Ascend is a policy program of The Aspen Institute, an educational and policy studies organization that aims to pass on economic security and educational success from one generation to another. They emphasize a two-generation approach in every thing they do, meaning that they want to create opportunities for both the parent and child living in disadvantaged situations.
UWATX received a grant from The Aspen Institute Ascend Fund in order to develop and test a two-gen pilot project of our own. United Way for Greater Austin engaged two researchers from the University of Texas’s Ray Marshall Center to measure impact through an evaluation that used multiple methodologies, including participant focus groups, individual interviews, surveys and pre- and post-skill tests.
At the onset of the pilot, UWATX met with community partners to discuss project strategies to test an adult education care model for parents with children already engaged in high-quality early education. With Austin Independent School District (AISD) and Uphaus Early Childhood Center, UWATX developed an outreach plan to reach potential participants.
After several weeks of dedicated outreach, UWATX reached over 100 parents and learned some valuable lessons. Over half of respondents cited English as their primary need and interest. Those who were interested, qualified and eligible for job training had diverse interests, making it difficult to form a cohort. At the same time, UWATX learned most of the job training families had reliable transportation and could access the existing training centers, while the Spanish-speaking families struggled with isolation. All of this meant an ESL (English as Second Language) class would address the community’s greatest need, fill the biggest gap in our community and best fulfill this grant’s original intent.
UWATX worked with AISD to develop a high-quality ESL class tailored to 22 participants who agreed to participate in this project, and supplemented this class with childcare services and one-on-one financial coaching. 100% of the project participants were women and of Hispanic/Latino descent. Of the 22 enrolled participants, 17 completed the semester-long ESL course. Collectively, the participants gained a full-level of English proficiency as measured by the BEST Plus scale and three students gained nearly three levels. The majority of survey respondents indicated an increase in reading to their student at home since taking the ESL classes (63%), reading materials sent home in the child’s backpack (75%) and talking with their child’s preschool teacher (88%).
90% of participants who also took financial coaching classes said the coaching helped them with their family financial goals, and several commented that they appreciated the convenience of having financial coaching services immediately following the ESL class, so that childcare was available.
The Ascend project also included community development and policy work. A two-gen advisory committee was formed with local policy leaders and funders, two community conversations about two-gen were hosted and a “Two-Gen Vision for Austin” was published with over a dozen organizational endorsements.
UWATX would like to thank the Ascend team for creating this opportunity to learn, grow and share with a national network of two-gen thought leaders. Additionally, the power of community partnerships fueled this project. AISD provided the instructor for the ESL classes; Workforce Solutions provided assistance in developing parent surveys; The Ray Marshall Center at the University of Texas designed and implemented an independent evaluation of the project; and The Austin Project managed the high-quality infant/toddler care program for the participant families. Another United Way grant was leveraged to provide financial coaching, computer tablets and financial stability apps for the participating families.
Moving forward, UWATX plans to connect with other Texas communities as they begin to explore two-gen approaches and build a state-wide policy agenda.
Here is some of the feedback we received from the parents who participated in this project:
“My son is in Pre-K and he is learning English. He asks me what I learned in school, so I tell him what I learned, and he tells me what he learned in school. We share what we learned with each other.”
“I use to go to different classes that did not offer childcare, so my son had to stay with me. When he would start crying I would have to get up and walk outside with him.”
“I am excited to be learning English because I know I am bettering myself. My husband speaks English, and my children are learning it too, in school, and they get excited when they get homework because I am able to help them with it. I have one child in Pre-K, and when I go pick her up she asks me, ‘Mommy, how did it go in school? What did you learn today?’ Or she begins to ask me how certain things are said. And she will tell me, ‘Mommy, you got it right’ or ‘Mommy, you are trying.’ And she is only five years old.”