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UPDATES: Early Childhood Paraprofessional Program (ECPP) - Feb 14, 2018

Create a pool of early childhood education (ECE) paraprofessional volunteers; provide support for classrooms with children with higher needs

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Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)

We placed our initial group of paraprofessionals in classrooms beginning in January 2018. We learned that the onboarding process for participants has been more time consuming than expected. Because this is a highly collaborative project with no paid coordinator and relies on people who donate their time beyond their regular job responsibilities, it has taken more time than expected to develop materials and protocols for onboarding (including training of all participants), implementation and evaluation. Participating programs have also found it takes more time than anticipated to develop intentional classroom plans for using the paraprofessional. We know that starting the pilot has been the heaviest lift, and we will continue to revise processes as we move forward based on what we are learning. We recently conducted a baseline survey with classroom teachers and program directors at our pilot sites. Their responses show that teachers are experiencing problematic behaviors with children frequently throughout the day. They are stressed and emotionally drained and feel that they are working too hard at their jobs. This survey provides baseline information that we will be able to address in the coming months and compare to post program survey data after the pilot. We have also developed a website portal for the ECPP program, so that program participants can access the resources they need:

Name or Organization

The Early Childhood Council of Larimer County (ECCLC) supports the Leap Coalition of 25 community partner organizations working together to resolve early childhood workforce issues and improve social and emotional (SE) competencies for children in ECE programs. ECPP grew out of this coalition, and its partners also now include six ECE programs, Front Range Community College (FRCC), SummitStone Health Partners, private EC mental health therapists, and ECE quality support staff.


ECCLC’s reach encompasses urban, rural, and mountain communities throughout Larimer County.

What is your stage of development?

  • Advanced Innovator with 3 to 10+ years of experience in ECD


  • Team

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Prototyping: I have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing my idea.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

Our workforce shortage impacts ECE quality. Classrooms have high teacher turnover/vacancies. Challenging behavior in young children is becoming more severe and widespread, due in part to inconsistent ECE environments. Our goal is to increase quality care by providing support for teachers. This will: improve quality by decreasing staff/child ratios; create more consistency for children by reducing staff turnover; increase support for children with challenging behaviors by giving teachers more time to implement support plans; and provide quality experiences for our future ECE workforce.

Select an Innovation Target

  • Service: A new or enhanced service that creates value for end beneficiaries.

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

Our Leap Coalition’s Early Childhood Mental Health (ECMH) Workgroup is focusing on building an effective ECE workforce--the foundation for expanding our community’s capacity to meet the needs of all families and young children. ECMH has identified the need to increase the number of ECE professionals working in the classroom to better support children’s social and emotional needs by lowering staff/child ratios. To support this objective, in the fall of 2017 the ECMH workgroup began plans to launch a pilot Early Childhood Paraprofessional Program (ECPP) to create a pool of trained ECE paraprofessionals who will provide short-term additional support for classrooms with high-needs children. The goals for ECPP include: • Providing quality classroom environments that allow all children to thrive. The paraprofessional’s time will be focused on the classroom, so that the experienced teacher has time to better implement intervention plans for children with challenging behaviors. By providing extra paraprofessional support, teachers will be better positioned to meet the needs of all children in the classroom. • Supporting the development of a future ECE workforce by providing trainees with intentional placements, purposeful mentorship, and opportunity for a meaningful experience in a high-quality classroom. • Increasing retention of experienced teachers, both through the provision of additional support and the development of leadership skills through mentorship training.

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

ECMH consultant interviews in 2016 confirmed that challenging behavior in young children is becoming more severe and widespread. In 2016, a survey of ECE programs showed high turnover causing hundreds of difficult to fill vacancies and staff shortages that impact program capacity. These problems—workforce retention and development, challenging behaviors, and understaffed classrooms—are intertwined and must be addressed together to improve and sustain quality care.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

What: The ECPP will improve classroom quality for all children by increasing support for teachers in the classroom, allowing the teacher to better support children with challenging behaviors, and provide quality workplace experiences for paraprofessionals who may be considering entering the ECE field. How: We will recruit and develop a pool of trained community volunteers from a variety of sources, such as early childhood teacher training programs, mental health degree programs, retired teacher organizations, and seniors looking for second career opportunities, to provide additional classroom support for a few hours/week. We will target classrooms where experienced teachers have identified some children showing challenging behaviors that require additional one-on-one attention. • Volunteers will be provided with basic training in working with young children in a classroom setting, including trainings required by state licensing. • Experienced teachers will be provided with training and support to become effective mentors, which will increase job satisfaction and professional growth. • Experienced teachers will provide mentoring to the volunteer paraprofessionals. • Volunteer paraprofessionals will be matched with classrooms, with a commitment to work for a four-month period to allow for consistent support to both the teacher and the children. We are aligning the commitments with spring, summer and fall semesters to better coordinate training and evaluation. • The focus of the paraprofessionals will be on general classroom activities, thus freeing up the experienced teacher to implement plans to help support those children with challenging behaviors/high needs. • These efforts will be supported by ECMH professionals or other classroom experts, and an ECPP Program Coordinator. • Evaluations will be conducted before, during, and at the end of each commitment period. Additionally, feedback received from mentor teachers will be shared with the paraprofessionals to support their ongoing learning. What we will achieve: • Decreased challenging behaviors in the classroom, as both children with high needs and other children in the classroom receive the attention and support they need. Quality early childhood environments support the healthy emotional development and social wellbeing of young children, so that they are able to self-regulate, learn, and be better prepared for success upon entering kindergarten. • Increased stability of the ECE workforce, which is key to creating a consistent, positive environment for young children. This stability is a result of increased job satisfaction of experienced teachers, due to development of greater self-efficacy, which leads to increased retention of experienced teachers due to lower rates of burnout or compassion fatigue. • Increased ECE workforce pipeline, due to volunteers’ positive experience in the classroom. Although some paraprofessionals will always stay as part-time volunteers, we anticipate others will choose to go into the ECE field as a profession. • Increased availability of stable, high-quality early childhood environments through recruitment and retention efforts to grow our local available ECE workforce.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

Our team is primarily composed of ECE providers, who are responding to the needs of both the staff and the children in their programs. Other team members, ECCLC and Front Range Community College, have extensive experience and expertise working with ECE providers. ECCLC also works with ECMH Consultants at SummitStone Health Partners and in private practice and tracks data about workforce challenges in the community. The collaborative effort of these organizations is essential to implementing a successful ECPP. All partners believe that benefits include: • Children receive greater quality support from highly trained mentor teachers and paraprofessionals, supporting their social emotional growth. • Mentor teachers experience greater job satisfaction with additional classroom support and more quality one-to-one time for implementing plans to help children with challenging behaviors. • Families experience reduced stress and greater trust in the educational system because their children’s needs are being met through a quality ECE program. • Career-seeking paraprofessionals work in high quality classrooms and gain required experience for earning credentials; while seniors can launch a second career or volunteer opportunity. • The ECE workforce experience improved teacher retention rates and higher quality recruits to fill vacancies. • The community will have more children with the social emotional skills and supports they need to be successful in school and in life.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

Increasingly, research is identifying social-emotional (SE) competence as the foundation upon which children build the skills, behaviors, and attitudes necessary to become productive members of society. Children lacking SE competencies such as empathy, decision-making, and conflict resolution skills tend to "become less connected to school, and this lack of connection negatively affects their academic performance, behavior, and health" (Blum & Libbey, 2004). These children are more likely to "engage in multiple high-risk behaviors (e.g., substance use, sex, violence, depression, attempted suicide) that interfere with school performance and jeopardize their potential for life success" (Dryfoos, 1997; Eaton et al., 2008). Fortunately, quality early experiences, which include access to quality stable ECE and environments that support families can change a child’s trajectory. By stabilizing the ECE workforce and having more qualified, caring adults interacting with children in the classroom setting, we are helping children to develop their social emotional competencies and setting them up for greater success in school and life.

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

The recently released KIDS Count in Colorado (Colorado Children’s Campaign, 2017) explores equity issues in early childhood education across the state, concluding that affordability and other factors limit options for many families in need of quality care for their young children. Unfortunately, discipline actions to address challenging behaviors in the classroom are not applied equally to all children. The report concludes that many barriers contribute to this disparity, including poverty, race, and gender. Poverty creates stressful conditions at home that can impact a child’s behavior at school. Our goal will be to include ECE programs that serve low-income children, as evidenced by the acceptance of the child care assistance program subsidy payments and/or the provision of sliding fee scales to meet family needs. During our Spring 2018 pilot, of the six participating programs, two serve children enrolled in the Colorado Preschool Program (eligibility based on risk factors, including poverty) and four accept children receiving subsidies through Colorado’s Child Care Assistance Program.

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (5000 characters)

Our goal is to disrupt the standard model for paraprofessional support in the classroom. ECCP pairs children with high needs with the most experienced educator in the classroom—their teacher—while providing paraprofessional support for the classroom. ECCP is inclusive, by keeping children with high needs in the classroom; and supportive, by ensuring that the lead teacher manages the classroom and behavior plans. To see the value of ECCP, it helps to understand what the standard model has been for ECE programs. A paraprofessional is assigned to provide one-on-one support to a child with high needs or pull them out of the classroom, while the teacher provides classroom instruction. This puts the burden of specialized behavior care onto less qualified teaching staff. ECCP uses student interns and community volunteers to provide specialized, intentional, assistance to the classroom. They are placed with partner programs that have identified children with high needs and have submitted a classroom plan for how the paraprofessional can provide additional support. This plan may include more one-on-one skill-building time with children and assistance with small group time/projects, allowing the teacher time to implement individual behavioral support plans for children with challenging behavior while paraprofessionals help support the other students. Classroom plans will be reviewed and updated regularly to reflect changing classroom needs and ensure the needs of all children in the classroom are being met. Intentional placement of the paraprofessional as support for the teacher will ensure positive social emotional development of all children in the classroom.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

We are piloting this concept with 4 child care centers, 1 family child care home, and 1 school district preschool in the spring of 2018. With funding for coordination, we could see expanding this service to a potential market of 55 licensed child care centers, 191 family child care homes and 47 preschools in Larimer County. Child care programs currently operate with a very thin financial margin, so most financial support would need to come from external sources. We will explore financial sustainability models such as a membership fee to be able to access the services, underwriting by local employers, or other funders. The barriers to scaling include identifying a volunteer pool, experienced teachers for mentoring, and adequate funding.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

As a community we find this program to be one of the most impactful things we can do to more effectively support young children with high needs. For these reasons, we have moved this project into a pilot phase using volunteer community time and talent. Center directors, ECMH consultants, ECE teachers, and community college program administrators have come together as a development committee to coordinate and move the process along. In the spring and summer of 2017, we developed the program components. In the fall of 2017 we gathered baseline data, prepared programs and trained mentor teachers. As of January 2018, we have 6 classrooms (4 center programs, 1 school district classroom, 1 child care home) hosting paraprofessionals and gathering evaluation materials. If we are able to secure funding to recruit and pay a project coordinator, we believe we will have the capacity to scale the program from 6 classrooms to 12 classrooms in fall of 2018 and from 12 classrooms to 20 classrooms in spring of 2019, ultimately reaching about 25 classrooms. In addition to a coordinator, we believe that we will be able to further our recruitment and retention of paraprofessionals and mentor teachers if we are able to provide stipends for their participation. Making time for meetings, trainings, and preparations are all costs to individuals and programs that can be mitigated with stipends. No program has made this a stipulation for their involvement so far, but we can see the benefit in offering stipends as soon as possible in order to maintain involvement in a field which is so thoroughly underfunded.

Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (5000 characters)

This project can currently manage between 5-10 paraprofessional placements at a time as a volunteer effort. With this award, we can hire a project coordinator and scale up to 25 classrooms using unpaid student interns or volunteers. This coordinator will: • Recruit programs/classrooms and provide resources • Recruit paras and maintain relationships to have consistent pools to draw from • Train mentor classrooms/teachers and paras • Make sure paras complete all paperwork needed (background checks, etc.) • Facilitate changes with teachers and paras throughout the semester • Help facilitate experts for classrooms to create plans • Monitor classroom plan goals • Initiate, collect, summarize, and disseminate evaluation data Once we are able to demonstrate impact, we may be able to charge programs a small fee or find local city/county/businesses willing to invest. We also believe that pending Colorado legislation to allow the creation of a substitute early childhood teacher pool will result in cost savings around training and background checks, as we will be able to register these paraprofessionals as substitutes and move them between settings without incurring additional background and training costs. Our long-term vision is to secure additional funding to pay stipends to those looking for a work as an early childhood paraprofessional.

HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (5000 characters)

Originally, the idea for ECPP came from the Leap Coalition, which is a community collaboration of 25 different organizations whose focus has been on connecting and strengthening our systems to better support young children’s social emotional development in culturally responsive manner. Leap conducted a countywide environmental scan, which indicated a strong need to increase support in early childhood classrooms that have children with high needs. As a result, a Leap Coalition workgroup met to discuss barriers and opportunities and develop strategies to address this need, including the development of this Paraprofessional Program. Leap then convened early childhood center directors, early childhood mental health professionals, administrators at our local community college, and ECCLC staff to design an ECPP pilot. The initial programs which have been recruited to participate in the pilot are also now engaged in the program design. All of these groups have been involved in the development of the pre, mid, and post evaluations which are being used with participating teachers, directors, and interns to gather feedback. At the end of the initial pilot, data will be analyzed and shared with partners as part of our continuous improvement efforts. All of the pilot programs already receive general feedback from parents about the quality of their programs, and we are considering how to effectively engage parents in providing feedback for this ECPP project.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

When we were out listening to the community, we heard over and over from many providers that we are beginning to better connect children who need extra support with those services. We are beginning to change the way teachers are teaching to include positive approaches to learning. We have administrators who are not giving up on challenging behaviors, and are willing to bring in training and experts to make a difference. Despite these successes, however, some children are not receiving the supports they need and families are falling through the cracks. The pieces of the puzzle were there in the classrooms, but something was still missing. When we heard success stories about the hardest to reach kids, it often involved programs hiring an extra staff member just for one child. Or, a director going into the classroom several times a day to provide support. Or, the child spending time in the director’s office in order to implement their individual education plans. The inspiration for the Early Childhood Paraprofessional Program came from a program we learned about at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City. Sasone provides Para-Educators for children with special needs so that they can attend Jewish preschools and Jewish summer camp programs. As a result, a program tailored to respond to the specific needs of our community began to take shape through discussion of not just what had been done, but what might be possible. It has taken big dreams, lots of hope, and a community willing to bring together many stakeholders, but we have now started on a path toward significant, positive change.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (600 characters)

We have 7 community partners participating in the ECPP pilot: Front Range Community College (FRCC), 4 early child care centers, 1 family child care home, and 1 preschool classroom based in a local school district. This pilot is being developed with significant pro bono support, including: • Program development and coordination time from ECE program administrators and FRCC • FRCC time to train and support paraprofessionals. • Training for the mentor teachers We have connected with several additional partners already and are prepared for the next steps of scaling when feasible.

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)

We would love additional insight into how to take our pilot program to scale. We believe that we will have some opportunities to take advantage of the state’s new proposed Substitute-Pool licensing options but will need to create a strong infrastructure to expand. We would appreciate help with addressing issues of scalability, such as: • Backbone structure needed • Quality control • Data and evaluation • Contracts with participants (both providers and volunteer paraprofessionals) • Financial structure (e.g., stipends for programs or paraprofessionals, membership fees)

Would you like mentoring support?

  • Yes

If so, what type of mentoring support do you think you need? (1200 characters)

Please see above.

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

[Optional] Biography: Upload your biography. Please include links to relevant information (portfolio, LinkedIn profile, organization website, etc).

Beverly Wood Thurber, Executive Director Early Childhood Council of Larimer County, Bev joined the Early Childhood Council in 2008. She has over 30 years of experience in human services, in areas as diverse as early childhood, child welfare, health care policy, suicide prevention, senior services and refugee services. She has a Bachelors Degree in Psychology and Masters Degrees in Social Work and Public Administration.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Sarah Marsh

I love this idea. As a lead teacher I feel like I give 200% of myself on a daily basis, trying to teach curriculum and social skills to make my classroom a positive environment and set my students, including and especially the ones with challenges, up for success. It's exhausting while it is rewarding, and the more help that is available the more we can really take the time to reflect and apply our knowledge to the challenges, serving our families and really our future better.

Photo of Bev Thurber

Hi Sarah,
Children need teachers like you who are passionate about helping them succeed. We hope this program will provide much needed support!

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