The Women's Initiative is a fast-growing program created by Refugee Transitions in Oakland. It is an educational equity and family literacy initiative that includes education for both newcomer mothers and their preschool-aged children. The Women’s Initiative combines all of RT’s program areas: Education, Family Engagement, and Community Leadership.
RT started this program as an answer to a challenge experienced by our female community members: an inability to attend English and adult literacy programs due to childcare barriers. Women were eager to learn but couldn’t attend classes at community colleges or other sites, because babies and toddlers 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. They were only open to women to ensure a safe and comfortable environment for students to breastfeed and care for their children as needed. This original parent/tot program was offered two days a week.
The parent/tot 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 classes for moms and a formal early childhood education program for their tots. We hired experienced child development professionals, and created a play-based preschool program that bolsters kindergarten readiness for kids aged 18 months-5 years old.
The Women’s Initiative improves women's English skills and self-sufficiency, with a focus on topics such as positive parenting, navigating U.S. systems, pathways to employment, and digital literacy. 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.
In addition to classes and early childhood education, women and their families have access to a plethora of services offered at the same Oakland site. These include quarterly community-building events; workshops on topics such as parenting, health, and wellness; and social adjustment case management with bilingual and bicultural workers.
The Women’s Initiative includes multilingual, culturally sensitive assistance by female community leaders. These leaders 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. As for the early childhood program, at least 80% of the moms say that this service helps their kids become more kindergarten-ready.
One of the Women’s Initiative 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.”
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We are grateful for our Board Member, Galorah Keshavarz and our Consultant, Tenley Harrison for their unwavering commitment and support of this program.