The Bridgeport Early Childhood Social and Emotional Learning Initiative is a collaborative of community stakeholders working to ensure coordinated, high quality SEL programming and supports for the early childhood educators, young children, and families of Bridgeport. Partners include: All Our Kin, Alliance for Community Empowerment, Bridgeport Child Advocacy Coalition at RYASAP, Bridgeport Prospers/United Way of Coastal Fairfield County, Bridgeport Public Schools, Skane School Consultation Center, Bridgeport School Readiness Council, Bridgeport YMCA, Child First Greater Bridgeport, Cooperative Educational Services, Early Childhood Consultation Partnership, Housatonic Early Childhood Laboratory School, Partnership for Early Education Research (PEER)/The Consultation Center at Yale (TCC), and Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence (YCEI).

Progress Snapshot

TFF Investment total to date (2018-2021): $476,000

BECSELI established an ambitious 11-organization Steering Committee structure, with additional organizations joining the partnership since then, through which many of Bridgeport’s early childhood education (ECE) stakeholders come together to focus on equipping ECE providers with evidence-based strategies to support staff and student social and emotional well-being and skills, utilizing YCEI’s RULER Approach to SEL. BECSELI is guided by a core subteam of the Steering Committee who work closely with TFF.

While the Initiative transitions to being community-led, YCEI continues to build the capacity of Initiative partners through their train-the-trainer model. Early in the Initiative, staff from Cooperative Educational Services and All Our Kin participated in RULER trainings and began to develop the knowledge and experience to train others. By the time the pandemic forced BECSELI to transition to online trainings in 2020, Suzanne Clement, the Coordinator of Early Childhood at Cooperative Educational Services, was in position to co-lead training sessions with the YCEI team for center-based educators. After delivering RULER trainings in collaboration with YCEI staff early in the pandemic, in April 2021, All Our Kin staff were ready to deliver RULER trainings in Spanish for cohorts of home-based family childcare educators.

In addition to introductory RULER trainings, BECSELI has provided a variety of other supports for early childhood educators in Bridgeport input from the Steering Committee has guided the development of these opportunities. Craig Bailey, Director of RULER Early Childhood at YCEI, believes BECSELI is making an impact among the early childhood centers and family childcare educators who have received professional development and support through BECSELI over the last three years. After a recent staff training, his team received an email from one of the center’s directors which read: “You’re moving mountains and changing children’s lives. Thank you.” Anecdotally, educators report increases in students’ emotional vocabulary and more empathetic behavior as they implement RULER in their programs.

Over the past three years, YCEI has collaborated with Cooperative Educational Services and All Our Kin to collect information about how early childhood educators are receiving the trainings provided by BECSELI. In general, participants have given high ratings for the center-based educator trainings led by YCEI in collaboration with Cooperative Educational Services and for the family childcare educator trainings led by YCEI in collaboration with All Our Kin.

Each winter since 2019, YCEI and PEER/TCC have worked together to conduct an annual survey about educator well-being and social and emotional learning practices; all educators from participating early childhood centers have been invited to participate. Because of teacher turnover and varying participation, survey results from each year represent a different group of educators, which means that it isn’t possible to determine whether educator well-being and social and emotional learning practices are changing in the community as a whole. Survey responses from 2019 to 2021 indicate that:

  • the use of RULER practices may be increasing over time, but
  • educator well-being appeared somewhat lower in 2021 than before the pandemic began.

Importantly, unlike other investees, BECSELI is not yet sharing child outcome data with TFF due to the lack of a common measure for monitoring SEL or other early academic and behavioral outcomes in Bridgeport’s young children; discussions on adopting a common measure across programs were interrupted by pandemic-related concerns. Capacity to collect and use data for performance management (practice improvement) purposes varies widely between community partners and work is ongoing to ensure the right stakeholders have access to reliable data which they can use to determine necessary educator support.

Building capacity in the early childhood sector is simultaneously critically important and notoriously difficult for myriad reasons. These include: a fragmented field with few overarching systems of support, and lack of funding leading to low pay, high turnover, and variable staff experience.[1] Of all TFF’s investees, BECSELI was arguably one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, because most of the partnership’s activities have taken place during a period in which child care centers were closed for months and remote learning was significantly more difficult to implement with children aged four and under. Additionally, several of the early childhood educators who had been trained in RULER left their positions or were let go due to insufficient funding and were no longer available when ECE centers reopened and began rehiring. Replacing these educators has been extremely challenging because Bridgeport, like the rest of the nation, is facing a shortage of early childhood educators. In the future, TFF, BECSELI, and Bridgeport Public Schools SEL Initiative participants hope to create a more aligned set of SEL supports leading to greater coordination across the developmental continuum in Bridgeport.