KidWorks’ newest partner, Start Well understands that children’s effective learning and well-being can be hampered by negative influences that cause emotional and mental struggles.

College and career readiness is one of KidWorks three program success strategies, however both mental and emotional well-being is foundational to a child’s academic success.

Due to COVID-19, many children have experienced prolonged months of isolation at home away from school and friends, parents facing loss of jobs, illnesses and the deaths of loved ones.

KidWorks’ students are no exception to these impacts, both during the pandemic and their aftereffects.

That’s why we are so grateful for our partnership with Start Well, an Orange County-based non-profit whose vision is that “all young children in Orange County have healthy social and emotional development and access to early mental health supports.”

The Start Well team has been engaged with our preschool team since May 2019. That partnership deepened and widened at the onset of the pandemic. It has now expanded to include our after-school programs and members of our program leadership team.

Some of the topics Start Well has worked with us on include challenging behaviors, mental health in children, resilience, trauma-informed care and positive impacts of health.

“Our goal at Start Well is to make sure we set our youngest learners on a positive trajectory by supporting their social and emotional health and well-being,” says Rhysa Suh, Master of Arts, Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) and a consultant with the organization.

Adds Rhysa “Part of doing this means we are supporting and building the capacity of the adults and relationships surrounding a child.

KidWorks shares similar goals and values in supporting children and families. In doing so, they are creating resilient individuals and communities.”

Idalia Galdamez, our Preschool Director, is grateful for Start Well’s positive impact at KidWorks. 

“Our staff communication has greatly improved since we received training by Rhysa and other guidance implemented by Start Well,” Idalia says. “We’re able to support one another and use the techniques included in the training. Our team is more aware of parent sensitivity when sharing concerns about a child. Our primary goal is to work as a team with the parents to provide the resources available and safest environment to help the child and the family.”

Idalia says “Start Well is one of the first partners the preschool team turns to when there is a mental health issue within one of the families we serve. Their team offers resources and techniques to help the children cope and thrive in the preschool setting in the face of the struggles the family is having.

“Start Well has provided us with professional training, tools and resources so we can offer the safest environment for our youngest scholars,” Idalia says. “A very valuable tool we’ve been using is called TAGPEC, which is The Teaching Guidance Policy Essential Checklist. TAGPEC enabled us to revise our parent handbook and the policies it contains. This tool was very helpful in setting expectations for the child/parent(s)/staff/program in a step-by-step manner to ensure the needs of everyone are met.

Start Well is helping to create an even more nurturing environment focused on social and emotional well-being and the behavioral health for all students at KidWorks.  

“One way is by offer education and information,” Rhysa says. “I’ve partnered with the program leadership team to provide specific training for all staff members on the topics of mental health, resilience and challenging behaviors.”

“Rhysa says Smart Well provides consultation at three distinct levels: Individual/Child/Family, Classroom, and Program.  We partner with KidWorks at both the individual and program level support,” Rhysa says. “At the individual level, Start Well supports KidWorks staff in understanding, assessing and addressing challenging behaviors and to create an individual plan that supports a child in the preschool classroom and home.” 

“At the program level, Start Well works with leadership team to identify systems, policies and practices that support changes that benefit the social and emotional health and well-being of all children and adults in the program. This includes providing education and information to staff and family members on the topics of mental health, resilience and challenging behavior.”

Start Well shares KidWorks’ philosophy that a child given a strong start in preschool is well-positioned for academic, career and life success.   

“By focusing on the programs and individuals who are working with youngest learners and community members, we’re building a strong foundation of skills that will support children in all the years to come,” Rhysa says. “I really enjoy working with KidWorks and seeing the impact they’ve had in the community over the years. It’s amazing to see the genuine compassion and care they have for supporting all the children and families. “

“Start Well is a partner I was especially thankful for in 2021 and moving forward. They align so perfectly around our core values and how we integrate learning. The tools they are providing our teachers will benefit our students for years to come,” says Noemi Juarez, Director of After School Programs.  

Thanks to Start Well, there is more laughter, more learning–and more healing—in all our classrooms. This is also our prayer for all children everywhere.

By Glenn Leibowitz, volunteer writer