Just short of it’s third anniversary, Austin Coming Together (ACT) through collaborative efforts, seems to be on target for making significant community improvements in addition to enhancing the educational experiences of Austin’s students.
Rev. Reginald Bachus, one of ACT’s charter members and current executive director said ACT is trying to develop a systemic approach to making improvements in Austin.
“Starting at early childhood, looking at youth development, and workforce development, which includes ex offenders and those who have made bad choices, at the end of the day, we are looking to make some meaningful changes in Austin,” Bachus said.
Bachus said the process of organizing ACT took about nine months with several meetings and several discussions to bring everyone together. An outside facilitator was brought in to work with the group to help them understand and work together to decide what they wanted to accomplish as a group.
“Our ultimate goal,” Bachus said, “Is to help create a different story for Austin.
The idea for ACT came about as a result of a conversation held with Michael Ivers, a former president of Goodcity NFP. Bachus, a Kansas native, upon arriving in Austin seven years ago, said he observed that “there were a lot of good organizations, and there was a lot of good going on, but everyone was operating in their own little corner, or their own little silo.”
“I said to Mike, I don’t see any collaboration, any joint effort or working together going on here. I said, I think together we can make a difference,” Bachus added saying that is what got the “ball rolling”.
Bachus strongly believes that, “Austin’s many good organizations who are working independently and doing great work can get more accomplished for the community by working together.”
In the area of early childhood, Bachus and his staff have worked with ACT member organizations and other partners over the past year to form the Austin Early Childhood Collaborative. This group of leaders, chaired by Ruth Kimble of the Austin Childcare Providers’ Network, has come together to develop and sustain a high quality, accessible, and seamless system of supports for young children and their families.
The Collaborative represents a multi-sectoral group of leaders, including childcare providers, caregivers, social workers, health workers, and educators. Last spring they published and disseminated an early childhood resource directory for the community and decided to continue their work together by planning the first annual Austin Early Childhood Symposium.
The Symposium was meant to bring attention to the importance of the social and emotional development of young children. According to Dr. Durriyyah Kemp of the University of Illinois, “social emotional learning refers to the process through which we learn to recognize and manage emotions, care about others, make good decisions, behave ethically and responsibly, develop positive relationships, and avoid negative behaviors.”
Kemp added, “The development of social and emotional skills is a lifelong process that begins in infancy and extends throughout adulthood. When children develop social and emotional competencies at a young age, they are equipped with foundational skills that will aid in their success throughout school, work, and life.”
Kemp and other educators, presented workshops to childcare providers, teachers, parents, caregivers, and other community members centered around social-emotional development. Dr. Kemp’s workshop was geared towards helping teachers to understand how easy it is to integrate social emotional learning in what they are doing everyday.
“They do have to change lesson plans. They don’t have to change their focus. They don’t have to purchase a curriculum, ” Kemp said. “It’s really about cultivating a positive environment. Creating this wonderful community of learners.”
The two other workshop presenters, Anne Dempster and Colleen Whittingham were equally excited about the Symposium participants. Of the participants, Demspter said, “They were excited to be there. They had four workshops to choose from, and some of them chose mine, which is always exciting. Whittingham said, “I had four or five men teachers in my workshop, which was new for me.”
Bachus, his staff and all of the ACT’s members are looking forward to their next initiative with anticipation of achieving an even greater success than that experienced through the Austin Early Childhood Symposium.