Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Adventures in Activism

I had another first yesterday! My first participation in a hearing being disrupted by a protest!!

Day 1 of the Special Session kicked off in Olympia yesterday, and I was there, ready and willing to participate in a House Ways and Means committee hearing on the budget. After driving around for nearly a 1/2 hour looking for parking, I made my way to the Cherberg buiding. Crossing the campus, I was amazed by the amount of people there, buses, 3 different rally points, and about 1,000 people on the steps of the Capitol listening to John Lennon.  I had an amazing testimony written to present, and found myself standing next to a fellow colleague, among many other familiar faces. The room became filled, which is quite normal for a Ways and Means hearing. Frank and I (my colleague) made mention that the turnout was smaller than expected though. We spoke a little too soon. Shortly after they announced that a second room was opened up for overflow, the halls started to sing with "Let Us In, Let Us In".... Then, came pounding on the doors.

In this video you can hear over the chattering of the people in the room, the rhythm to the pounding on the door. I will say, some of my videos are quite shaky. Not just from the overdose of caffeine, but I will admit I was a little nervous. Being inside that room, hearing the noise outside, I really did think that at any moment a crowd was going to burst through the door and trample all of us calm people like a heard of elephants. So yes, they are a little shaky!

Let Us IN! (Click on the blue links for Videos)

Shortly after that, from the back of the room, came a crowd of people, chanting, and yelling. One demonstrator who was leading the way, was shouting "Mic Check", to which the crowd repeated everything he said.

"These Cuts will hurt kids,  These Cuts will hurt families, These Cuts will hurt Educators". He went on for probably about 5 mins. Here's a 2 min video of the protest.  This video ends in the leader of the demonstration calling for a Citizens' Arrest of the Legislature, complete with handcuffs.

Citizen's Arrest

Tax the Rich and Save the Poor!

The hearing ended up being shut down because of the State Fire Marshal coming in and declaring the building over occupancy. So....

The crowd headed outside, where they stood outside the window, chanting, complete with a drum circle, "Save Higher Ed", and "You say CUT BACK, we say FIGHT BACK!".

This is them walking away momentarily. This is hard to hear, but they are saying Save Higher Ed. You can bet your next child, when I go back to the Capitol later this week, I will have my GOOD camera with me!

Save Higher Ed

 It was an absolute amazing demonstration of the power of a united voice. I was happy to be standing there, watching this demonstration unfold before my eyes, and was very proud of what they were doing. However, they could have done without some of the expletives, and threats to legislators. Some of the legislators, you could tell were intrigued, some of them were just straight up irritated. I wasn't irritated at this display, until it postponed the hearing, it didn't start for 40 minutes after the regularly scheduled time. There were 183 people signed up to testify on behalf of Public Safety, Healthcare and Education. What a turnout! I can't wait to see what the rest of this session holds!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Throwing out the Safety Net

Sunday morning cup of coffee, check. Laughter of children, check. Thankful for positive things in my life, check. Safety net, ummmm working on that.

It's weird. With the transformation to my new job, a lot has changed in my life in the last 3 weeks. I went from being someone struggling to pay the bills, to someone who is actually going to have money to put in a savings account. Not only did I get a new job, Josh has recently been promoted at work, and is making more money as well. I'm realizing though that if I did not have the ability to find and seek out resources, I would not be making that step from someone who relied on social services to someone doing it all on their own. Of course, I still have some things to figure out, and that will come in time; like Health Care. Baby steps I keep telling myself.

I no longer qualify for a child care subsidy, I no longer receive food stamps, I haven't qualified for medical for a long time. I'm now having to figure out things like where my kids are going to go after school on the days I do have to work away from home. The safety net of knowing they could always go to daycare was just that, SAFE. I work from home mostly now and my schedule is different every week. With the limited childcare available in our area, I can't quite afford a full time spot to have for them to only be a drop in basis, and the child care can't hold a spot for my kids when there are so many others that do need that full time care. It's a balancing act.

I struggled when I thought about taking this job. It was an extreme opportunity. One I never thought I would be possible of. It is only a 6 month position because it's grant funded, so the option to not continue the grant is there. However, it's an offer I couldn't refuse. 6 months of the experience and 6 months of 3 times the pay I was making before. How could I say no? I struggled with it, because I've had that safety net of ALWAYS knowing that my child care wasn't an issue. I had my co payments, that I knew that I could afford, but the subsidy took a weight off of my shoulder. I KNEW there was a certain amount of money coming in for food stamps that could ONLY be used for food. So I didn't have to worry about feeding my family, I knew that support was there. Of course, I still had to budget that money to make sure we made it through the whole month. I seriously was living on less than $1,200 a month to pay all of my bills. $600 of that went directly to rent. I paid water, garbage, electricity and phone every month. We couldn't afford cable, so we went with the $8 Netflix luxury. And that was splurging., Throw in everything that the kids need, and GAS. That doesn't leave much for anything else, let alone food. I never realized how much of a feeling of security that gave me.

So when taking this job I realized I would be tripling my income but also my expenses would be doubled. I had to really think about whether it was worth it. It TOTALLY is. The sense of accomplishment that I have for myself is amazing. I've come a long ways. I never thought that I would have been a divorced single mom trying to support 3 kids on such low wages. That was NOT the dream I had for myself. But I made it through. I'm now a married self sufficient woman who is productively giving back to society.

The day I got the job I was talking to one of my favorite people Lori. I was elated that I was being given this opportunity but I was scared. I immediately went in to fight or flight mode, "oh no, I'm going to finally lose my childcare, I'm going to lose my food stamps, this is a big step Lori!" I will never forget her response to me that day. "April", she said "You can buy food with green money." I totally can.
For the last two weeks I've sat down and budgeted out my meals, I've grocery shopped around at the stores for the best deals. I did that anyway before, but there's something different about it now. Something I can't explain.

I just can't help but think about all the people who might get a .25 cent raise and get kicked off of the services they are receiving. If we had only been going off of Josh getting a raise, we would STILL be struggling to pay all of the bills, and we would have lost our subsidy for child care, which is what made it so I could work. My goal is to get ourselves to the point that if my job isn't extended in 6 months, we won't struggle, and we will be in a place that we can still maintain our lifestyle on one income.

My goal is to NEVER have to rely on a social service program again. My goal is to continue to advocate for those less fortunate: for the poor and the homeless, for the sick and the elderly because I KNOW just how important those services are to the people that need them. I know that there are people that abuse the system, I can name 5 off the top of my head. But I also know many more people like myself, who have used the resources available to them, as a stepping stone to a better life. I am breaking that cycle of poverty, I will be the change that I need to see in the world. I AM THE CHANGE.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Today is the day. Day 1. November 1st, 2012. The day I no longer am eligible for receiving any assistance from any sort of social service program. A day I have waited and worked hard for, for 10 years. 10 years is a long time. And it's not that I have been on any service for that long, but 10 years ago, is when I became a mother, and things got hard. Harder than I ever imagined. Harder than I had ever planned for. I never imagined that at the age of 21, I would be a young, divorced, single mother, attending college and working 2 jobs. I never imagined that the life I thought I had CHOSEN for myself, would end up the way it did. Along the way, I've had to rely on social programs such as Food Stamps, Working Connections Child Care, and Medicaid for Health care for my children. But I am, I believe, what those programs are set in place for. To use as a stepping stone to be where I am today.

Today, I am a mother of 3, married, working full time with a degree in Child Development.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Look at me GROW!

Today, I took lots of deep breaths. You know, the heavy sighing kind of breath, when something so amazing happens to you that you can't believe it's real? That's kind of how I've been for the last 24 hours. Not really able to breathe, but in the most amazing sort of way. I am starting a new job. It's not just any job though, it's my dream job. I can't even describe how I feel, but more than anything, I am so proud of myself. That's not something I normally feel.

Over the past two years, I have really come in to my own. I've been learning how to be me, and to be proud of the me that I am. I've learned what I like, what I don't like, what I love, and what I want to be when I grow up. I've learned what I'm good at, what I'm not so good at, and what I'm GREAT at. Life has been a roller coaster of a ride over the last couple of years for me. But this last year, has been extra tough. I lost a dear friend to Breast Cancer, and it really made me re-evaluate my own life. I married my long time boyfriend of 8 years, and the father of 2 of my children, and nearly divorced him before our first year of marriage was up. During all of the turmoil that came of that, I still continued to keep on doing what I had finally found that I am so passionate about. Advocating. Parent Empowerment and Early Learning. I was blessed with an awesome opportunity to become the Coordinator of the Parent Ambassador program in February.

The Parent Ambassador program has changed my life. Even though life at home was rough, my director and mentor, and friend Joel, told me that if I needed to take time off from the PA program to deal with things at home, all I had to do was say the word. I told him that the work of the PA program was what gave me my sanity at the moment, and I didn't want to give up any of it. And it's true. As many hours, and stress I put in to a lot of the work I do, it's so rewarding to me, that it makes it all worth while. Over the last year, I have been a part of many committees, organizations, and events. I was a Policy Council member for my Head Start program, I was on the advisory committee for WaKids, a 9 million dollar bill that became law this year in the legislature; I serve on my county's Early Learning Coalition, I am a member of the Early Learning Action Alliance, have become more involved in my school board, was the president of my children's PTO, and too many other things to think of right now. But it all started because I was "just a parent". Those words mean something more to me than I ever thought they would.

"JUST A PARENT" is no longer part of my vocabulary, and when I hear other parents say it now, there's like a spring loaded trigger in my head that snaps and goes in to advocate role. I instantly want to have a conversation with the person saying that they are "just a parent!" 3 years ago, I started as my Policy Council Representative for my local Head Start program, from there I became a Parent Ambassador, then the Coordinator for the Parent Ambassador program, which led me to all these amazing things I have done over the last 3 years. Testifying at the legislature, visiting Capital Hill, Visiting our Senators in Washington DC, being invited to the White House to talk about Parent Engagement in K-12, being present when the Governor signed a bill in to law that I helped create, flying to Pennsylvania to train parents on advocacy, creating events at the Capital, training even more parents, and just LEARNING so much. Learning how to share my knowledge, and helping people find their own empowerment.

Because of participating in all these activities, it led me to this amazing job. I will be starting Nov 1, as an Early Learning Community Organizer for the League of Education Voters. It is everything I've been doing as a hobby, or volunteering for, but as a full time job! It will allow me to provide for my family, in a way I haven't been able to do in over 5 years. I can't believe how lucky I am to have worked so hard because I loved something so much, to have this opportunity! It will give me the flexibility to work around my family's schedule and work from home. I will be doing all of the amazing things I've been doing, on a much larger scale, and for a greater good. I am so excited, and so extremely proud of myself, for proving to MYSELF, that I am good. I hear other people tell me all the time, that I'm meant for this work, and I truly believe that I am. I found what I love. I am now that lucky person who finds a job that they love.

They tell you to do what you love, and love what you do, and as of November 1st, I will be doing just that! I am so proud.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Have A Heart For Monkeys!

 Those are my 3 girls! Proud to have been a part of a another great event at the capital. We spent our Saturday morning, dancing inside the dome to the music of the band Recess Monkey. Recess Monkey is a children's music band that is comprised of 3 elementary teachers who rock! Recess Monkey was brought to the capital today by Mom'sRising. This Momsrising dance party under the dome was a fun and powerful way to make sure our Washington State Legislature pays attention to kids and families. And such an awesome event that made me proud of my kiddos. 
On the way to the dance party, Ashley and Lauryn, pictured here in the middle and right, were reminiscing about being at the capital for the Children's Alliance Have A Heart for Kid's Day, where they lead the parade of marching families carrying the banner in February. Their older sister Morgaine, here at the top, didn't know what they were talking about. Ashley proceeded to tell her about attending a rally. Morgaine didn't know what a rally was. Ashley responding with "Well, you know how they're making cuts to the budget about childcare, and preschool, and cuts for kids? That's why we were there, at a rally to tell them not too. Cause they are making way too many cuts that are going to affect kids!" 
I was completely flabbergasted. That's my 9 year old! 
She obviously has been paying attention to what her mama has been advocating for, and learning along the way. Not only am I making a difference in advocating for these programs, but I guess I didn't realize how much what I do is affecting my own kids. Last year, when I was really just learning how to stand up for my family, and how powerful my voice as a parent really is, I didn't really involve my own children. They just knew mom was gone a lot. This year, as I've taken on a different sort of role, I've made it a priority to bring them. And it's obviously making a difference in the lives of my little people! I was just such a proud mom to hear her talk like such a big person with such knowledge, that her 11 year old step sister had no clue what she was talking about. Now Morgaine has a little bit more knowledge, and was excited to be a part of what we did today. Even if it was just dancing! 
 Going on a rollercoaster ride in song with the Recess Monkeys!

Me and my youngest daughter Lauryn dancing it up.

Morgaine swimming in song.
The girls with a Recess Monkey.

I hope that today some of our legislators took note of all the little people dancing in the dome. I know that on a Saturday, it wasn't very busy like it normally is at the Capital. But I know that I will be doing just what Momsrising asked us to do, and emailing these pictures to all the Representatives that will be voting on issues that affect my children, and thousands of others across our state. They might not be able to vote, but their presence can hopefully make a difference.  
I know that my voice and actions are making a difference, even if it's only at home. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Selfish Prayers

This last week, I've been super sick. More sick than I remember being in a long time. I had what started out as the flu, and has now turned in to a head cold. The head cold, I can deal with. I spent a lot of time in bed, in my room isolating myself from my family so they wouldn't get sick, because in my house, it can spread like wildfire.

Anyway, the same day I came home from work vomiting, my sister was admitted to the hospital for a flare up of her Crohn's disease. I spent a lot of time praying that I could get better. It was killing me, that I couldn't be there for her, or for my mom, who needed the support just as badly as my sister. If not more. I asked my friends on facebook to pray for my sister, send well wishes, positive vibes, whatever they believed in. Just to make her better. In the same week, the massive earth quake hit in Japan, and one of my oldest friends lost her baby of less than a month old to SIDS. The celebration of life was today, and still being sick, I couldn't go. I found myself feeling sorry for "ME" being kept from helping and being there for the ones I love. But it also made me stop to think, if I'm praying for all these things, and all these other people are praying for God to do something, he sure has a lot on his shoulders. Or hers. I won't argue. Some days I feel like I have huge burdens on my shoulders. Like I just can't handle anymore. It will turn in to a pity party for myself. I couldn't imagine being God, and having these kinds of burdens all the time.

I had kind of an awakening, that sure I might have been laying there in my bed, sick, unable to be there, but I could be so much better off. Why should I ask God to make me better, when there are so many people that need his strength right now more than I? I don't have a Chronic Condition, I didn't lose everything I own in an earthquake/tsunami, I didn't just lose my newborn child. I just have a cold.
I found myself asking how I could be so selfish. Then I realized, I wasn't.  I was asking for the strength for me to be well. Not only for me, but for my family, for my friends, and for all those who count on me. It's not selfish to pray for your own health, even when those around you may be suffering. I just wonder how he decides which prayers to answer and which to not answer....

Monday, February 28, 2011

Warm and Fuzzy

I apologize in advance, as I'm typing this, a bit groggy from pain medicine from having a tooth pulled today.  I just have some thoughts in my head, that I need to get out while I'm feeling giddy. And no, it's not from the pain meds.

One of my fellow Parent Ambassadors from last year, took it upon herself to organize monthly conference calls between us to keep in touch. One of the commitments that comes with being an Ambassador with this program, is attending two conference calls a month. Now that our season is over, a lot of us found ourselves, wanting to keep in touch, continue advocating, and just stay a part of each other's lives, and active in what we've been doing for the last year. So my dear friend, made it happen for us and tonight, I dialed that conference number.

Tonight, even though I'm not completely myself, I wanted to call. I knew I wouldn't be able to talk much, because my mouth is really sore, but just listening was awesome. One of my friends just won the National Father of the Year Award, and found out about it tonight. So we all got to congratulate him, sort of in person. Personally, at least. Another told of things she never thought she'd do, that she recently did. Another, filled us in on how his experience at attending Have A Heart for Kids Day, changed someone else's life, because he brought him. It's just so amazing, to see the changes that have come in our lives in one short year. I feel like these people are not only my friends, but have become family. And getting off the phone with them, I had a huge smile on my face, and I feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

The Parent Ambassador program taught us about advocating, about real life issues that we could be a part of and change. About government, about grassroots organizing, about legislative advocacy, about communications, and also some leadership training. But what ISN'T in the description for this program, is the life long friendships that are built, the confidence in knowing that when I'm down, I can call any one of those fellow PA's, and they will listen and be there. The close knit family we've become, is just indescribable. I've said before, that I never knew that being in this program would change my life. But it has, in so many ways.  Building these friendships like family is the best thing to come out of my year long experience. These people will stay a part of me for life!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Technological Challenge

Today, I thought I forgot to pay my internet bill. I know, stop the presses right? Me without the internet??
 I went to look up a recipe for chili, and "page could not be found". I was a little ticked off, and irritated. But my mama was here, and helped me remember what I needed to  have for chili. I had already checked my emails, responded to a few, did my face booking, and surfing of the internet, so I went about my day. I made all kinds of stuff in the kitchen, patched some holes in my jeans, (after my wonderful mom fixed my sewing machine and patched a pair for me) made muffins with the girls, cleaned the kitchen, the kids' rooms, and got the laundry put away.  The kids and I sat down and watched a movie. Cuddled up under one big blanket, I realized how much I've been relying on technology lately. I haven't really paid attention to how much I'm "connected", until I didn't have access to it today. Turns out, I just needed to restart my router. It was having troubles from the snow I assume.

But I went all day without it. Sure, I posted a few photos to my Facebook Page from my phone of us playing in the snow, but I was really present. I wasn't checking my emails every five seconds to see if there was some hot political issue I needed information on, or sitting here staring at my computer trying to remember what PTO thing I'm forgetting to be doing. I wasn't searching the internet for information to use for my school assignments. I was just present in the moment. Which is kind of funny, the topic for my next mom's group night, is being present.

We are supposed to write down one moment from every day until we meet again, on a memory from each day, that we enjoy, laugh at, or just really love. So it was ironic timing, that the day I read my "assignment" from my mom's group, I was kind of forced to be "present". Not that I'm not. I'm obviously very involved in my children's lives, just sometimes I tend to get overwhelmed or stimulated and forget to take the time to slow down a little. So my challenge to myself over the next few weeks, is to not be so "connected". I have responsibilities, and some things that require me to check my email daily, and get up to date information, but for the most part,  if you don't hear back from me promptly, don't be offended. I'm just spending more time with my cute lil family and  I'm taking time to stop and smell the roses. If they ever get to bloom with this crazy weather!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Little Ol' Me.

I'm kind of a big deal.

Not really. It's just fun to say that.
I needed to write about my experiences today, so that when I get old and have dementia, my children can read me my stories and remind me of the wonderful memories I've created in this lifetime.
Anyone who knows me, or knows me well, or just has me as a "facebook friend" sees that I've been pretty active in advocating for children, and educating parents on how to be a more active voice in their children's lives. I love doing this, and it's become a part of who I am, and who I want to be in the future. Over the last few weeks I've had an interesting couple of events, that have made me realize, that little ol' me, has made some differences. And some strides to make a change. And who knows if it's for the better, who knows if what I've done or am doing will make anything better. But it's working. For me. And that's all that matters.

It's Legislative Session time, and being up on Capital Hill over the last few weeks for different things, I've come to notice just how much I've put myself out there. For example:
When testifying on behalf of the WaKids bill, I met with a group of like minded people before hand. It was people I had met before, and people I hadn't. I was being introduced by someone I knew, and the person I was being introduced to said "hey! I've seen you on YouTube, you were great!!". It was definitely an awkward moment for me. I'd never really thought about strangers viewing my video. I mean, obviously, I knew people would see it. That's what the intent was. But I never in a million years thought that someone would recognize me in public that way.

Last week, at a conference I was attending, I was sitting down eating my lunch, and some one came up to me, tapped me on the shoulder and asked me for my email address linked to my YouTube account. It took me a minute to figure out what she was talking about. And then, it hit me, I was wearing the same shirt I was wearing in one of my videos from Washington DC. I made a reference to that, and she said she had recognized my shirt, and wanted more information from me. She wanted to show my videos to her friends, but didn't know how to find it. Another incident, weird, but cool.

Today, on the capital steps, I was approached by someone who had seen my news interview with King 5. She had spotted me and wanted to interview me to "follow" my story of how the child care subsidy changes were affecting my family. Again, she introduced herself to me by starting off with " I saw you on tv."

It's strange. My kids think it's cool that their mom is a "celebrity". It's not how I look at it all. I'm out there doing something that I'm passionate about. Something that makes me feel good, and doing things for betterment of my family, my self, and my future. If in the process, I inspire just ONE other person to get involved, then letting my videos and messages be sent in spam context to those involved in the same issues, so be it. If I become a celebrity in the process, well, that's just an added bonus.

My Little Advocates!

That's what I did today. And so did my amazing children. I've been advocating for early learning, children and families for two years now. A few months ago, after returning from D.C. and then having to be gone a few nights in a row for school board meetings, PTO, and a Parent Night, my oldest daughter (who tends to be a bit melodramatic) said to me, "It feels like you aren't even our mom anymore, you're never home!" She may have been just speaking from the heart, and it wasn't that I'm never home, it's just how it felt at the time. But, it struck home to me. That sentence rings in my ear a lot when I'm out traveling, or having late night meetings, or gone after school doing very important things of course! But my children don't see what it is I'm doing. They know I meet with people, they know I send messages to the Governor, they've seen my YouTube videos, and they've seen me on tv. But that's not really ALL I've been doing! There is so much more to their mom being gone, then just a news interview. I've been advocating for all issues surrounding my children. Whether it's trying to protect our state funded preschool program, fighting for child care subsidies for low income families, or educating people on why it's not smart to take away funding that provides small class ratio in K-12 education. There are many more issues that I advocate or "fight" for. I fight for programs that are relevant to not just my own children and family, but for families from here to across the nation.
So today, was a chance to let my children see what it is I do. I signed them up a few months ago for the "Have a Heart for Kids Day" sponsored by the Children's Alliance. At the time, today was a scheduled day off from school for a mid winter break. Technically, they had school today because of our snowy weather we had, it became a make up day, but since I had already signed them up, and had talked to them about it, they played hooky today. I almost think that I should tell them we are going to the capital every day because I don't remember the last time I didn't have to drag them out of bed. Today, they were up before I was, ready to get dressed and out the door. They were raring to go. So we bundled up and headed to our State Capital.

There were some "boring" parts, according to my oldest daughter, but the two youngest enjoyed the child care provided by Children's Alliance. Playing with play dough, coloring, and building legos. Ashley and I both were interviewed about the School Breakfast program, and Ashley is very excited to see herself when that is broad casted. She was nervous, but definitely a natural at talking. I wonder where she gets that?

It came time for the march to the Capital.

The March was lead by a drumline, that was absolutely fabulous. We had been provided chants, and cheers, and the kids had learned the words. They needed someone to hold the banner in the front, and Ashley, and my friend's daughter Yanava volunteered. Lauryn snuck up and held part of the banner too. We marched across Capital Blvd, and across the campus lawn to the Capital Steps, cheering, chanting and dancing.

On the steps, we listened to my dear friend Bianca inspire us, Representative Ruth Kagi give us hope that early learning and children and families are a priority, and Senator Lisa Brown thank us and give us even more inspiration. It started to hail, then turned in to snow, but that did not stop our rally. We were loud, and I know we were heard, and if nothing else, seen!
After the rally, Ashley watched intently as my friend Immaculate and I were interviewed by a Children's Alliance staff member, and gave her opinion on what it meant to be at the capital.
I was supposed to testify on behalf of WaKids again this afternoon, but Logan had other plans. My favorite part of the day was walking to testify, and one of the other kids asked where we were going. Ashley said "mom's going to testify", the other child said "what's that?" and Ashley responded, "I don't really know, but she's going to talk to legislators and stuff, she's not in trouble, she's just gonna talk to them." A legislator happened to be passing by at that moment, and was rather impressed by her conversation. He said nothing, but his smile said a lot to me.
All of my kids had a great time, I had a fantastic day. Lauryn's favorite part was going in to the capital, Logan's was seeing the "castle" (he thinks the capital is a castle) and Ashley wants to know when we are going back.... My little advocates in the making!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Dear Governor


It Just Makes Sense

WaKids. "It just makes sense."

Words spoken by my dear friend Surina Nash, in a joint committee hearing between the Senate and the House earlier this month. I could not have said it better myself.

Last year, as part of my commitment to being a Parent Ambassador with the Washington State Association of Head Start and ECEAP, I was asked to participate as a parent on a team being put together to create the WaKids program. Washington Kindergarten Inventory on Developing Skills (WaKIDS)- is a kindergarten readiness tool that allows families, kindergarten teachers and early learning professionals to gather and share information about incoming kindergarteners. WaKIDS is up and running throughout the 2010-2011 school year in 115 classrooms around the state, with approximately 2,600 kindergarteners. One of those classrooms, also happens to be my daughter Lauryn's class.

It has been an amazing process to see this program from start to fruition. As part of this process, I was asked to testify to the House Education and Early Learning and Human Services Committee as part of the Assessment of WaKids. I gladly was happy to be there, to share my view as a parent.

My daughter Lauryn has the same teacher as my oldest daughter Ashley did. However, their transitions to Kindergarten were different, because of this process. The teacher with Ashley did some of the same things, but that's just because the teacher goes above and beyond her actual teaching duties. This is not the norm. I had told her about this program, and encouraged her to apply to be a "pilot" classroom. When they were picked, I was ecstatic. She was getting handed actual tools and assessments to work with, to go above what she already did independently. When you travel to different schools across Washington State, the process is different. Doesn't it make sense to have a universal tool that connects everyone? To have a standard way of entering the public school system? How can we properly keep track of our children's education, if across the board, it's different? I've never been one for conformity, I like to go against the grain. But when it comes to my children's health, safety, education and well being, I don't mess around.

My daughter Lauryn was diagnosed by this same school district two years prior to entering Kindergarten through their birth-3 preschool screening process as needing an IEP. (Individualized Education Program) She had speech problems, and they required her to attend speech therapy twice a week. With the school district's crazy scheduling of that therapist, (one contracted to provide services) Lauryn rarely saw her. I started looking for other options. Because of having an IEP, she was able to attend our local Head Start program, part of their program requires them to serve 10% of children with disabilities. We were over income, so had it not been for this diagnosis, she would have not been eligible. Through Head Start, she received other assistance. They started with having her see a speech therapist, but soon discovered, that she probably had hearing problems. We were sent for testing, where we discovered that Lauryn was 75% deaf in one ear, and 25% in another. (Her hearing had been a separate issue with our family doctor, but having Head Start on our side, helped us get a diagnosis and treatment.) Lauryn ended up getting tubes in her ears at age 3 1/2. The hearing loss was attributed to fluid in her ears from Eustachian Tube Dysfunction. The tubes cleared up her hearing, and soon, we began to see a huge change in Lauryn. She spent the next year and a half in Head Start preparing for Kindergarten. By the time she graduated from Head Start. She was no longer in need of speech therapy, an IEP, or being labeled as "special needs". 

Through the WaKids program, I was able to meet with her teacher before hand and explain the prognosis. In the school district's file, she was still labeled as needing an IEP, speech therapy and that she would need follow up. The school district had not seen my child in any of their settings for 2 years. In meeting with the teacher, explaining everything we had been through over the time she had been in Head Start, Ms. Jhanson could see that there was nothing "wrong" with my child any longer. Had it not been for us meeting her before school started, and actually having time to talk, and for her to watch my child interact, it could have been months, and a lot of Special Education for them to figure out she was no longer in need of special services. I can't give you a dollar amount, but I know, this saved our district thousands of dollars.

Watching my child become successful in Kindergarten and not struggle has been amazing. I know she has connected with her teacher, and that if there are any problems or issues, the teacher does not hesitate to talk to me. We were able to build a foundation as a working unit in the best interest of my child. Had it not been for this "assessment" piece, I honestly don't know where my child would be right now. She sees both her teacher and I as a team. I see that as being a VITAL piece to my child's education and future. She will not fall through the cracks, or the system if we are all on the same page.

I am also an early learning provider. I know that the WaKids process wants to include all early learning professionals with local school districts to give children the best outcomes they can. Creating partnerships. There is more to early learning than just attending preschool. Daycares who serve children have just as much investment in making sure those transitions to public school are smooth and flawless. We as early learning professionals want to see what is best for all our children. This program isn't just a "kindergarten readiness" tool. It's setting the stage for the future of education.