1 Parent’s Take: The Search For Early Learning Programs

Chaz Morales-Williams and daughter Safia Lynx Phillips

Just in time for back-to-school season, we sat down with a Chicago parent to discuss early childhood programs. We talked about early learning challenges, preferences, and insights on the Early Learning Finder, that our organization mRelief tested with a parent this week.

Chaz Morales-Williams, 27, knows what she wants in an early learning provider. “I am looking for a place with people who I can really trust and feel like they are family, who will really challenge Safia to grow and progress in her rapid development,” said Morales-Williams of her daughter who at 2 years old knows the driving directions to her sister’s house. Other words that came to mind for Morales Williams around early childhood programs were: “Transparency. Communication. A center that really communicates with parents.”

Yet, finding an early learning provider has been very difficult. When asked what the greatest challenges are to finding early childhood programs in Chicago, Morales-Williams says, “The challenge is location and still money.” She recalled being offered “some of the top notch places” but at the staggering price of $22,000 a year. “We had to make the decision — pay for this now, or take out of savings for a future house or college fund. What we ended up doing was not working as much as we needed to and staying home with her.” Though separated, she co-parents with the father of her child who she notes has bore the brunt of staying home with their daughter while she has been in school and makes arrangements to pick her up from school 3 days a week.

Morales-Williams is a proud mama and student at Pacific College of Oriental Medicine enrolled in a dual program of Massage Therapy and Eastern Medicine. She balances school with an administrative role at a clinic specializing in fertility and Chinese massage. She sees her quest for education as tied to her daughter’s learning. “This is my child and I am totally invested. I would like to offer my skills to making sure she is getting the best.”

We asked her feedback on mRelief’s Early Learning Finder, a tool launching in the coming days. Made possible through a partnership between the City of Chicago and the Chicago Early Learning Portal, it was designed to empower parents and guardians to find early learning sites. The online app addressed some of her immediate location challenges with screening questions that enable parents to preference whether they want results near their home, place of work or school. “I live on the Southside, but all of my school and work is up north. To be able to compare and contrast our options in different regions of the city is absolutely useful,” said Morales-Williams who compared and contrasted 4 zipcodes pertinent to the location of her and the father of her child’s home and occupation. The results also hyperlink to a page complete with all 3 options on the Early Learning Portal that gives even more in-depth information.

The response pages are comprised of transparent data sourced from the city’s data portal wherein each screening session generates 3 sites for income-eligible families from the 731 early learning sites in the city. “We were determined to find the early learning site in the best location for the parents or guardians. After analyzing the data, we noticed a wide range of 0 to 40 centers per zipcode,” explains Genevieve Nielsen, CTO of mRelief, who filled out the screener more than 1000 times to test multiple different scenarios. “Since we did not want the number of results to be overwhelming, the website shows each user 3 relevant centers based on eligibility criteria, preferences and quality.”

The Early Learning Finder is a pilot and ongoing feedback from parents like Morales-Williams and others will be used to evaluate the tool and other early learning outreach supports. Morales-Williams recommended that the app show more sites and that “7 was the sweet spot.” Additionally, she desired features that entailed social media integrations that enable parents to connect with other parents enrolled in an early learning site to ask directly about their experiences. Most of all, Morales-Williams beamed at the option to preference home visiting, which is when licensed educators weekly visit a parent’s home to support a child’s social-emotional, physical, and cognitive development. “That’s what I am talking about when I said home base — really having people be a part of the family.”

Morales-Williams’ final thoughts on the screening tool were overall related to having something to go on when a parent embarks on the journey of finding care and learning opportunities for their child, “This information is what I need to start, in terms of my research. Having the weekday availability is really good — quality rating, that’s awesome.” Stay tuned for an update on the Early Learning Finder this week.

To test the Early Learning Finder please go to http://www.mrelief.com/early_learning_programs

mRelief is also currently looking to pair with folks who have expertise in Angular JS. E-mail us at mrelief.form — at — gmail.com if you are interested in supporting tools that modernize public benefits for all.

A single golf clap? Or a long standing ovation?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.