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.