Shawna Rischling is an early childhood special education teacher at Alliance Public Schools. She is also one of the voices of the Sixpence Early Learning Fund. Today, Nebraska Children and Families Foundation is pleased to feature Shawna. Shawna will speak on behalf of the Sixpence program’s success, the communities who participate, and the families who display a strength they’ve always had, thanks to a little support.
Sixpence is one of our Early Childhood initiatives. Initially founded in 2006, Sixpence came about when public-private sectors merged to form an endowment. A governor-appointed Board of Trustees then awards the endowment’s investment earnings and appropriated state and federal funds to community-based early learning partnerships.
As one of their support models, Sixpence funds center-based programs to collaborate with local schools like Alliance. These centers follow proven curricula, encourage parental engagement, ensure balanced adult-to-child ratios, and implement professional examples for employees that echo those endorsed by the Nebraska Department of Education.
Shawna has been an early childhood center-based teacher for Sixpence ever since the program settled in Alliance, which was among one of the first grantees in 2008. Shawna started by saying that she was delighted to be the messenger of Sixpence’s good news.
“It is my pleasure and great honor to be a voice for the Sixpence Early Learning Fund,” she said.
Shawna said she is proud of her community and describes Alliance’s landscape and people as motivated and kind.
“Our community is a tight-knit group of citizens that look out for one another and continually strive to make improvements,” said Shawna.
Like any town, Alliance has endured its challenges. Shawn said that Alliance has a high poverty rate of 55.6%. Young families often fall into that group.
But thanks to the families’ resiliency and a little help from Sixpence, Shawn said that she and her community are making children’s first three years count.
“With our continued support of Sixpence funds, we have been able to promote the importance of development in the first three years of life with our young families,” said Shawna.
“Because of Sixpence, we have been fortunate to promote early literacy, offer high-quality center-based programming within our public school setting, family engagement, build an amazing partnership with a local nursing home, as well as a strong collaboration with our local Head Start,” she said.
Shawna said her community and the school have gained a strong understanding of the importance of a quality early childhood education. Circle of Security-Parenting is also offered to local families.
“Truly, the list could go on and on. The benefits of the generosity of Sixpence funds are not only appreciated but are far-reaching in our area,” she said.
Shawna is rightly proud of a recent success, which features a young Native American family, especially the father, Edison Red Nest III. Four of the family’s children have undergone the Sixpence program for the past several years.
Throughout this time, the family dealt with some struggles. Shawna said that the father had grappled with a cocaine addiction, had been incarcerated, and had a child from a previous marriage with whom he’d not had a relationship during her early years.
Despite these challenges, the family pushed through their hardships to shine as an example of positive transformation. Shawna has been present to witness and support these incredible changes.
“In our years together, things have changed drastically. [The father] is a recovered addict, is married to the mother of their children, and has a relationship with his oldest child,” said Shawna.
“They have participated in the Circle of Security-Parenting program twice, and are extremely involved with the education of their children,” she said.
In addition to being dedicated to his children’s learning, Shawna said that the father has become passionate about working with their local youth, especially those who are Native American.
“He has brought lacrosse to our community, as well as surrounding communities. He works tirelessly with families in our community that would benefit from our early learning program, Circle of Security-Parenting, and other community programs that assist those in need,” said Shawna.
Shawna described this man as an emblem of hope, a role model, and inspiration for Alliance.
“This man has gained the respect of many in our community, being a beacon of light to those that struggle; an amazing example that things can change for the better with ourselves and our children,” said Shawna.
Shawna said among the young father’s achievements, one recent development has been particularly outstanding.
“The greatest accomplishment that we are extremely proud of is that this man is now serving on our local board of education,” she said.
Shawna said this man continues to make a name for himself and Sixpence, has been known to speak passionately about the program, and is a proponent of early learning.
“Having him sit on the board of education offers the early learning community the passion and respect that is needed to continually grow and move forward,” she said.
Shawna said she is grateful to Sixpence, and that her community’s resiliency has continued to travel outward in powerful waves.
“Thank you to all that work passionately for Sixpence,” she said. “We are extremely blessed to be a part of such an amazing organization with infinite benefits that ripple through our communities, benefiting our youngest children and their families.”