Only an hour from downtown Naples, but a world apart, Immokalee is home to Pathways Early Education Center. In operation for more than 56 years, Pathways ably serves its mission of creating educational opportunities for Immokalee’s youngest and most at-need children, with curricula for infant through pre-kindergarten. Pathways is newer to Future Ready Collier than some of their peers, joining in 2018 when Beth Hatch assumed leadership. Their eagerness to contribute has been manifest since day one.
Collectively Building Capacity
From their geographic vantage point, the Pathways leadership is convinced of the necessity of better and more access. They are not the only early education provider in the immediate vicinity, but the depth of need is so great that it transcends any drift towards cross-organizational competition. By way of illustration, when the Guadalupe Center celebrated a ribbon cutting for a new facility in Immokalee, Pathways representatives were on-hand to support. Pathways has also been fortunate to purchase land across the street from their existing school, where a new site will help ease their 500-child waiting list. It is that awareness of extensive need for added capacity in Immokalee that enables Pathways to work closely with Guadalupe and others to be part of the solution.
This is a micro example of the larger benefit of Future Ready Collier. While each stakeholder has their own individual priorities and programs, there is an understanding of the importance of aligning to work on the bigger picture. The specifics may not always translate exactly from one provider to the next, based on factors like cultural contexts, but undoubtedly there is value in learning, exchanging ideas, trying new things, adapting methodologies, and ultimately making even a little bit of a bigger dent in the need. However impossible big change feels, with the investment of time and collaboration, we can move together.
Collaboration Leads to Change
Pathways is committed to working with and through Future Ready Collier to implement long-term transformation in the culture of education in Collier County. A huge advantage available to Future Ready Collier participants is a ready pool of willing partners. Making data-driven change is ultimately what will alter perceptions and then actions, leading to better outcomes. And, critically, the public-facing support of the Collier County Public Schools, as well as the backing of NCEF and the Community Foundation of Collier County, among others, contributes to better and faster traction. Hatch recognizes the interconnectedness of the whole, noting that, “If you’re in early learning, you’re not just in early learning.”
Within the team at Pathways, there’s a strong sense of their commitment to getting the job done, with a conviction that, “We’re going to do it because it has to be done.” This mindset is essential for the work they do daily. The population of Immokalee is only increasing, and the particulars of the community influence outreach. A distinctive reality here is that a majority of adults are working in the agricultural fields, carrying long hours, and unable to allocate time for activities like school visits or events.
Caring for the Whole
The team’s dedication has been on ready display during the COVID-19 crisis. Throughout the extended closure, staff doubled their efforts to stay connected with families through daily virtual content and weekly communications. Teachers regularly share materials and activities on social media designed for families to be able to easily implement at home. Also, the team is doing what they can to offer material support with food distribution, diapers, cleaning supplies, grocery delivery, mental health, advocacy, and connecting with partner agencies for additional assistance for rent and utilities. The Immokalee community is incredibly cohesive, and organizations routinely go above and beyond to assist outside of their specific scope of services.
Their commitment very much extends to Pathways’ own team. Since the middle of March, when schools closed, Pathways has kept everyone employed with their normal salary and full health coverage expenses paid. Supporting those who do the daily work is fundamental to ensuring a continuum of care, which the children in Immokalee need now more than ever. Teachers are the backbone of the program, and are integral to students reaching kindergarten readiness, a core Future Ready Collier priority.
For Pathways, this adaptation is as natural as their determination that, “you have to look at the whole child.” It’s also an approach that is sustained in Pathways’ involvement with Future Ready Collier. With this organization, there’s no halfway. It’s all in, all the way to the finish line.