Ten years of investing in preschool students and families
Back in 2011, Jerry Fauci, then-principal of the elementary school in Yoncalla, Oregon — a rural community of about 1,000 residents in southern Oregon — had a backyard conversation with his new neighbor, a program officer for The Ford Family Foundation. The conversation centered on education and how to support the school’s youngest students to make sure they’re ready to be successful entering kindergarten. Eventually a partnership formed between the Foundation, the Children’s Institute and Yoncalla School District.
“Initially this was an opportunity to make sure that the school district could see families and children clearly,” explains Erin Helgren, current principal of Yoncalla Elementary School. “Not only some of the barriers they may have had engaging with the school, but some of their infinite strength and potential.”
Early conversations were held in the community library. Then there was Dr. Seuss night at the school. It grew into a parent drop-in room. Then a preschool classroom. Then an Early Head Start class. Ten years later, the elementary school, the school district and community of Yoncalla have been completely transformed.
“Educators have to work hard to accept the fact parents really drive what we do,” says Jerry Fauci. “It used to be that we’re the ‘professionals’ — just give us your kids, and we’ll do what’s right. But that’s not how it works here now.”
Yoncalla School District continues partnering with the Foundation and the Children’s Institute, and now leads a well-regarded early learning program called Yoncalla Early Works. Today, Yoncalla’s Preschool is over-enrolled with a waiting list.
- Over 90 percent of kids have had high-quality preschool prior to their kindergarten
- Kindergarten enrollments have doubled.
- Early Works services and supports have scaled up from third to sixth grade and are now embedded district-wide.
- Yoncalla parents are involved in the working of the school and are welcomed in for
celebrations, events and more.
- Yoncalla has become a statewide model to other rural school districts looking to integrate universal pre-K programming into their K-12 systems.
- Yoncalla educators across all grade levels are aligning their practices, like implementing conscious discipline and looking for ways to continue improving instruction for every child.
Over the course of ten years, Yoncalla School District leaders and community members, especially parents of young children, have walked side-by-side reinventing the elementary school’s approach to family and child support. Their success has led to the community finally acknowledging that, in fact, Yoncalla is “kind of a big a deal.”
This video celebrates the years of collaboration and honors the community and school’s thoughtful commitment to improving outcomes for rural kids and families.
SELECTBOOKS: Yoncalla Preschool Declaration of Rights
“At this point in my life I should not be surprised by the wisdom children possess, but this is impressive! I hope adults will pause to read what preschool students are telling us in this fantastic children’s book.”
— Todd Bloomquist, Senior Program Officer – Children, Youth and Families