Program Profile:
Chicanos Por La Causa in Phoenix

Developing a
Unifying Voice

The growing season lasts all year in Arizona, where irrigated farms in the state’s southern desert produce cotton and vegetables in the cooler months as well as melons, dates, and other fruits in the warmer ones. The state’s agricultural sector depends heavily on migrant labor, especially in the four Arizona counties where Chicanos Por La Causa (CPLC) operates Arizona’s Migrant and Seasonal Head Start and Migrant Early Head Start programs.

All of the 840 children enrolled in the program—including about 266 infants and toddlers—come from families engaged in agricultural labor. They attend either a “long program” from about August to May or six-week sessions during the summer peak period of agricultural work. Migrant families move on, often to California and the Pacific Northwest, to harvest other crops. It is CPLC’s job to provide early educational services to this mobile population of 0-5 year-olds, and within a small window of time, ensure that they receive preventive health and other mandated services as well as developmental and educational assessments.

It has taken CPLC—a statewide social and economic development corporation with offices throughout the region—more than 40 years to refine its holistic approach to service delivery in Arizona’s “economically deprived communities.” As Program Director Andrea Martinez explains, the agency emphasizes “a high level of respect and trust no matter what is going on.” She refers to the state’s often-contentious debate over immigration and the role of migrant labor.

Some findings have been surprisingly encouraging, such as those showing that a higher share of children than expected have reached at least medium performance across development domains.

One outcome of this debate is that Arizona is an “English-only” state. “That means, when you walk in the door of kindergarten, English is the only language you will hear,” says Martinez.  Because 95% of enrolled CPLC’s children come from Spanish-speaking households, this policy raises the stakes for modeling English in the classroom, especially as children get closer to kindergarten. CPLC assesses children’s progress in English and Spanish, a policy that Martinez says presents “a 360-degree view of how things are working.”

Martinez notes that, compared with many other Migrant and Seasonal Head Start grantees across the country, CPLC programs are “in a good place” to conduct assessment. “Because of the long, regular growing season in Arizona, we can analyze data multiple times a [program] year.” For infants and toddlers, CPLC uses the Ages and Stages Questionnaire 3 at initial developmental screening and ongoing monitoring at two, four, and six months throughout the program year. It also uses the Teaching Strategies GOLD™ Birth Through Kindergarten assessment system for both center- and home-based programs. Home visitors collect data at each home visit and during socializations and solicit input from parents on targeted learning experiences. To assess preschoolers, CPLC uses the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test 4 (PPVT 4), the Test de Vocabulario en Imágenes  (TVIP—for Spanish-speaking and bilingual students), the Phonological Awareness Alphabetic Literacy Screen (PALS PreK), and the Teaching Strategies GOLD™ Birth Through Kindergarten assessment system.

All children attending the short session are assessed at two “checkpoints,” including developmental screenings conducted during the first two weeks and Teaching Strategies GOLD at the end of the session. Education Director Margaret Larsen says that even as children move away with their families to follow the crops, the assessments “for short-termers tell us what kind of programs are building social, developmental, and emotional skills that get them kindergarten-ready and help them connect better with other children. They tell us how we did and where the children are ending up.”

Larsen says the goal is to conduct “seamless” assessment. CPLC uses Teaching Strategies GOLD for all age groups. (The Arizona Department of Education has recently extended the state’s umbrella contract to Early Head Start.)  “We have the ability to track from birth through to kindergarten,” Larsen explains. “I’m hoping that by using this tool, we are helping teachers see what are reasonable progressions for children across all learning areas and fine-tune our planning.”

CPLC is also “actively soliciting” more parent engagement during home visits, having identified focus areas for each child.

“Data collection and analysis are integrated into all of our systems, procedures, and plans—throughout the whole program,” Larsen explains. “It’s part of making sure we’re providing the best-quality learning experience that is possible.” CPLC looks closely at what its community assessment reveals about its local mix of families, growers, and other stakeholders and the agriculture-dependent economies that attract migrant families. All this information informs CPLC’s school readiness efforts and goals.

One recent finding of the community assessment process was that many of the preschoolers’ families lacked books in their homes. With support from the non-profits First Book and Reading is Fundamental, CPLC was able to double, to a range of 5-10, the number of bilingual books in each household. CPLC also monitors what community resources are available to promote language and literacy—for preschoolers and their families—including library books and bilingual story time.

“Data collection is scary and exciting,” Martinez says. Some findings have been surprisingly encouraging, such as those showing that a higher share of children than expected have reached at least medium performance across development domains. CPLC children have performed well in the social and emotional domain, particularly in regulating their own behavior and interacting with other children.

Beyond the classroom, CPLC’s data collection and analysis have made the agency a more powerful advocate.  As the CPLC’s 2011 community assessment notes, Arizona’s migrant families face “challenges related to the political climate and growing anti-immigrant sentiments.” Martinez believes data analysis will help CPLC communities “look beyond demographics. Now we can talk about gains for the children. That’s what’s exciting about this work. It helps us get past labels and to what we can do to help these children become strong adults in our communities.”

(This profile is based on interviews conducted in August 2011.)

Last Reviewed: June 2014

Last Updated: August 28, 2014