At Best Memories Academy in Orlando, teachers and parents are partnering together virtually to create rich language environments for children.
Teachers at the child care center have been using LENA Grow professional development for several years, reporting that it’s been instrumental to increasing equity in interactions in the classroom. Now, the center is launching virtual LENA Start classes for families, so that parents can access the same transformative data.
“When I listened to the parents I serve, I realized that I needed to do more, especially in this time of crisis,” center director Lyana Vázquez explained. “Right now we have families at home, not knowing what to do, not knowing if they are giving their children the right tools to be successful in school.”
The pressures on families are mounting. Schools are closed, resources are harder to access, and adults are spending more time than ever at home with children, sometimes because of having lost a job. Families are stressed and not sure where to turn to for accurate information about how to support their children, she said.
“We have been dealing with challenging times,” Vázquez said. “But families know they can come to Best Memories Academy and someone will listen to them, help them and work together to find solutions. We have built a trusting relationship with our families and their children creating a foundation of trust. We can provide them with at least 15 minutes out of their day to think about things other than the crisis, to be happy, and to enjoy quality time with their children. That’s why for me it’s very important and the right time to make a difference. This is the moment that families need me the most.”
"This is the moment that families need me the most.”
In September, her team will launch the three-month, virtual engagement program for families. The center is practicing no-contact pick up and drop off, which means teachers and parents don’t get to see each other in person or speak face-to-face. To mitigate this, Vázquez plans to have teachers serve as the LENA Start coordinators, facilitating the weekly discussions between parents, to provide them with a meaningful opportunity to connect. Because parents will receive reports much like the teachers have seen, they’ll have a shared language and data to use to discuss children’s development.
“Every time I start a virtual meeting, we’re learning and supporting each other. It’s an amazing feeling right now to know where to go, to know that somebody has got your back, and not feel lonely,” she said.
Vázquez sees LENA Start as a tool to help parents boost school readiness for their infants and toddlers at a time when they have limited access to other resources, such as a library storytime, that might usually help to boost early literacy or flag a language delay.
“They want what is best for their children. There’s a lot out there that they can Google, but they’re not sure if it’s the right thing to do. They need to hear it from somebody they trust,” she said. “When they see the reports, parents are going to realize the differences that they can make for the children by talking with purpose and having more meaningful experiences with the child. They can see the impact and progress on school readiness in the reports. By the time the child is three, he’s going to be so great, he will go to preschool with an excellent vocabulary and reading comprehension. We know this because we’ve seen it in LENA Grow,” she said.
She’s excited to see how the alliance of parents and teachers can create a meaningful, wrap-around system of support and collaboration for children.
“We have to have a partnership with the parents,” she said. “As teachers, when we saw the data from LENA Grow, we said wow, look, our job is tremendously important for this child to be successful — it was an eye-opener to start creating meaningful experiences and opportunities to individualize learning and support their uniqueness. I think this will be amazing for parents to do at home. This collaboration will provide improvement in children’s behavior and academic success to truly maximize students’ potential and performance — not only for school, but for life — and at the same time will meet the needs of their families. This is the right time.”