1. Taking Root in the Community
2. Building a Professional Local Team
3. Tracking Attendance of High-Risk Children
4. Forging Relationships with the Poorest Parents
5. Improving the Health of Vulnerable Children

program elements 1

1. Taking Root in the Community

It takes at least two years for the team to really be able to work together. It’s also easier now because parents finally understand that they have to bring their children every day, and take part in school activities. This has even improved the behavior of parents who are not eligible.” Cojocna social worker, Cluj County

The third year of the project was the best so far. Not only that the children’s improved attendance and progress are obvious. My surprise was that the parents’ attitude changed dramatically. They see the value of preschool now.” Marilena Andreescu, Podari school principal, Dolj County

In order to run smoothly and have the chance to become an integral part of the education system – not just a temporary NGO-spawned add-on, the Fiecare Copil in Gradinita program requires the active participation of the school system. Inter-sectoral collaboration is a multi-year, multi-level undertaking, the goal of which is to make communication and collaboration between educational, social and health institutions the norm. It also takes time for poor parents to begin to regard early education as both their child’s birthright and their own responsibility as parents. Such major transformations do not happen in a year or two or three.

The first FCG year often is the most challenging, as:

  • Parents need time to shift their mindset from unconditional social aid to an incentive system that requires them to bring their child to grădiniță every day;
  • Other parents need time to understand the poverty criteria;
  • Teachers need time to get used to FCG’s strict daily attendance-taking rules (children cannot receive the food coupons in a month where spot-checks reveal mistakes or omissions in attendance records);
  • Everybody must adjust to unusually high numbers of severely disadvantaged children in grădiniță every day. This implies additional responsibility for teachers, and a whole array of hygiene, health and behavioral issues, all fully resolvable with appropriate attention.

It is often in the second year that teachers start talking about the potential of children previously written off as slow learners, as the benefits of daily attendance start to show, and their relationship with parents improves. Teachers are encouraged to visit families at home, which greatly increases their understanding of their students’ difficulties.

In the third year, teams function more smoothly and have fewer disputes with parents. FCG becomes more ingrained in the daily practices of teachers, social workers and school mediators. 


building prof local teams

2.Building a Professional Local Team

It’s a long road from ‘access’ to quality education. In the first year the focus is on monitoring daily attendance, establishing learning routines and basic hygiene rules. In the second year classroom management and learning designs that engage children’s curiosity become more important.” Maria Gheorghiu, OvidiuRo cofounder

OvidiuRo conducts annual workshops to share common problems and best practices and help teachers, social workers, and school mediators work more effectively as a team in the interest of supporting children from disadvantaged families.


3.Tracking Attendance of High-Risk Children

To identify all children who are not already registered, or have dropped out, or attend only sporadically the local implementation team members carry out door-to-door recruitment and:

  • Parents are offered assistance in registering their children.
  • School administration procures sufficient classroom space & teachers to meet the added demand.
  • School mediators visit the children’s homes to encourage regular attendance and parent involvement.
  • Parents can register their children throughout the year. (No registration cut-off date is imposed.)

Accurate attendance keeping is the very foundation of FCG methodology. But Romanian grădiniță teachers have not developed the habit of keeping daily attendance because it is not strictly required: the Annual National Report for Education (Raportul privind starea învățământului) uses only ‘enrollment’ as an indicator for preschool participation. Sometimes, attendance records are inflated to reflect positively on the institution and provide job security – by showing a minimum number of children in attendance so groups do not get combined and positions eliminated.

Teachers are required to fill out the daily attendance form by 9:00 each morning. They soon understand its necessity to developing uneducated parents’ habit of bringing their children every day and on time. Unless the timesheets are consistently taken each day at the same time, children’s arrivals tend to vary, negatively impacting class activities and putting the latecomers at a disadvantage.

Spot Checks: OvR conducts random “spotchecks” of the attendance reports. An infraction results in a warning to the local team; for a second infraction, OvR withholds the monthly allotment of food coupons for the class in question. The local community can either: (1) cover the cost of that month’s coupons from local funds, or (2) postpone distributing the food coupons for that month, explaining the reason to parents. Although unpopular, this policy is necessary to change both teachers’ and parents’ ingrained habits. Otherwise, exceptions become the rule. The principal’s involvement and support of the basic tenets and rules are key to smooth enforcement of this vital program procedure. OvR’s initial and ongoing training, auditing of attendance records and application of sanctions when inaccurate or incomplete reports are detected have led to greatly increased accuracy over time.


program elem 3

4. Forging Relationships with the Poorest Parents

Of course I want to bring him. After the first day he said he wants to go everyday. It makes me happy to see him happy.“ Parent, Roșia, Sibiu County

We need to help parents understand the value of education and keeping their children in school. You can’t change what you don’t know. Treating parents with respect, offering support and resources, and giving them information that they can use in their homes is a good place to start.” Jane Krill Thompson, Early Education Specialist

Through strategic incentives FCG gets impoverished parents in the habit of bringing their children to grădiniță every day regardless of the weather, children’s mood, distance, or other chores the parents might consider more important at the moment.

Parents of FCG children have low education levels themselves and have their own negative associations with school. A valuable FCG element is that it offers teachers and parents the opportunity to get to know each other as real people, instead of stereotypes. Parents become more comfortable in the school environment, while teachers have repeatedly reported that their relationships with parents have improved since the program was initiated. Over time parents’ ingrained habits about the “right time” to start their children’s education changes.

It is resoundingly clear that the majority of uneducated, struggling parents do want their children to get a better education than they got and that these parents are willing to make personal sacrifices for their children’s betterment.“ Leslie Hawke, OvR cofounder

In addition to requiring daily attendance, a second precondition to receiving food coupons at the end of the month is parent participation in two activities: Parent Day (a monthly activity with both children and parents) and Parent on Duty (five times a year parents are asked to spend the school day assisting the teacher). Parent education programs are widely available in Romania, but there are none specifically targeted to functionally illiterate parents who often lack even the most basic awareness of good, and bad.

Șotron Doi (“Hopscotch 2”): This optional module is to ally parents anxieties about sending their youngsters to grădiniță. Șotron Doi is an 11-week program offered in the spring for 2- to 4-year-old children and parents to prepare them to start daily preschool the following September. Parents (usually moms) and children meet with a teacher, in a friendly lowkey setting for two hours a week so both children and mothers can acclimate to the school environment and become more comfortable with school personnel. It is also an opportunity to transmit good childrearing and health practices.


health

5. Improving the Health of Vulnerable Children

Because of its excellent results, we extended the program for another three years. Projects with real impact take time, and this requires long-term support. Petru Grădinariu, GSK Romania

The lack of integrated health, education and social services combined with the decrepit health system infrastructure in rural Romania and the shockingly primitive living conditions of poor Roma present daunting challenges to the health and physical development of Romania’s poorest children. Poor children get sick more often and stay sick longer than materially better-off kids – which naturally affects their attendance and performance in school. Virtually all the children who qualify for FCG live in dismal third world conditions – without a nearby source of clean water, toilet facilities, or reasonably accessible medical care. They live in cramped, overcrowded, improperly heated, jerry-rigged structures. Plastic or cardboard often cover the windows of rooms shared by half a dozen or more people and heated by makeshift stoves that continuously leak smoke into the oom. These conditions have led to Romania’s having the highest rates of infant mortality and tuberculosis in Europe.

A three-year €150,000 grant from GlaxoSmithKline in 2012 allowed OvR to add a health component to FCG in 43 communities. The “Together for Better Health” (T4BH) project helps poor children get routine medical check-ups, identify potential health problems and receive appropriate treatment and medication. The project has also facilitated the involvement of health mediators and increased immunization rates in isolated communities. The grant was renewed for another three years in 2015 allowing OvR to continue providing medicine, vitamins, fruit and hygiene products, and health education to parents and children, and making diagnostic services available through periodic medical caravans. A new component has been introduced for the 2015- 2016 school year: PHASE (Personal Hygiene & Sanitation Education) – a school-based basic health and hygiene curriculum designed to help mitigate diseases caused by inadequate access to clean water.

For more information read our reports or check out the Together for Better Health website: