors/Abriendo Puertas lifts up parent voice and honors families through its authentic family engagement approach. Some of the key components of this approach include providing a space for families to meet, learn, and teach – a space where they feel welcome and can share their experience. Adrián noted his organization sees the most success when parents begin leading and teaching other parents – it becomes an organic, self-sustaining movement.

Effective family engagement outreach should be local, led by a trusted partner, and engage parents in their language. Parents reaching out to other parents is the best recruiting strategy.
— Adrián Pedroza, Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors
  • BUILDING EARLY LEARNING SYSTEMS: Karen Ponder shared takeaways from her 25 years of experience, which includes building 78 early learning collaborations across North Carolina, and working with 46 states to construct early childhood systems. She shared that leadership in collaborative work is paramount – leaders must ensure all partners feel welcome at the table, and are bought into a shared vision. Karen also emphasized that collaboratives must lead to action – too often, collaborations stagnate in the planning phase, and do not move to action quickly enough. Finally, she reiterated that incorporating family voices is the most critical ingredient to a community’s success in implementing an effective and cohesive early learning system.

The most important component [of an early childhood system approach] is to listen and incorporate family voices. We need to take that information and implement real changes based on families’ needs and wants.
— Karen Ponder, BUILD Initiative

Local Business Perspectives: Why Early Learning?

Fort Worth business leaders Matt Rose, Executive Chairman of BNSF Railway and Doug White, VP of Institutional Advancement at UNTHSC, both joined the Raising of Fort Worth panel to offer their insights on the importance of quality early education as it relates to the current and future workforce.

Matt Rose, who also leads the Read Fort Worth initiative, said that the goal of 3rd grade reading entails much more than just increasing literacy courses and putting more books in classrooms. As his team “peeled back the onion” to identify all of the components contributing to that critical 3rd grade reading metric, quality early learning and kindergarten readiness stood out as key factors to Fort Worth students’ 3rd grade reading success.

Matt stated that women currently make up nearly half of the national workforce, and employers must pay attention to what will recruit and retain high quality talent. Matt contended that access to affordable, quality childcare is a piece of this puzzle that employers increasingly will need to prioritize in order to be competitive.

Businesses want to be in livable cities, and quality early education is going to become a BUSINESS IMPERATIVE.
— Matt Rose, BNSF Railway

Doug White discussed UNTHSC’s initiative to build a high-quality early learning center onsite for its employees and the local community (the center will open in August 2018).  Doug said implementing the on-site childcare center was part of the organization’s strategic planning process, which identified necessary components to build UNTHSC as a “best place to work” (an initiative UNTHSC calls “Best Place for All”).

Surveys of UNTHSC employees revealed an onsite childcare center as one of the top recommendations.  In seeking to fulfill its promise of “Best Place for All,” UNTHSC partnered with Lena Pope to co-design and build an onsite childcare facility that will serve 50% low-income families.

We wanted to be the best place to work for ALL – not some…We are partnering with Lena Pope to create an onsite facility that provides high quality early learning to a diverse population of families.
— Doug White, UNTHSC

The Miles Foundation was honored to host these national and local guests for the Raising of Fort Worth event, and thanks Sadie Funk of First3Years for her and her organization’s partnership in these events over the last four years.

The next Raising of Fort Worth event will take place on October 18, 2018. For more information on Raising of Fort Worth, and to stay apprised about future events, visit www.RaisingofFortWorth.com.

Sara Redington