United Way's PASO program nurtures new ways of caring

By Christopher Harrop
Posted 9/17/14

FORT LUPTON — You can tell the bond between young Soyla and her childcare provider is strong by the way the preschooler clings to Elsa Castillo’s leg as the caregiver shows off a spare …

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United Way's PASO program nurtures new ways of caring


FORT LUPTON — You can tell the bond between young Soyla and her childcare provider is strong by the way the preschooler clings to Elsa Castillo’s leg as the caregiver shows off a spare bedroom that has been transformed into the young girl’s tidy classroom.

That tight bond is often assumed: A childcare provider’s nurture is generally one of those things taken for granted when a person leaves their child in the care of another. Parents believe, rightfully so, that the basic emotional and physical needs of that child will be met.

But in late August, 17 Latina women from Fort Lupton graduated from a program designed to ensure that childcare providers offer more than just a warm and safe environment for their precious clientele. 

PASO (Providers Advancing School Outcomes) is a United Way program aimed to benefit children, parents and childcare providers alike by teaching a series of skill sets to caretakers that enable them to help prepare young and preschool children for a lifetime of learning. The program is the first in Fort Lupton but one of four like it in Weld County (the other three are in Greeley), and is based on a similar program started in 2004 in Longmont.

Learning a new kind of childcare

Coordinator Janneth Attebery, of United Way of Weld County, said PASO is specifically geared toward Latina women who serve as “exempt childcare providers” — meaning they care for their own children or grandchildren and maybe children of one other family, but are not certified childcare providers. As an example, Attebery said an exempt provider could be a grandparent helping out with her grandkids while also caring for a neighbor’s child — a situation similar to that of Elsa Castillo, who watches nearly-4-year-old neighbor, Soyla, as well as her own 18-month-old grandson. 

On a mild late-summer day in Castillo’s northeast Fort Lupton home, the grandson is already down for his morning nap but Soyla is wide awake and engaged — thanks in large part to the training provided by PASO.

Judging by Castillo’s immaculate home, it’s clear she is more than capable of keeping a safe and comfortable house for her grandson and little Soyla. In the past, Castillo was a foster parent who took a straightforward approach to childcare: “I would care for the children, feed them and make sure they didn’t fall down.” Castillo said PASO helped her provide better and more meaningful care to her little ones.

“I like very much the program because now I better understand the children and their needs,” Castillo said, speaking in Spanish through Attebery. “I like the routines with the children and the children, right away they pick up on the routines.” 

Castillo points to some pictures taped to the wall and finger-painted by her 18-month-old grandson and said, before training in the program, she was not aware her grandson could be so creative at such a young age.

“Now I understand that even the children who are so little are still learning,” she said. “Since the program, she has realized it’s easy to work with the children, to be there and teach them along the way,” Attebery added.

Nurturing more than just the intellect

Nurturing the intellect is just one piece of PASO’s multi-pronged approach within its very thorough, 120-hour training regimen, which requires participants to sacrifice nearly every Saturday morning to instruction. Attebery said PASO uses curriculum specifically approved by the Child Development Association. 

“We work with recruits over 12 months and provide training in different areas: child development, school readiness, we certify them in CPR and for (medical administration), health and nutrition,” Attebery said. “In terms of child development, we teach them the different stages of a child that includes multiple intelligences, social and emotional development and communication skills.”

“PASO looks at the whole child, not just in terms of literacy but the social, emotional and health aspects — it’s very comprehensive training,” said Sheri Hannah-Ruh, director of the United Way’s Promises for Children, an early education community partnership overseeing PASO. “Because, if you don’t know how to deal with, say, discipline issues, how will (kids) be ready to read? You can have the best literature programs and activities for the kids but if the child’s acting up and you have no idea how to deal with it…”

As caretakers begin to implement the skills they’re taught into their everyday care routine, PASO sends in a “Tia,” or mentor, who makes home visits to help assist childcare providers and ensure they have a good understanding of what they are learning, Attebery added.

“The Tia ensures that whatever the childcare provider is learning in the classroom, they are doing it in their homes and with the children,” she said.

Hannah-Ruh said the program is effective because it employs a broad training approach and focuses on children who are young enough to be susceptible to positive change — as evidenced by Castillo’s experience.

“This time in a child’s life is very critical,” she said. “(They) soak things up like a sponge. The neurons and stuff that are developing in early childhood are compounded and that’s why you need to feed them that information at an early age.”

Attebery points out that the program doesn’t benefit only the children, who by proxy of PASO are in position to receive more quality care. 

“The main focus of the program is on children, but through all the cohorts we already run and graduate, we have found out that not only do the children benefit from this but the women, too,” said Attebery, who added that PASO graduates at the end of the course are given the opportunity for additional training leading to Child Development Association certification. “Because their self-esteem goes up, and that’s amazing to see from beginning to end.”

“I think that’s why I’m still here, because I cannot get enough of seeing the changes of these women,” she added. “It’s awesome.”

“Making a change”

With another group set to begin training in October, PASO will remain in Fort Lupton to serve Latino families so long as the need remains and the grant funding and private funding continues to come through.

Hannah-Ruh said there are myriad statistics showing the need for such programming is strong in Fort Lupton — and Weld County as a whole.

Locally, Hannah-Ruh said one need look no further than annual assessment scores that show Weld Re-8 lagging behind in reading and writing competency to justify the educational portion of the program. The PASO fact sheet claims: “As seen in the 2011 (assessment scores), children of Hispanic origin in Weld County drastically underperformed … their Anglo peers. Only 46 percent of Hispanic children scored proficiently or higher on their reading (scores), while 75 percent of Anglo children scored proficiently or above.

“Anglo children significantly outperformed their Hispanic peers on both the math and writing … exams,” it goes on. “In 2010, the graduation rate of Hispanic youth in Weld County was just 60 percent.”

“There’s a huge achievement gap when (Hispanic children) come into school,” Hannah-Ruh said. “And there have been studies that show if you do not close that gap by the third grade, then the probability is going to be slim that it will close after that.”

To qualify the need for more qualified childcare providers, Hannah-Ruh referred to statistics that showed nearly 14,000 working families in Weld County in need of childcare compared to about 4,500 licenses childcare openings.

Hannah-Ruh said it’s too early to determine whether PASO will indeed make permanent changes in those patterns, but said she and other administrators will be watching closely.

“Our hope is to really track and assess these programs … and see how it compares to (children’s) outcomes,” she said. “We have our pre-tests … and things like that and you can see the change, but it would be nice to have it compared to state assessments.

“You don’t want to just have a program and have it feel good,” she added. “You want to show that it’s making a change. And this program works. It really works.”

It takes a village...

Proving that to parents is among the biggest challenges, since both Attebery and Hannah-Ruh said true success of the program relies on total commitment from all parties involved.

The women said Latino communities are notoriously tight-knit, and said PASO takes advantage of that fact by including in its curriculum events like dinner receptions and parent conferences aimed at inclusion on all levels. Attebery said such events give her and her trainees the chance to showcase what they’ve learned, which is important since mothers and, fathers in particular, often do not fully appreciate what PASO does until they begin to understand the concepts for themselves.

“At the end of (the parent conference), childcare providers put together a presentation for parents and present in four topics: discipline, communication, literacy and emotions,” Attebery said. “And they make sure their presentations are down-to-earth and easy to understand so parents can go and replicate that at home.”

Those very same events also have another positive impact in that they serve as a way to spread the word about the program’s potential for success to others. 

“It has almost a ripple effect,” Hannah-Ruh said. “The program almost recruits itself after others see what’s going on.” 

Attebery said that sense of togetherness found in many Latino communities is an advantage in terms of spurring new interest and recruiting new potential providers.

“The events are very strategic within the Hispanic culture to build that support and sense of community along the way,” she said. “It’s really instrumental.” 

To learn more about PASO go to www.unitedway-weld.org.


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