Creating Community Through Child Care (with Jamal Berry)

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What happens when a child care center supports not only its children, but its staff, its families, and its community, too? Gloria finds out from Jamal Berry, the newly-appointed President and CEO of Educare DC, an early learning program that provides free, high-quality child care to low-income families. Jamal tells Gloria how they’re closing the achievement gap using a holistic, two-generation approach, and what is possible with good funding, passionate people at the helm, and devoted folks at all levels. Plus, Jamal gets emotional talking about the person who inspired him to pursue a career in education.

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Gloria Riviera, Jamal Berry

Gloria Riviera  00:10

Guys, holy moly. We are nearly to the 25th of December 72-ish hours and counting. Are we still okay? The kids are out of school. I am obviously still working but we will get there. I am still standing and I am going to take that as a win. This is No One is Coming To Save Us, a Lemonada Media original, presented by and created with Neighborhood Villages. I am your host Gloria Riviera. Our guest today is Jamal Berry. He is the newly appointed president and CEO of Educare DC. You guys are gonna want to listen to this because this is a person who is working somewhere where things are running relatively well. I first learned about Educare DC through friends here in Washington. They support the center; educator DC serves low income families with children between the ages of six weeks and five years old. Yes, six weeks little itty bitty babies. I got a chance to visit. And so I saw for myself what is possible, with good funding passionate people at the helm, and devoted folks at all levels, from those and operations to teachers inside the classrooms, to the person who makes sure everything is in order from the diapers to the dishes. Educare DC works in what I would describe as a very holistic way. It takes care of the whole child and the whole family to the extent the family is willing and able from wellness checks to supporting a parent’s growth outside of Educare. In some cases, after incarceration, joblessness and homelessness. I wanted to speak with someone there in depth someone who could tell me what it’s like to be there every day, educator DC is funded by Head start. So in my mind, there’s an argument that it really is a glimpse into what can be sorry if this is a naive question. I’ve asked it before, but why can’t we have more government funding for early education? Can someone remind me again, what do we have to do to get more people to see all the good that comes out of high quality, accessible and affordable childcare and early education. Jamal and I talk about how he got his start, why he chose this path why he stays on it. He’s a massive advocate for both kids and teachers. And you can tell he is that rare person who does something that just takes my breath away. Jamal revels in the success of others. Honestly, truly, I am telling you it lights him up. It was such a delight to talk to him. And here now is my conversation with Jamal Berry.

Gloria Riviera  02:55

Good morning. Hi, Jamal. How are you?

Jamal Berry  02:57

I’m fine. How are you doing today?

Gloria Riviera  02:59

I’m doing really well. It’s so nice to see you. Thank you so much for joining us on no one is coming to save us. We’re so happy to have you. Absolutely. So Jamal, I want to start a little bit down the path of your personal history. Where did you grow up? How did you come to DC?

Jamal Berry  03:16

So I grew up in Prince George’s County, New Carrollton. Went to the Carrollton Elementary, and then called Charles Carroll Middle School, all of these curls and then Parkdale High School, which is in Riverdale, Maryland.

Gloria Riviera  03:29

Got it. And so when you say Elementary, did you have any education before kindergarten?

Jamal Berry  03:35

I did. I went to a neighborhood EC center. I forgot the name of the center. But I went to it was also in the neighborhood. I think my mother just wanted everything in close proximity. It was easy to get to. And I actually in my early years, remember going to a home childcare center. She worked in […] at the time and the center was in […]. So it was a lady who watched us I went there until about four and at four, I went to the center that was in New Carrollton as well before going to kindergarten or first grade.

Gloria Riviera  04:12

Right. It’s so interesting, because for so long, so many decades, women primarily have had the same story. It’s about finding a way to make it work so that they can go to work. So I just find it interesting that that was your experience as well. My own mother went around and knocked on doors. I mean, that was like mid-60s with my sister. And she said that you couldn’t google childcare at that time. So that was her solution. So that’s interesting. And do you have any memories of when you were young, but do you have any memories of who might have inspired you even at that time any experiences you might have had in early education that have stayed with you?

Jamal Berry  04:57

When I think about who inspired me I think it was truly my mother, she wanted to be an educator, she actually she went to North Carolina Central University in North Carolina, historical Black college university, and she majored in English education, but she never taught. So that’s the whole interesting concept in itself, I think, just based on the wage of teachers, she wanted to make a living wage, and she ended up working for the government, but her degree was in English education. But as a young kid, I actually remember the three biggest graphs one of my favorite plays and books of all time, because I was, you know, I played college football, I’m 6’2. So I was always a big kid prior to tallest kid in the class, and I was the largest billy goat that came across the bridge. And so, as a pre K teacher, I used to use that book all the time and try to make book come alive. Because I still remember that experience today.

Gloria Riviera  06:02

When you think back about those years, what did it look like? Were was your environment reflective of your home community, your larger community, paint us a picture of what it looks like when you walked in every morning.

Jamal Berry  06:19

The house, the home daycare, from what I can remember, and I was pretty young, and I saw a couple of pictures. And when my mom was alive, we talked about it, I remember, you know, playing and, and having all these other kids that were around in my like center based experience. But this place in the middle of New Carrollton is around some apartment buildings, but they have an amazing playground. It was a classroom that was full of print and letters and different materials and toys. And so I think some of those things are you know why I like still to the day play with my kids with some of those same early childhood toys.

Gloria Riviera  07:06

Right, a lot hasn’t changed a lot has changed to where you it sounds like you’re close with your mom. And when did you lose her?

Jamal Berry  07:17

In 2010. She passed away.

Gloria Riviera  07:21

I was just thinking my father will have been gone. It’ll be six years. Gosh, it’s the time goes by so fast. And do you feel like she her teachings who she was, have stayed with you?

Jamal Berry  07:37

I do. My mother was the oldest girl out of six children in North Carolina, she was the only one that went to college. And then she moved up north and brought a lot of her family members up here. So you know, value family, grown up with a lot of family, all of our family live with us at certain times. So when you talk about that environment, and what that looked like, to me, it’s always been about family community. different family members have stayed with us. And they learned with us and we took care of him and we grew together and they were you know, as close as siblings or family members could be. And so what I’ve learned from that was empathy, compassion, community, and those things are some of the pillars that I think my leadership and who I am as a person really came from that.

Gloria Riviera  08:31

Right. Well, the things that I hear when you reflect on your early childhood, you mentioned playing that you remember playing. And then you speak about what you observed within your family community, which was lots of family members staying with you, helping each other out. And those two ideas play and the giving of help the encouraging of growth. Those two ideas are what I took away from my time at Educare, DC when I was there for an evening. And part of the reason we wanted to speak to you is because in this show, during season two, we have not really spoken to someone such as yourself who’s really living inside the classroom each and every day. So I want to hear how you came to Educare DC. First of all, I guess my first question for you, Jamal is when did you know, yes, I want to be in early education specifically and where were you in your academic career? Was your mother an inspiration for that? How did that happen?

Jamal Berry  09:39

The youngest I can remember knowing I wanted to be a teacher was I tell the story of my younger brother with three years apart and I would help him with his homework. And I remember being so frustrated because mash has always come easy to me even now as I help my 9 year old daughter with math, I’m like, I don’t understand why you don’t get this, like you’re a berry, you should get this. And so with my brother, I couldn’t figure out why he didn’t get it. And what it taught me at a young age was that you have to differentiate is what we would call it now and understanding education, but back then it was like, okay, if he doesn’t understand it the way I do, then I need to do something different from that understanding. And so just because I can do long division in my head, or multiplication in my head, I might need to bring out some different legos and count it out with him. So I used to do that. From there. I remember being in high school, and I played in a band and play football. That was a weird time for me trying to do both. But the band director from Bowie State University came into our band class, it was maybe 10th grade, and he talked about this program called pathology. And when he explained it, it was the study of children, adolescents, and I had never heard of that before. And so for some reason, I had this mindset that teachers could teach, like, that was almost a natural gift to be able to teach. But what I wanted to do in the pedagogy I wanted was to understand children, I want to understand development more, I want to understand why children are why people did things. And I thought the teaching would be natural, if I could understand that. And so when I went to Bowie State University, I went into that program and truly fell in love. Because I really took child psychology. I took psychology, I took juvenile was juvenile delinquency was one of the coursework, it was special education coursework. And so I really started to begin to see the whole child. And so I went, and I work that there’s an early childhood center right at the bottom of the university, and I went, I was doing my internship, and I just fully went into my internship, so I didn’t get paid. But I started doing my internship and kind of really focusing on early childhood, and that was my senior year of college.

Gloria Riviera  12:07

Wow. So much to talk about and unpack in what you just recounted to me. I know that Educare DC, the reason that we’re speaking to you today, one of the reasons that I wanted to talk to you is because when I was at the school, I was filled with joy. I walked into classrooms, I saw people teaching, giving presentations, from all different walks of professional life. The warmth was overwhelming to me, the love that I felt within those walls. Tell us what Educare is and how it came to be. You have been there since the beginning.

Jamal Berry  12:51

So educator is a top quality Headstart program we offer for a full year early childhood and comprehensive services. So that’s the basis of early headstart and headstart in America.

Gloria Riviera  13:05

Let’s just pause. Can you tell us what is Headstart? Because I don’t think we’ve even told our listeners what Headstart is.

Jamal Berry  13:11

So, Headstart is a federal program that funds early childhood, there’s federal standards that are tied to the program. So you can have just a community based organization or early childhood center, but Headstart means that you get federal funding, that means that you’re monitored federally, and those monitoring systems have always been higher quality than local licensing system. So every early childhood education site has to be locally licensed, even childcare, our home, home childcare, but when you talk about Headstart program, kind of add a layer on to that. So the class sizes are regulated. There’s performance standards, the Headstart performance standards, that kind of guides our quality and what we think about the program.

Gloria Riviera  14:06

And Jamal, is it correct for me to think I mean, when I just hear the term Headstart and I mean, I am I was by no means an expert in early childcare. But when I hear Headstart just that word, I think this is going to be good. Is that correct? Like I think there are parameters that are enforced through Headstart. That mean, wherever I’m going, whatever I’m looking at is at an elevated level because they have to meet certain requirements. Is that the right way to think about it?

Jamal Berry  14:37

I would totally agree with that. I think there’s a lot of studies out there. There’s the absolute Darius study, as well as Jim Heckman, his research that shows about the investment in young children. So for a long time that research has shown that children that are in Headstart programs do have better outcomes later on in their education.

Gloria Riviera  15:01

And we’ve been through all the data, you know, higher graduation rates, you know, less incarceration, all of those wonderful data points that that support early education. As the show has progressed, and I’ve spoken to different early education centers that are funded by Headstart within the field, is it highly competitive to be a headstart funded program?

Jamal Berry  15:24

Oh, yes, yes. It’s not easy at all. Yeah, the application.

Gloria Riviera  15:28

I mean, I think that’s very valuable for our listeners, that we have federal funds in this country, right, there is a certain amount of money, but it’s hard to get it.

Jamal Berry  15:38

So there’s a process, there’s a process like a process where everything in the process is that you have to apply it is a competitive process, you get graded on, on your point system. So when educator DC actually started, we were what they would call a delegate of another grant, or partner United planning organization, which is where I started as a pre K teacher had the grant. And they brought Educare in as a partner, and sub granted to them because that process is hard. You can’t just open up a site tomorrow. So I want to be a historic site, you have to have this kind of history behind you the data behind you the systems that were set up. And when we first started, we were just new to that. And so we didn’t necessarily have all those things. We built those up. And so in 2018, is when we first got our first we received our first grant, we wrote a grant for early headstart, childcare partnerships, which is a partnership between Headstart and off to childcare, where we support five local programs to raise their quality to hit stars. So once again, that difference in quality of them just being locally licensed, and then Headstart and so we add services onto them, we support them to raise their quality. And in 2020, we were able to have a grant where we then now support our 424 children throughout DC.

Gloria Riviera  17:23

Okay, so you come into Educare it’s six months old, what do you what do you find and who started it? Like, why did you even think maybe I should go check out educator DC.

Jamal Berry  17:33

So interesting. It was actually the, the interim director at Educare. He was the mental health consultant when in my classroom for when I was a pre K teacher. And he said, hey, there’s this new, you know, program, he was like, you would love it that they could use somebody like you to go in there and help out. And he said, you should just apply. And I said, I had applied to be a manager at the organization I was at, I had just now finished my master’s. And so I had a master’s, I was a pre K teacher. And I went to George Washington University for my master’s in early childhood special education. And so I was doing pretty well and changing the lives of children. And I was helping other adults in the program. It was just what I love to do and help them do lesson plans. And we were a small site. And so it was really community based feeling. And he said you should try this out. And so I went and applied to be what we call it at the time, there’s an infant toddler master teacher, the title is now mentor teacher, just for respect. And throughout the hour, we’ve changed that title. And so I was an infant toddler, mentor, teacher, and I supported infant teachers. And so when you say what did it look and feel like it was this experience to be able to I’ve always wanted to continue to change my factory. I felt like as a pre K teacher, I had 20 kids and I was like, This is great, but I could do more. And now as this infant toddler mentor teacher, I supervised five classrooms that had eight kids each and three teachers in these classrooms. I was like, okay, I’m changing. You know, I’m creating professional development opportunities for 15 staff. They have children, those children, you know, the next year, we have ordered more children. I felt like I was doing more.

Gloria Riviera  19:32

Right. It’s interesting to hear your perspective on what your role was because it seems very balanced between supporting the staff, the teachers, and the children, right, that you’re seeing. You’re bringing in more children. That seems to me to be a sign of success. But just hearing you speak about supporting the staff, what did that look like as a mentor teacher for infants and toddlers? And now by the way, just so our listeners have an understanding An educator has the money, they’re able to do this. But that doesn’t mean anything is seamless. So what were the cracks that you encountered along the way? And what does it mean to support an infant toddler teacher?

Jamal Berry  20:14

So our lead teachers have a bachelor’s degree in early childhood or related field, our assistant teachers have an associate’s degree and our aides have a CDA. And so you’re talking about, like you said before, a quality workforce. And professional development is the name of the game. And continuous quality improvement is a big aspect of history. So what I wanted to bring in, was to continue to teach and to develop them, and to reflect with them about their practices, and how we can do things better. And so we did lesson planning together, I use my experiences, I use my understanding of early childhood to help to develop lessons for young kids. And so some of those examples in early childhood, we follow a child’s lead. And so, you know, we were talking about what are the children talking about, like, what is happening when you go outside, and somebody might say, well, you know, they pointed to the clouds. And so, okay, you know, we’re talking about two and three year old’s, or we’re talking about infants. But if a two year old says cloud, what can we start to bring into the language? How can we extend that we can talk about colors, we could talk about animals, we could talk about transportation, we could talk about so many different things. And so now we’re just pushing, we’re having this back and forth on, you know, what’s interesting to this child right now? And why do you think they want to learn that and what can you put around the classroom? Or what can you put in dramatic play, so that they can experience clouds, where we could put cotton in there, and they could pull cotton apart. And what we then teach is that, yes, that’s developing their fine motor, because now they’re using that pincer grasp, to pull cotton apart, you’re also able to talk about colors, you could dye the cotton, you still have so many different opportunities. And I think you saw that when you came October 18, how we can take this one concept of a cloud, and then make thinking visible and document that and then push them to the next level with the development based on what we know about childhood.

Gloria Riviera  22:17

Right. I mean, for me, that is such an exciting concept. I also think for all of our listeners, I mean, listen, we have families who are on waitlist forever, who can’t get a spot, we’ve talked to a lot of families who have that golden ticket, and they do get a spot and their child is in a diverse, early education center that’s accessible, affordable, and high quality. Those are the three things that we repeat over and over again on this show, and what I think is so striking about your dedication to professional development within the classroom, and you’ve written about this, that you very much argue, we have an issue for teachers with degrees, like you need a degree to do X, Y, and Z. But you have argued that there should be support and growth on site in the classroom. How radical an idea is that, Jamal? How successful have you been in implementing it? And again, my favorite question, you know, what does that look like? Because you cite a lot of personal stories and reflections on teachers that you know, that support, it works. So let’s just shift a little bit into what this looks like in the classroom. And really what I’m talking about is okay, if you want this job, you must have a bachelor’s in XYZ and I go on and on about, we will educate you in this country, you can have lots of letters behind your name and specific fields. But then we don’t pay you. So why are you so passionate about on site development? What does it mean to you?

Jamal Berry  23:44

There’s a lot of data that it takes in DC, it takes the average person like eight years to get an associate’s degree, which is only a two year degree but because a lot of times we’re talking about working mothers that are trying to go to school and hold down a job and raise their children then that they only taken one or two classes a semester. And so what we were able to do was create this intern row that says if you enroll in school, I will be able to pay you a little bit more, raise you to the next level while you are going through your studies so that you feel valued in the fact that you’re doing the work. And it gives you a little bit more latitude for if you need a babysitter and all that. And then we continue to work with you here. And so some of my, you know, teachers that I can remember the most there’s a teacher that we have who on iterators, which is the infant toddler Environmental Rating Scale, it’s the measure of high quality in early childhood. She’s been teaching for about 15 years. She’s grown throughout, she’s now in this intern row and she’s in the last semester of her bachelor’s program. And so we took you know, we took a risk and promoting her there. She has the credits based on the system to do it. But she doesn’t have what educator record the bachelors yet, but she’s the interim lead teacher. And on that assessment, she scored a 6.97 out of 7, right, she didn’t have a bachelor’s, she’s not fresh out of school, she killed it. And so and she’s been killing it for years. And so it’s not about the degree it’s about the work and the investment in her the degree is now to justify to pay and it’s something you know, that the system has caused us to do. But I think the real work is in that environment for young children. And that infant that was in this high quality classroom that now has that experience and then becomes a kindergartener, and then a 12th grader, and then a citizen, later on.

Gloria Riviera  25:45

fast forward from your first job, which was driving a van at an after school program. And now you’re an educator and you’re thinking we can train these staff on site? I mean, where did you start?

Jamal Berry  25:58

Yeah, so it started with support from the network and kind of learning more about infant toddler once again, I was a pre K teacher, so I had some learning to do on my own as well. And one of my first questions, I said, look, I understand how three or four years learn, I was like, infants, like they like what do you mean, and so I had some great mentors and trainings and trainers that work for the network. And a great book that’s called Neurons to Neighborhoods, where I really started to understand about the brain and serve and return and, you know, when we grew up, everybody would say, put that baby down, let them cry it out, which is just totally wrong. And, you know, we tell parents and tell teachers like, no, you pick them up, you know, children behavior has meaning children cry for a reason, they don’t cry, because it’s a sound that they make their crime because they meet their needs met. And so as they’re asking for something, you’re trying to figure out what they mean. And you’re building that relationship the whole time. And that is what builds a bond as well as what builds connection, which then makes them able to learn later in life. And so, as I started to learn more, I wanted to invest all of that into teachers and make sure that they knew everything I knew I didn’t want them to have to get a master’s to understand it, whether they had a CDA, a Child Development Associate, associate’s or bachelor’s, I wanted them to know everything that I knew. So that was my job early on, was to invest that in.

Gloria Riviera  27:26

Right, I mean, it also reminds me of the way you grew up, in which you had family members in your house, and you’re always your family was always supporting one another. And you bring that into the work that you do now. Was there ever any moment Jamal, even after you had all these degrees, and you’re so qualified that you thought about, maybe I should get out of the field or do something different? Simply on the pay? I mean, how much money were you making in those early days?

Jamal Berry  27:54

Yeah, in early days, nothing. Making my first job. I remember I was making 36m000 a year. And, you know, honestly, no, I knew I wanted to work with young children, or my friends. And I have friends that, you know, we’re in the government, and one that’s a nurse anesthetist, and he was making six figures, and I’m making $30,000. And but I was happy. And I was fulfilled with the work, I used to tell people, I play with kids for a living, right, like learning through play, I play with kids for a living, that is the best job you can ever have. There’s no expectation of what this day is going to be other than them having a good time. And now, you know, what I did was made sure those learning experiences, were guiding them. And they were fun for them. But it was it was fun. And early on. It was fun. And so, you know, as I progressed, I wanted to invest in teachers to have that same type of mentality and to love what they do. I still love what I do every day.

Gloria Riviera  28:59

I just want to go back because Educare is so unique to me. And when I visited the school, where it’s located struck me, the people who are there struck me and also the parents. Some of them told me they didn’t really know it was an option. And so my question is, why is the actual facility where it is how does that help the community? And how do you help the community learn that it exists?

Jamal Berry  29:30

Yes, so Educare, Washington DC is actually in ward seven. We’re in, what they call it a Kenworth Parkside neighborhood on Anacostia Avenue. Every educator and we’re one out of 26 schools right now is the back in the day they were talking about place and so there was placement you wanted a public partnership with a public school because ultimately, the kids do grow up and what better way than to have a partnership with a K through five school next door where you can really do a successful transition for kids. And so we’re located next to Neville Thomas Elementary in DC, there’s just so much choice that that’s not our only partner. Our kids typically have options to go to so many different charter schools and different schools. So we try to create different relationships there. But that’s why Educare was put there, it was put there to be a beacon of hope for the community to show that if you invest high quality, and you invest a lot of money and children what the outcome would be. And so the DC location in 2012, I was put there to be able to do tours, we do over 80 tours a year for different politician, for different council members for different donors to come and just see what happens if you really focus and put money, put your money where your mouth is, I would say, and invest in early childhood. And so that’s what we’ve been able to do. Pre COVID, our families were able to come in and be there. And you know, if they needed to go over their resume, we had staff that would support them, our family engagement staff, if they just needed to talk, if they needed to have meetings, we had events there, a lot of stuff is virtual now, but we use that place as a safe place, the first school in Chicago, some stories that they talk about with that that opened up in 2000 was that the neighborhood that it was in, there was so much violence in the neighborhood that there that when they built the school, they built it around the playground, so the children had a safe place to be all educators have that same concept. They’re not always in a community where there’s violence. However, there, you do want it to be a safe place for children. We want children to be able to come to school to learn, and we want families to feel good about the place and when families and like you said, learn when you walk into the building, and you understand that that building was made just for you specifically so that you and your child had a great head start in life, you know, it creates a great emotion.

Gloria Riviera  32:32

When we did season one, we looked at World War Two and the pop up early education centers, you might know this tidbit, but women were going to work to support the war effort. And they were dropping their children off because someone, some smart person said they’re going to need child care. And when they would pick that child up, they would also be given a hot meal. Because, you know, God forbid somebody come home after a long work day and be expected to cook a meal. And it just it just made me think of who was it that thought, Oh, yes, let’s do this too. And if anyone does something, too, in DC, it’s Educare. What do you also do and in addition to educating small children,

Jamal Berry  33:16

there’s some programs that are called educate, inspire schools, as well as we call it our Beyond the Walls work. So like we train other local early childhood educators. So it’s not that we have to keep scaling and you know, and have a school everywhere in DC. But even partnering with local childcare is doing that work, we want to just talk about, this is what best practice looks about what we want is high quality education for our children. They don’t want you know; I don’t necessarily want them to have to go to an educator school to get high quality education, I want them to be able to go to any site. And so in order to do that, that means we have to train others and we have to share the knowledge that we have. And so we’ve done that for a long time. And you asked about how families hear about us right now. It’s you know, we have marketing strategy, and we’re on different social media and we pass things out. But our biggest asset has always been our families and word of mouth, right? You know, that if I had a good experience here, and I tell you, trust me and had a good experience, you’re more likely to come and we know every family, you know, isn’t as satisfied or they might not feel the same way. But our word of mouth has always been our biggest asset when it comes to marketing because families in the community understand the impact and what we do.

Gloria Riviera  34:34

And what does it look like for a family? What does it look like for say, a young mom who’s moved to town who has two or three kids is trying to find a job? What is the first step for that family?

Jamal Berry  34:48

So they reach out to us and we start that process there the relationship building our enrollment team starts to talk to them we collect their information and then, if we have a spot available, we enroll them. And if not, we have them on our waiting list. Even on our waiting list, we attempt to reach out and have opportunities for them to still hear more about educator to join in any community events. And each year in August, we enroll. So we have a, we call it rolling enrollment, if there’s a vacancy, we go to our waitlist. And we a part of the Headstart model is that we want to serve the family and the highest need. And so we have a selection criteria, which is why we do this first interview to figure out what’s going on. So like you said, mom just came to town, mom might not have a job right now mom might be homeless, dad might be incarcerated, there’s so many factors, and we start to calculate these points. And then our point system is with tells us who should get in. And so that’s to help to really achieve our mission, which is to close the achievement gap and opportunity gap between families that are in historically underserved communities versus their more affluent peers, the Morpho appear may already have these opportunities. And there’s a lot of families that are like, hey, I want to bring my child educator, right. And but they might be able to afford a higher quality place versus some of our families that we serve, maybe cannot afford it. So why don’t they deserve the same opportunity as that person that can afford that opportunity? And that’s what we’ve been able to provide.

Gloria Riviera  36:30

I imagine that is an arduous, tricky, somewhat emotional process trying to figure out or maybe it’s not, maybe it’s just very straightforward. The need, right, which family to accept who I mean, how do you figure out who is in the most need? If you could tell us a little bit about that it would be helpful. Also you mentioned fathers, such an incredibly important part of any child’s life. Am I right to recall that there is a program that deals with incarcerated fathers, specifically at Educare? Or am I getting that wrong?

Jamal Berry  37:10

Noton Educare, I know that there are other places that specifically deal with it, I think we have just made it our duty to collaborate with fathers period, right? Our we have a couple of men in our program. And we’re fathers ourselves. And we understand that I think a lot of times when people look at poverty, they think that everybody is a single family mother. And sometimes that’s not the case, they just might not be together, they might not be married. But that doesn’t mean that the father isn’t there. So we invite fathers to everything, we do something specifically for fathers. Early in my career, we started what we call hot dogs, for dads you know, a lot of commercial level things like they do donuts, and we were like, dads don’t want donuts, that’s, you know, this, we like that sweets, we want to eat steak on the grill. And so we brought a grill outside and we grill out and we had our fathers come, we’ve done some things where for Thanksgiving, the father served Thanksgiving meals. So we’ve really tried to highlight fathers in our program. Our Family Engagement Manager, actually today is highlighting on a national cycle with the National Head Start Center on family engagement with a father because it’s really important to us, we think that, you know, all stakeholders in the child’s life is important. We want to work with whoever has enrolled them. And we also want to create a community around them. So if their father’s around, they need to be a part of the conversation, whether that’s enrollment or and they need to learn to write. And so you’ve talked about us investing in that to generation model, we want to invest in support parents just as much as we want to do children. Because that’s where the development happens. There’s if we have this child for seven hours a day, they’re with their families for you know, 17 other hours, they have time with them. And so the more we can invest in families, whether that we have, we think about test points, if we even are just investing confidence in them, but the more we can teach them about early childhood education too, so that at home, they take a tablet away and give their child a book or so that they take them to the park and just let them play versus having to run the house like the more we can do that, the better outcomes will be as well.

Gloria Riviera  39:28

well. Are there stories that have stayed with you about parents who have made significant progress in their own lives outside of their role as a parent, what are those?

Jamal Berry  39:38

Yeah, I have so many that that we’ve been able to deal with so I have one parent who when I started she had just gotten out of jail and she had 6 children and 3 of them went to educate there and she was willing to call a firecracker right she spoke her mind If she was not afraid to tell you how she felt, and if she didn’t like what you said, and we just we worked with her, we talked to her, we helped her and she eventually went to become an electrician. And she tells a story that she would never have been able to get her first house as if it wasn’t for educate, pushing her, talking to her talking to her about, you know, some of the behaviors, some hard conversations, but also supporting her children. Wow, she was able to go do those things.

Gloria Riviera  40:33

I imagine that those stories fuel you significantly when you need it. I want to go outside Educare right now and ask you what your thoughts are, you know, really, as an expert in this field, when you look around the landscape, when you look at DC, for example, and I know DC, people often say to me, Well, do you see so fantastic, and it is they pass universal pre K, my daughter, they said, oh, about 90% of kids get into pre K, and my daughter was in the 10% that didn’t get a slot. So it’s a city that prides itself on making great strides, but it’s not perfect. What do you see when you look around the city in early education?

Jamal Berry  41:15

Yeah, I would agree with you. I mean, DC is definitely a leader in early childhood education with pre k for all, which came about 2008, that allowed 90 something percent of kids to be in there. Just recently, in 2018, we passed the Birth to Three Act, which allowed more funding, that’s what allowed the Pay Equity Fund for teachers, because of that act of so DC is doing that. And I will say the system is still broken the system, these work. They’re still an inequity when it comes to Black and Brown children and DC and in America. And so there still needs to be more work, I think DC has their finger on the pulse. And they’re doing all the right things that, you know, along with pay equity, there also has been law passed around health care for our early childhood workers and settled to lower the cost of health care. There’s also been, you know, just other legislation more money towards mental health, which we know that is a big issue in the community and in DC. And so there’s a lot of efforts put there. And there’s a lot of people coming together to do that work together, which is great. And still more needs to be done.

Gloria Riviera  42:32

Yeah, I mean, Jamal, I really detect a positive note in your voice, which I appreciate. I’m always saying on this show. I’m an optimist. So this is how I see it. What do you want to change, you are going to start as you know, the head of Educare, January 1st, 2023, you’ve had these roles within Educare, progressive responsibility program management, I know there’s a lot on your plate, what is the thing that you just can’t let go of that you just cannot stop yourself from wanting to improve or change or contribute to personally within Educare.

Jamal Berry  43:13

It would have to be training; it’s come up all day. And so I, we created a row, the professional development specialist, which does a lot of our training, myself and that person, kind of tag team, all of our trainings, we train in data realization, we trained in embedded professional development, we trained in high quality teaching practices and intensive family engagement. And these trains have been done for hundreds of individuals throughout DC. And then we also trained in this training, that’s called test points. It’s about the developmental model. So we talk about how children develop and we show staff that and then it’s a relational model. And when we talk about if you can help parents to understand what’s coming next in their child’s development, you can start to derail ailment of their attachment. And it is my favorite training. I’m actually a part of a national facilitators, even though I don’t have the time to do the training nationally. And that’s the one training I can’t let go. I’ve told people that I have kind of delegated and passed on to other trainers on but I’m going to continue to train. And I think, from my perspective, one of the things that I think people will take away from it is that if the president and CEO is as invested to train and this, this must mean something for the community and for the organization. So that’s one of the reasons why I still want to keep that training is because I believe in it so much. We talk about in that train and parent assumptions and things like All parents want to do well by their children. All parents have ambivalent feelings and it’s not that you have to believe those things. But if you operate from that value, passion when you find that if you operate from that when working with families, it changes the whole narrative that changes to communication and it helps to create a relationship. And so I believe in so much that I’m going to continue to train in it till I no longer train in an educator because it’s that impactful to work.

Gloria Riviera  45:10

But you just said it, changing the narrative. That’s what it’s all about. And I just want to thank you, Jamal, I want to thank your colleagues, everyone at Educare, the kids, the families, you guys are showing us what is possible in early education. So keep going. That’s what I always like to say keep going. And again, my thanks to you. Thank you to Jamal, thank you for all that you do to ensure what happens inside each Educare classroom is a reflection of a positive ethos for the whole child and the community that child will be a part of for years to come. I love that Jamal is so tireless that he seeks to invest personally and professionally in the growth of his staff that he advocated for and one training for teachers inside the classroom, that he takes in the whole person, not just the degrees earned or not earned. But what’s possible if early educators are given a chance, we all need a chance, and knowing that is a part of Jamal’s job. How lucky is he? And how lucky is Educare DC to have Jamal at the helm. Before we go, I want to let you know that you can get even more no one is coming to save us when you subscribe to lemon on a premium. Earlier this week, we put out a new premium episode with more from last week’s conversation with David Ambroz. You’ll hear the story of David’s experience in the foster system from living in abusive homes to meeting an incredible couple that took him in and made him feel safe for the first time to listen. All you have to do is subscribe to Lemonada Premium in Apple podcasts. Thank you all so much for listening. I appreciate each one of you. I will be back with another episode next week.

CREDITS  47:11

NO ONE IS COMING TO SAVE US is a Lemonada Media original presented by and created with Neighborhood Villages. The show is produced by Kryssy Pease and Alex McOwen. Veronica Rodriguez is our engineer. Music is by Hannis Brown. Our executive producers are Stephanie Wittels Wachs, Jessica Cordova Kramer, and me Gloria Riviera. If you like the show, and you believe what we’re doing is important. Please help others find us by leaving us a rating and writing us a review. Do you have your own experiences and frustrations with the childcare system? Do you have ideas for what we could do to make it better? Join the No One Is Coming To Save Us Facebook group where we can continue the conversation together. You can also follow us and other Lemonada podcasts at @LemonadaMedia across all social platforms. Thank you so much for listening. We will be back next week. Until then hang in there. You can do it.

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