Field notes: a Visit with MonaLisa Martinez, Director at Florence Crittenton Services

as interviewed by Monica Marshall, Communications & Data Liaison

With a long history of empowering women and their children (dating back more than 125 years), Florence Crittenton Services of Denver remains a supportive environment that provides comprehensive, wrap-around services to teen mothers and their children through the Early Childhood Education Center and the Student and Family Support Program. Learn about the successes and challenges of running this truly “two-generation approach” program in today’s world, from one of its alumna, MonaLisa Martinez, Director of Early Childhood Education!

1. How long have you been running the Early Childhood Education Center at Florence Crittenton Services?

Since July 2018. Before this, I was a teacher in a toddler room.

2. What is the mission of the program?

Our mission is to empower young moms to finish high school and to give them support to graduate; to give children high-quality care while their moms are in school and to provide moms support with parenting. It’s a collaboration.

3. How many people make up your staff?

We have a staff of thirty-three, including administrative support (2 people). There are ten classrooms with 2 teachers and a support teacher in each classroom.

4. How many families do you serve?

We work with 60-70 moms per day. Some moms have more than one child.

5. What are some recent accomplishments in your program you’d like to share?

Almost everything! We were a Colorado Shines Level 3-rated program when I first started, but we resubmitted and earned a Level 4 last year. We have made improvements in the professional development of staff and added a school-based health clinic on site.

6. What is a favorite lesson or skill you teach?

My favorites are anything in the social-emotional area: Conscious Discipline®, trust, empathy, how to be separate from their moms. It’s hard for young moms and babies.

7. What has surprised you most about working in early childhood?

I’m fascinated with how children develop. They can go from having low skills to thriving in just a short amount of time. Their minds can change and develop with patience and constant support.

8. How do you get families involved in the early childhood development of their children?

We offer parenting classes. Parents are allowed in the classrooms. We have “mommy and me” reading time. We host literacy lunches to engage families, and we involve extended families. It’s also about having a good relationship with the teachers.

9. What’s something happening in the community that affects what goes on inside your program?

The cost of living in Denver, especially rent. It has gone up and affordable housing is difficult to find. We must keep our families from becoming homeless.

10. Are wages for early childhood teachers a challenge for you? If so, how?

It is one of our biggest challenges. We are fortunate to have outside donors, as well as coaching and technical support from Denver’s Early Childhood Council and Clayton Early Learning, which helps.

11. What is unique about your program?

The parents are on site with their children so there is a lot of support available.

12. What’s your best tip for handling a child’s challenging behavior?

We have a mental health consultant on site. We make use of the Child Find program. We take advantage of professional development trainings offered by the Council and other organizations; we support each other; teamwork.

13. What do you want the community to know about your program?

We are here to create a better future. We are here to help the parents accomplish their goals. We want to have a positive impact on the community and dispel negative stereotypes. We are giving young moms the opportunity to succeed and do something positive for their futures.

14. What’s the best advice you’ve received about working with young children?

No two children are alike. They learn something new every day and you (as an early childhood education professional) are a part of that.

15. What are your goals for the future?

I want to take it one school year at a time. I want to support young moms and make a difference. As an alumna of Florence Crittenton myself, and now the Director of Early Childhood Education, I am walking proof that this program works. I would like to oversee the whole organization one day. I understand the struggles, but I also know that they (the moms) can make it.

Editor’s note: This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.