During the year, school-wide learning themes are used so teachers may share resources and children can see the same subject implemented in a variety of ways. But in the summer teachers have free choice to teach what interests them and their students. Creativity abounds!
An example of this was “Rocket Week”. Classrooms were filled with cardboard rocket ships. Books about space filled the mini-libraries in the classrooms. Kids made beautiful earth pictures out of coffee filters with diluted paint. They constructed and dressed up in astronaut suits made out of aluminum foil and clothes dryer hoses. Posters of the solar system adorned the walls.
But the best part was the day they “launched” their own rocket. One enterprising teacher played a recorded shuttle launch from his laptop and projected it onto the wall. Thirty young children from two classes were enthralled. They counted down … 10, 9, 8, 7 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Blast Off!
Then the children went out to the playground and lined up along the fence to watch their teacher fire off a blaster rocket he had purchased for them. Again, they counted down to Blast Off! As children left school that day, almost every child was telling their parent about the rockets.
This is a wonderful snapshot of great early education in action. Kids were interested in the topic and new words were learned. The theme was presented in different mediums from stories to art to a live re-enactment. Technology facilitated the learning, but didn’t dominate it. Teachers got to share their passion and be creative.
Mainspring is blessed to have such wonderful teachers. They say the greatness of any organization lies in its people. The Mainspring staff is an amazing group of caring, resourceful, hard-working people. They are a snapshot of great early education in action!
Parent quotes from a recent survey:
“What would you tell others about Mainspring Schools?”
"The magic that is mainspring"
On the morning of her son's graduation from Mainspring, a wonderful, long-time mom at our school sent us a note about her thoughts and emotions. She was kind enough to let us share it with you:
All in all, it is what it is: Bittersweet. But make no mistake, I have a lot going on inside. The feeling is so intense that I barely have the words to describe it. All the years of trauma, hopelessness, anger, confusion, anxiety and excruciating pain made their mark. I had no choice but to find a way to learn how to live with it because it never goes away. And most importantly, to accept help when it was offered (asking for help is not one of my strong suits).
Let me just put it this way, Mainspring is much more than a daycare. It's the only place that consistently and compassionately provided the love and stability that we so desperately needed during a vulnerable time in my son's young life. Early in my recovery, I didn't have the support of my family or anyone else, for that matter. But after I received treatment through CPS and the amazing Travis County Family Drug Treatment Court program, I was offered an avalanche of assistance, including therapy, parent coaching, financial planning, etc., and I never once turned anything down. Even as I struggled with the adjustment to a new way of life without drugs, crime and violence (and trust me, I've struggled) no one ever gave up on me. At the time, people recognized my drive and potential, even though I considered myself a lost cause and thought they were crazy. I often look back and cannot believe how different things are now than they were before. And when I'm feeling down, or wishing we had a larger home or a newer car, I think about how lucky we are. It's a miracle really. Without the generous support of Mainspring, CPS, Family Drug Court, and countless others, things may have gone much differently, and we could have easily fallen through the cracks.
Throughout our journey Mainspring has supported us in ways that I could never have imagined, and I want to emphasize the fact that we would NOT be where we are today without you. My son has blossomed into a fine young man and I have no doubt that his future will be very bright as a direct result of his time there. Honestly, I could go on and on about all the ways that our family has benefited and I know for a fact that every child who walks through those doors has been touched by the magic that is Mainspring.
I'm going to miss y'all terribly. We hope to continue our relationship with Mainspring in the future and will certainly pop in on occasion to see everyone's faces!
Thank you thank you thank you, from the bottom of our hearts and the depth of our souls!
Forever gratefully yours,
A Mainspring Mom
Life after Mainspring
A recent Mainspring graduate went on to public school. She was born addicted to drugs, and has had a tremendous amount of transition in her short life, but had been doing really well at Mainspring before she graduated.
In elementary school, she was showing quite a bit of regression to behaviors we hadn’t seen at Mainspring since she first began with us at 3 years old. She was struggling with joining the class for group learning activities because she was too overwhelmed and couldn’t focus. The teacher shared with mom — who has been attending parent support group and parent suppers for two years at Mainspring — that the child was able to choose whether she would attend group and was usually choosing not to. Mom, knowing that she didn’t want her daughter to miss out on any opportunities for learning and that she was ultimately her child’s best advocate, started to come to her daughter’s school every day at that time to help her participate in groups. After a couple months of this, her daughter was able to do it on her own.
Mom came to Mainspring just to tell us about this. She was so proud that her daughter was going well, but was also proud of herself for taking matters into her own hands, and wanted to share that with us!
It was such a perfect illustration of our hope for our families. We always worry about how children are going to do when they leave us, since new schools represent new environments. That’s why our parenting program is so vital. Even though “life after Mainspring” won’t come without challenges, the things we are working to teach parents while they’re here are meant to give them the tools to be able to address those challenges. Mom felt like she had a voice, she knew what her child’s behavior was saying, and she persisted in following through to meet that need. Those are exactly the kinds of successes our parenting program is designed to create.
The first step
We had a parent support group that one week centered on relationships and abuse/violence. The conversation was about how abuse isn’t always physical, and how low-income moms have a lot of fear of leaving destructive relationships because they don’t have financial resources and support systems to take care of themselves and their kids.
One such mother had been in a relationship with somebody who is very controlling and uses all of her resources. She has a car and actually has certificates in Medical Assisting and being a paraprofessional in a classroom. He wouldn’t let her get a job outside of the home, takes control of her car (she has to ask to use it) and takes all of the money she makes as his in-home health assistant.
We have met with mom many times to help her see her own value and resources. We talk a lot about how good of a mother she is and how he undermines that when he tries to control her or is verbally abusive in front of the child. We’ve also talked about how sometimes people aren’t ready to take giant changes when they’re scared, but sometimes taking small steps can make you feel more confident as you go. We kept asking her, “What’s your first step?”
All of our discussions came to a head that night in parent support group when all the other group members told her all the same things we’ve been working with her on. She heard everybody, all the group members rallied around her, and almost the whole night was focused on her.
That night we got an email at midnight and all it said was: “My first step.” Attached to the email was the copy of a public housing application in mom’s name. She had applied for her own housing, away from him.
It turns out after group that night they had some conflict. He had called her an unfit mother and that was her breaking point. She said she could hear all of our voices in her head about how she was good enough, about how she had the resources to succeed on her own, and about how taking the first step was the hardest point. She came to school the next day and we gave her a hug.
"Up until this point I’ve been looking at it like I just have to get it all together all at once," she said, "but when you broke it down into small, manageable steps, I felt like maybe if I could take the first one, I would be brave enough to keep going."
That’s what gets lost when supporting our families. We think they’re going to show up and miraculously get everything figured out. The reality is it takes a tremendous amount of support and we need to honor the small steps and small successes. Maybe mom isn’t going to wake up tomorrow and be self-sufficient and ready to tackle the world, but if she’s willing to entertain the idea of making changes for the sake of mom and her child, then there is success there. Our parent program is one that honors the small successes, in pursuit of helping families reach their ultimate potential, whatever that looks like to them.
Parent quotes from a recent survey:
“TEll us about your experience in Mainspring's parent support group”
There were three boys under the age of four in this family. They had been legally taken away from mom and placed with grandma because of the father’s extreme domestic violence. Grandma was doing her best for the boys, but her resources were stretched thin. But each day, she brought the boys to school and gave it her best. She was also still trying to parent her daughter, the boys’ mother, a 20 year-old young woman under the spell of a violent man, who was, for the time, in prison.
Unfortunately, when Dad was released from prison he immediately began physically abusing the mom again. The police were called, he was taken back into custody, and mom went to SafePlace to heal. The boys, of course, witnessed all of this. The oldest boy exhibited serious acting out behaviors in his classroom, alternating with periods of silence. The baby, who had been such a sweet happy baby, became clingy and somber.
We continued working with that family, giving the boys the extra care and attention they needed. With the extra guidance and support from his teacher, the older boy slowly regained some equilibrium and even began assuming a positive leadership position within his classroom. The baby began smiling again and is now freely giving hugs. One day we saw him push another child to the ground and fearfully assumed that his exposure to violence had made him more prone to violence. But the very next moment, he reached down to help the other child to his feet, rather like the pro football players on TV. We knew then that the crisis for him had eased.
The oldest brother is graduating; leaving us for “big school.” He smiles shyly at us. He knows all of his letters and his handwriting is fine and strong. He knows that people care deeply about him and want him to succeed.
We have done our best by these boys, as we do with all of the children at Mainspring. Sometimes the children here are facing unimaginably difficult lives. It is an honor to be part of a school that makes a space for them and helps them move forward with a chance for a successful life.
The three children were sweet, smart, and well behaved. However, their Mom never got them to school on time and was uncooperative and unwilling to problem-solve or develop a plan that would ensure her children were getting the most from their Mainspring experience. With much coaxing and some “tough love,” Mom eventually came around. She returned to school at ACC, started working with their father to provide a stable home environment, and became committed to ensuring her children had every opportunity to be successful. She had realized Mainspring was an important part of this plan.
Indeed, Mom was a changed woman! She got the children to school on time every day, attended our monthly educational Parent Suppers, and was very engaged with her children’s teachers to find ways to support their learning. Additionally, Dad was involved in the process.
But suddenly, their world was turned upside down. The mom’s brother brought his three boys to her house and abandoned them. All of a sudden, instead of three children there were six—living in a two-bedroom apartment on a small income.
But Mainspring was prepared — our social worker and teachers worked with the parents to provide extra social and emotional support. And through an anonymous donation made specifically to assist a family facing unusual circumstances, this family’s financial situation was stabilized.
Despite overwhelming challenges, this family has worked hard and come a very long way. It does indeed take a village to raise a successful child—a family willing to engage to make the lives of their children better and “angels” amongst our Mainspring supporters who sometimes make a bigger difference than they could have ever imagined.
"A Shining Gem"
After both of her kids moved on from Mainspring, one of our moms shared her thanks with us. And she graciously allowed us to share her note with you:
I am so grateful for this fine school. My children learned their lessons and social skills here, and I can tell you – with complete certainty – that through monthly Parent Suppers and weekly Parent Support nights, I learned to be a better parent. The relationships I formed here, I hope, are long-lasting. Mainspring carried me during the dissolution of my marriage and gingerly carried me through to this beautiful other side.
This school – YOUR school – and the people who dedicate their lives and careers to Mainspring are such a shining gem in an otherwise dull daycare landscape in Austin.
You all have touched our lives in ways I have yet to realize fully. And I will miss our time spent in your welcoming care.
All of our love,
A Mainspring Family
Tough Economic Times and Disadvantaged Families
Sometimes those of us with well-paying and secure jobs complain about tough economic times. But the families of Mainspring truly know about poverty and hardship. Theirs is a story of Medicaid, food stamps, and subsidies to pay for their childcare. It is a story of young mothers working long days at places like Taco Bell and HEB for minimum wage and then coming late in the day to pick-up their children, often using the bus to get from work to the school and finally home. It is a story of mothers running out of food stamps long before the end of the month and wondering how they will feed their children.
This is one of the reasons Mainspring School’s work is so important. Most of our children are living in poverty. But we make certain they have a nutritious breakfast, lunch, and afternoon snack each day at school. Many live in unsafe neighborhoods and are not allowed to play outside, yet Mainspring provides great playgrounds with lots of time for physical development and fun.
We also go the extra mile for the parents. We provide programs at the school to help educate and support our young parents. These range from an intense parent education program to parent support evenings to holiday family adoptions to family reading nights. We even have a food pantry to be used by our families in emergency situations.
Mainspring School provides so much more than just a great early childhood education. Your contributions help support all of these programs. Please consider making a donation today!
Feedback from parents
Banner photo credit to Lauren Hammonds and United Way for Greater Austin Success By 6