As a family support specialist with Franklin Pierce Learning Center Head Start in Parkland, Washington, Melissa McPheeters provides direct service support to twenty families, as well as support with behavioral management, social-emotional learning, and individualized trauma-informed practices to several Head Start classrooms. While not necessarily part of their role on paper, Melissa also took on leading staff wellness initiatives when the pandemic hit last year and the Franklin Pierce Early Learning staff, like everyone, found themselves thrown into a world of new challenges. Melissa is currently earning a master’s degree in education with an emphasis on trauma and resilience, but for them, this work goes beyond the classroom and is core to all interactions with families and coworkers.

In addition to optional daily self-care meetings for staff, Melissa also set up daily technology support sessions, knowing that staff and families needed support learning how to use unfamiliar platforms. Additionally, when Melissa became aware that preschool children were the lowest priority for receiving devices in the school district, they advocated both individually and with the support of the Franklin Pierce’s Equity Team to rectify the inequity. Ultimately, their students were able to gain access to devices with the same priority as older students in the district.

In her own words:

“I approach obstacles with a strengths-based foundation and abundance mindset: that everything necessary to resolve a challenge already exists; we only must identify and leverage those assets. When issues arose, I sought to advocate with antiracism and trauma-responsive practices at the forefront of my efforts. I saw the shift to digital platforms as an opportunity rather than a hindrance to connect with children and their families, as well as with one another as staff. I leveraged my understanding of technology to optimize the engagement opportunities with families, through newsletters, the daily support group, and recorded content with the support of teachers.

The incredible team that I have the opportunity to work with makes my leadership possible. Their kindness, collaboration, and friendship allow me to advocate for the best interests of the children and families we serve. Their support, openness, and willingness to try new ideas allow me to take risks in my work. I hope to have inspired them by pushing back when something was inequitable and/or harmful–for children or for staff, including when that meant challenging the education system as a whole.”

Malkia Payton-Jackson

Malkia Payton-Jackson is NHSA’s first-ever director of alumni engagement. Back in Cambridge, Head Start is where she made her first best friend — and now, she’s inviting Head Start alumni to connect with one another, share their unique stories, and help keep Head Start strong for generations to come.

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