Discovering Paths to Support Families

by Emily Garcia, 2018 OCDEL Policy Fellow


“Emily, I need help finding a preschool for DJ!”

Children have the greatest opportunity to learn and excel when their needs are met. What becomes crucial in fostering their development is the relationships they form with those around them. Throughout my professional career, I’ve had the pleasure of being at the very start of many of these relationships.

My junior year at Temple University, I joined Jumpstart Philadelphia particularly excited to serve the local community and gain more experience in a preschool classroom. Jumpstart is a national early education organization that recruits and trains college students and community members to serve preschool children in under-resourced communities through a language, literacy, and social-emotional curriculum.  I had no idea the paths Jumpstart would bring me down! Now, nearly five years later, I’m closing in on the end of my second year as the Senior Site Manager for Jumpstart Philadelphia at Temple University. Each year, I provide over 80 Temple students with the same experiences that I had in college, leading them down similar paths, and training them to become the best mentors and teachers for preschool children who need it the most.

In looking to advance my knowledge and understanding of education policy across the Commonwealth, I applied for the OCDEL Policy Fellowship. I came in with an interest in learning more about inclusion, language and literacy efforts, and most of all, the engagement of families in a child’s education. That eagerness was soon met with opportunity. I was able to present at a “Parents at Play” session at the Family Engagement Conference in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where I taught families strategies to support children in play at home. Additionally, I have interacted with various OCDEL teams to learn more about their efforts in supporting child development and early education. In my six months with the fellowship, I truly have had a number of different opportunities such as the ones mentioned above that allowed me to grow as a professional. One in particular, was the relationship I’ve been able to form with my mentor, Sarah Holland. Sarah is the Special Assistant to Family Engagement and has played a crucial role in helping me understand and apply how the state engages families in the work that is being done within OCDEL.

However, the impact of my experiences with the fellowship did not hit me until more recently. What began as an introduction to someone who shared a similar passion for education and Jumpstart, reintroduced itself as an opportunity to share this new knowledge gained through the fellowship. A college student of mine with a two-and-a-half-year-old son rushed into my office one day in a panic about where to send her son for preschool the following year. As I began to delve deeper into her situation and walked her through informational resources, it struck me that because of my newly acquired knowledge from the fellowship, I was able to support this student in finding high-quality child care for her son. She left my office feeling confident about next steps and seeking out support for her son during the most crucial years of his early life.

The fellowship has continually been a valuable experience for me professionally and personally. It has broadened my horizons and allowed me to support my Temple University students and Jumpstart children more than ever.