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The Women's Initiative is a fast-growing program created by Refugee Transitions. It focuses on education for both newcomer mothers and their preschool-aged children.

This program is RT’s answer to a challenge that was experienced by our female students: an inability to attend English language classes due to childcare barriers. Women were eager to learn English but couldn’t attend classes at community colleges or other sites, because preschool-aged children and babies were not welcome. Yet due to cultural, logistical, and/or financial reasons, our students had no childcare options. So in 2014, we started offering parent/tot English classes with a babysitter in the classroom. The class was only to open to women, to ensure a safe and comfortable environment for women to breastfeed and care for their children as needed. This original parent/tot program was offered two days a week.

The program proved so popular and successful that we soon expanded to three days, and then to five days a week. In 2017, we launched our Women’s Initiative, which included the class for moms with a formal early childhood education program for their tots. We have hired experienced child development professionals, and created a play-based preschool program. Kids aged 18 months to 5 years now receive these services in separate classrooms from their moms.

The Women’s Initiative improves women's English skills and self-sufficiency, supports female community and leadership, and reduces childcare barriers to education. While mothers attend class, our early childhood development professionals engage the children in educational activities, including holding reading groups with our partner Tandem. Partners in Early Learning. We help children learn English; develop interpersonal and social-emotional skills; grow their fine and gross motor skills; express themselves creatively; and be more independent. 

The class includes multilingual, culturally sensitive assistance by female community leaders. These leaders, as well as the childcare assistants, are hired from within the communities that we serve, which include forcibly displaced populations from Afghanistan and Yemen. 

The vast majority of the students make significant gains in their English skills. RT has traditionally targeted curriculum needs and practices around pre-literate and beginning learners. In the academic year 2017-2018, we exceeded California state goals by 19% for the High Beginner level, 17% for the Low Beginner level, and 1% for the Literacy level. In addition, student surveys show that the program helps women feel more confident using English, navigating systems in the U.S., and using English to help other newcomers.

One of this program's success stories is M. After attending our classes, she advanced her skills and was hired as a Women’s Initiative Classroom Assistant. According to M., students participating in the program “have made a community; they can share and solve their problems, they can share their culture with people from many countries. And the program this year is even better than before, because there is a separate childcare room and professional teachers for the children.”

We invite you to kindly support our Women's Initiative by donating here. We are grateful for our Board Member, Galorah Keshavarz and our Coordinator, Tenley Harrison for their unwavering commitment and support of this program.

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AuthorAndrew Bogrand