Smart from the Start (Smart) has developed an ecological approach to promoting school readiness. Children cannot be served in isolation from their families, and families cannot be served in isolation from their communities. Therefore, we are working to promote change simultaneously on all three levels:
- Programming for children birth to five has been designed to equip children from low-income communities with the cognitive, language, physical, and social/emotional assets that facilitate school and life success.
- Smart addresses the needs of every member of the family. Smart recognizes and builds on caregivers’ strengths. Caregivers have access to crisis intervention and family stabilization services. They are encouraged to set long- and short-term goals to improve their economic status and to overcome social challenges. Opportunities to enroll in adult education and career exploration programming are open to all Smart caregivers.
- Our community-based work is designed to improve families’ access to, and use of, existing community services, while also ensuring the highest-quality services through close partnerships with other agencies. The Smart model works to engage and enlist the support of both formal and informal stakeholders, business proprietors, and other community-support agencies.
● Prenatal Outreach and Education Program: Expectant families meet weekly to get to know other families in their neighborhood, participate in workshops and prenatal education opportunities, and to learn about services in their community. Each participating family is given a baby shower and layette items for their baby. Our prenatal education program is curriculum-based and often co-facilitated in partnership with health centers or the federal Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutrition program.
● Smart Start Home Visiting: Home visits are offered to families with newborns and each family receives a Smart Start basket. During the visit, the core principles of raising a learner are introduced. Families are enrolled in Smart and those in need of crucial services are connected with community providers.
● Breakthrough Parenting: This comprehensive, curriculum-based program helps parents understand how children think and how they function at different ages. It helps them to provide effective discipline by teaching children what to do, rather than only what not to do, and coaches them to avoid using manipulation and violence.
● Baby Basics: In this ongoing support and educational program for parents and caregivers with babies ages birth to 12 months, families learn about everything from infant brain development, breastfeeding, and infant massage to time management and how to care for older siblings along with a new baby.
● Play-to-Learn Groups: Structured play groups are offered for caregivers with infants and toddlers, especially for those children not already in structured child-care settings. During play groups, early learning and parenting skills are promoted in the context of play. Families are also connected to necessary services. Our curriculum has been customized to engage the multicultural, urban population of families we serve.
● Socialization Groups: Curriculum-based socialization groups take the place of traditional child care. We want every moment we have with the children to provide fun opportunities to learn and grow, and, therefore, these groups are designed to promote school readiness by providing fun learning activities.
● Support and Empowerment Groups: These loosely structured group meetings engage families in early learning, provide parenting support, and help to prevent the social isolation that often comes with raising small children in challenging circumstances.
● Parenting Workshops: This series of one-time workshops explores topics chosen by families to address their specific parenting challenges. For example, ReadBoston has facilitated an Early Words workshop to provide in-depth, hands-on, individualized support for parents to help them improve the language development of their children. Workshops are also presented on issues such as immigration, criminal offender record information (CORI), housing, and other subjects of concern to families in our communities.
● Adult Education and Family Literacy: Smart offers a selection of adult education courses, including on topics such as English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), high school equivalency credentialing , computer skills, job readiness, and family literacy, using curricula that include a focus on child development and school readiness.
● Financial Literacy/Career Planning Program: Cohorts of families are engaged in activities that explore attitudes and values related to money, develop skills for saving and budgeting, and identify goals for self-sufficiency. This eight-week intensive course includes individual coaching and encourages sharing of goals with the group. We also offer one-time workshops on specific topics of interest. Smart program staff members have been trained to provide basic financial literacy to all families.
● Crisis intervention, Information, and Referral to Vital Services: Smart provides support and advocacy for families during crises and links families to existing community services and supports, such as food and clothing pantries, substance abuse treatment, counseling services, and housing.
● Little Explorers Field Trip Program: Smart creates multiple opportunities for families to get out of their homes and communities and to visit unfamiliar sites and participate in enriching activities in Boston. The goal is to broaden experiences for adults and children, with a focus on language and literacy development during the trips.
● Community School Readiness: Smart facilitates community stakeholders working together to define some key activities and approaches to reinforcing school readiness everywhere children and families go. The larger community is engaged in understanding their role in promoting early learning.
● Family Leadership Program: This cross-site program has a specially designed curriculum to support and empower caregivers from underserved communities. Leaders attend workshops and trainings on a variety of topics to learn more about issues that families and children in their community face, and to build their skills as advocates, trainers, and leaders.
● Address the Stress: This program is led by licensed, multicultural clinicians and includes summer camp, as well as group and individual therapy, to help children and families cope with stress and to build resiliency . It helps them address the challenging effects of toxic stress and trauma, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
● Smart 2 School: This program addresses families’ anxiety about navigating the Boston Public School system. It guides them through the registration process and the first day of school, including school visits, workshops, special guest speakers, and more. Smart 2 School is a curriculum-based program, providing families with the guidance and support they need as they make the transition to school. Smart 2 School prepares children, but it also prepares families to confidently continue in the roles they have as their children’s first teachers and advocates.
● Community Unity Partnership Initiative: Smart provides thousands of community residents access to early learning and social support resources through this initiative, which places “play-to-learn” spaces and book giveaway stations in neighborhood businesses, such as laundromats, barbershops, bodegas, auto repair shops, natural pharmacies, and other businesses frequented by young families.
● Focusing on Fatherhood: This cross-site program is facilitated by trained male family leaders from Smart communities. Programming includes open discussions, family trips, guest speakers, parenting skills, and workshops, as well as education, employment, and support and referral services. Smart’s LEAP (Leadership, Empowerment, and Advocacy Program) for Woodland Terrace, in Washington, D.C., is a curriculum-based program specifically designed to provide urban youth and families with support for setting and achieving their own goals for self-sufficiency and healthier lifestyles.