Orleans Public Education Network, OPEN, is committed to ensuring public engagement as a central element to building excellent public schools. Created in 2007, OPEN exists to serve as a catalyst and conduit for broad and diverse community engagement by facilitating more collaboration between community members, stakeholders, and policy makers.
Cyndi Nguyen and her son Sean are walking along the Borne Learning Trail in the Michoud Community in New Orleans East.
“What shape is this? Is this a rectangle?” Cyndi asks Sean.
“A diamond,” Sean answers.
“What about this?”
The Borne Learning Trail is a concrete trail with shapes, numbers, letters, and animals painted on it in bright colors. It’s designed to help parents interact with their kids in ways that foster development.
“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine ten!” counts Sean. “Mom! It’s turtles.”
Alongside the trail are posts with tips for parents about how to engage their kids. They say things like “pretend to move like an animal,” or “tell stories about yourself and your family,” and “Begin with: when I was little...”
“We’re at the second post right now,” explains Nguyen. “So this one is Watch, learn, stop, and play. So they give you point, guidance and reference to what you should do. Cause you know sometimes as parent and child you run out of stuff to do. The kids think you’re boring, and we probably think the same way about our kids, but this allows us to motivate interaction. So they say watch what your children like to do. Is it playing with other children, looking at bugs, or heading for the slide.”
Especially when she’s exhausted from a long day, Nguyen says the posts keep her thinking about what her kids should be doing. They help her strike up conversations -- and not just in English.
“I’m Vietnamese, but I speak both languages,” explains Nguyen. “But can you just imagine a parent coming out here and not being able to read English. And so we have it in Vietnamese as well as in Spanish!”
This is New Orleans’ first Born Learning Trail, and it’s the first one in the nation in Vietnamese. It came about through a partnership with OPEN, Orleans Public Education Network.
“Ultimately, OPEN’s work is really about ensuring that as a collective community we are building a successful path for children’s success,” says Deirdre Johnson Burel, OPEN’s Executive Director. Burel says the Born Learning Trail helps with OPEN’s core mission: to ensure that each community has enough assets for kids, so that when they start school, they’re ready.
“What we all always think about is our kids need to know their ABC’s and 1, 2, 3’s,” says Burel. “They have to know that, but they have to be physically healthy, their social emotional maturity, their motor skills. And so what the skill does through exploration, through problem solving, through engagement, through actually walking the trail, parents interact with their child around those critical developmental domains.”
“You know, as parents you always say: what should I be doing?” confesses Nguyen. “And you doing have a handbook, but having this accessible in a park, in a public area, it’s like a cheat sheet for you.”