WSA Parent Ambassadors - an Overview
The WSA Parent Ambassador Program, established in 2009, is made possible from a generous grant
from the Peppercorn Foundation. The parents selected for this program
participate in a yearlong parent advocacy and leadership training program. They receive training on communications, leadership, legislative advocacy and grassroots organizing, and are responsible for training parents in their local programs and participating in advocacy efforts on both the state and federal level.
Parent Ambassadors are off to a fast start this year. Already Ambassadors played a pivotal role in defeating the Governor’s plan to drastically cut child care assistance. Ambassadors have provided regular testimony on key issues that impact children and families including funding for early childhood education, TANF, and WAKIDS—a kindergarten readiness assessment process. Ambassadors have been featured in newspapers, TV and radio including coverage on KIRO 7, NPR, KING 5, and KHQ.
Because of the buzz surrounding the program within the early childhood community, ambassadors have been requested to speak at National Head Start Association institutes and state training conferences, conducting successful training in Washington DC and Pennsylvania They trained other Head Start parents how to give effective testimony, mobilize members of their community, and write effective letters to the editor -- several of which were published following the event. The Ambassador Program in May 2011 will have a global audience as WSA has been asked to present on the Parent Ambassadors Program at the early childhood World Forum.
Making Parent Voices Heard
In Washington State there is considerable energy around early learning. During Governor Christine Gregoire’s first term she established the Department of Early Learning to consolidate and strengthen early learning programs in the state. With her help, and with Bill Gates Sr., a new public-private organization called Thrive by Five was created to harness the resources and ingenuity of the private sector for strategic investments in early learning. In short: there is buzz around early learning in the state and there is buy in from all levels of government and the private sector. The need to have parent voices included in this process is more important than ever.
Often parents, especially low income parents, are left out of critical discussions. The Parent Ambassadors’ Program provides opportunities for parents to be heard. Here are just a few examples of how parent ambassadors give real voice to their concerns and opinions:
- Ambassadors have an opportunity to interface directly with their lawmakers at the state and federal level as well as the Governor;
- Ambassadors sit on specific advisory groups and committees put together by the Department of Early Learning, Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, and other state agencies;
- Ambassadors participate in Association meetings and are seen as leaders in WSA parent affiliate group meetings;
- Ambassadors participate in early learning coalition activities locally or through state wide coalition;
- Ambassadors engage national organizations like the Children’s Defense Fund, National Women’s Law Center, Center for Community Change and National Head Start Association;
- Ambassadors engage other parents about how to effectively and strategically make their voices heard; and
- Ambassadors take active roles in coalition building at the national, state, and local levels.
Training for Parent Ambassadors
Parent Ambassadors go through an extensive year long advocacy training program. Parents learn the basics of government, about specific pieces of legislation, how to contact their lawmakers, how to provide effective testimony, and how to engage parents in their community. Parent Ambassadors also receive training on important leadership skills - communications, goal-setting, conflict management, etc - that enable them to be more effective leaders and advocates.
Education, Training, and Mobilization
After several trainings, Ambassadors are expected to take what they have learned and educate, train, and mobilize parents back at their local programs and in their communities. Ambassadors are the crucial link to their communities. WSA has developed a Parent Newsletter for Ambassadors to use to communicate the latest legislative information and updates to local programs as well as utilizing social media including FACEBOOK. Ambassadors provide grassroots training at their Head Start/ECEAP parent policy council meeting and teach parents about pending legislation. Ambassadors are expected to provide frequent updates to parents in their local program about legislative issues directly affecting their families and strategic opportunities to weigh in with both state and federal elected officials.