By Nancy Pinedo, Family Engagement Coordinator for Lexington Public Schools
A little about me.
I grew up in Lexington. Living here has given me the opportunity to see how diverse this community has become over the years. As a graduate from Lexington Public Schools, I’ve watched the increase and expansion of school programs to help at-risk students succeed. And now that I work for LPS, it’s been incredible to see up-close how these programs can help the families and children in our community.
As the Coordinator for the Lexington Family Engagement Program I can say first-hand that it’s an amazing program and has changed the mindset of the families and children I’ve worked with. The program uses the Early Steps to School Success curriculum. I’m grateful to report that we’ve seen increased parent knowledge and awareness of the importance of school readiness starting at birth and how it can make a difference in their children’s educations.
As a Family Engagement Coordinator, I help teen parents find resources in the community that can help them further their education and gain experience to become a successful adults and parents. We are always reminding our parents that they are the most important teachers in their child’s life!
The Early Steps program.
The Sixpence-funded program in Lexington — we call it Early Steps for short — offers outreach services to parents who are still high school students. Our community has a high number of teenage parents. The program supports them while they learn about healthy child development, how to nurture and care for their new babies, and how to prepare their child for school success.
Student parents who are participating in Early Steps can earn up to 5 course credits per semester — up to 20 credits during their High School career. In order to earn the credits, students need to complete program requirements in addition to weekly journals and a presentation at the end of the semester. The credit program has been a new addition to our program and so far, it’s going great!
One of my main goals as an educator is to help the parents succeed in school, too. Early Steps not only offers educational services to parents and children, but also provides other opportunities to build social connections and find community support. We also run a support group open to all teen parents regardless if they are in Early Steps or not. Meetings are held twice a month and discuss topics that interest the group. We strongly encourage teen parents to participate. The teen group focuses on topics such as the importance to further their education and how this not only benefits them but their children as well.
From my experience working with teen parents can be difficult but at the same time very rewarding. Teens need as much support as they can get. I feel that Early Steps and the credit program is giving parents extra support in taking care of their child and their education.
How I can relate.
Coming from a Spanish-speaking family and being a single parent, I can relate to many of the families that I work with. Growing up in a home where your parents only spoke Spanish was difficult at times — especially in my education. It was difficult for my own parents to help my siblings and I with assignments because of the language barrier. Although my parents didn’t know the language, they always encouraged us to do well in school and to think about our future. I quickly became fluent in English language and graduated from Lexington High School.
After graduating I attended the University of Nebraska Kearney where I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in social work in 2009. Being the first generation to attend college has been a major accomplishment in my life. After graduation I found employment in Lexington and have been working here ever since.
As a single parent, I’ve been able to relate to many of my student parents and the difficulties they face. Having support from my parents has definitely played a major part in my success and accomplishments. My parents and family have always been my support system. Unfortunately, many of the families that I work with don’t have that support, which is why I feel it’s so important for our teen parents to have a steady support network in the Early Steps program.
What I’m always telling young parents.
I feel education is extremely important, and am always sharing this belief with the teen parents in our community. I enjoy encouraging them with my personal experiences in hopes of motivating parents to pursue higher education. Having my degree has been a huge help to me — it has made it so much easier to find employment and to support my child. Understanding how important education is inspires me to keep pushing my student parents to further their own education . . . for themselves and their children.
One thing I share with my teens is this: “There is no excuse for not graduating from High School.” I’ve gained as much knowledge as they have from Early Steps.
Why I love my work.
Working with teen parents has been a great learning experience. Early Steps gives me the opportunity to encourage, model parent-child interaction and educate on school readiness. I enjoy working with children and families, and strongly believe that our program has been making a difference in the lives of Lexington’s children.
The Lexington Early Steps program is funded by the Sixpence Early Learning Fund. Sixpence invests in the early years to ensure that Nebraska’s at-risk children have the best opportunity to succeed in school and throughout life. We do this by funding a range of services including home visitation (supporting parents in their role as a child’s first teacher) and center-based services that offer safe, responsive and stimulating environments. Sixpence funds are administered by the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation who also provides technical assistance to 25 programs statewide.
Wow! Nancy this is wonderful.
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