Opening Minds Early Education Family and Community Resource

Series of Continuing Education Courses

Opening Minds Early Education Resource Series: Taking responsibility for the children in our care and classrooms as teacher, principal, social worker, librarian, nurse, O.T., P.T., artist or volunteer can feel isolating. Opening Minds USA is all about problem solving and connecting people to the resources that will be most helpful.

The 2019 Early Education Resource Series offers sessions about building understandings with children’s first teachers, their families, friends and communities. Connecting with all professionals educating and caring with young children and identifying the partners and resources to serve you best!

Preview of Sessions Planned


The Partnership for Resilient Families: A Community Collaboration (Thursday 9am-12noon)

Bringing Social Services, Early Childhood Education, and Pediatric Health Care Together to Benefit Children.

Collaborative efforts to integrate Social Services, Early Childhood Education, and Health Care can help early childhood centers to better meet the needs of children and families. Building protective factors that mitigate the effects of trauma is possible and offers a hopeful future to children who have experienced adversity.

In this session, today’s presenters will present one such collaborative effort, the Partnership for Resilient Families, a collaboration between two agencies in Kansas City – Children’s Mercy Hospital and Operation Breakthrough, Missouri’s largest Early Head Start/Head Start facility. Attendees will learn the historical timeline of the organizations, including the mission and vision of their founders, and how collaboration has evolved through today.  Attendees will learn about services the collaborative has utilized to help meet the needs of the children served.

Community-based collaboration is a continuous process that involves building strong interdisciplinary teams, continuous assessment to adapt to the needs and expectations of the population served and change management. This presentation will include opportunities for discussion and problem-solving for groups involved in current collaborations, or for those anticipating collaborative efforts.


Mary Esselman, CEO, Operation Breakthrough

Mary is the CEO of Operation Breakthrough, which serves more than 700 children from Kansas City’s urban core each weekday, providing early learning, before and after school enrichment and many supportive and therapeutic services for the children and their families. Mary has spent her whole career in urban education, working with a wide range of students—pre-K up to age 20—in neighborhoods and schools in Washington DC, Chicago, Kansas City, and Detroit. Mary believes in using technology and innovation to bridge gaps for children who are traditionally under-served. Under her leadership, Operation Breakthrough has added a MakerSpace and a STEM lab for preschool children and consistently delivered more than 90 percent of Operation Breakthrough’s 5-year-olds to kindergarten “ready” according to state standards. In the past year, she has also overseen a capital expansion project that includes building a bridge across Troost, adding 290 children to Operation Breakthrough’s enrollment and creating a MakerCity, where children can tinker, explore, create and develop 21st century skills for success in school and in life.

As a 25-year veteran of urban education, Mary Esselman has a wealth of experience that comes from innovating in schools. Mary was also instrumental in obtaining three Next Generation Learning Challenge grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  Mary’s work has been cited in several recent publications including Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools by Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker, and Smart Cities that Work for Everyone: 7 Keys to Education & Employment by Tom Vander Ark.

Mary has presented on blended professional development and personalized learning at numerous national conferences, workshops, and meetings hosted by the Gates Foundation, CEE Trust, Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), Council of Chief State School Officer’s Innovation Lab Network and iNACOL.  She has also served as a faculty member for the Aspen Institute.  Mary is a graduate of Georgetown University with a B.S. in Biology and also holds graduate degrees in Educational Leadership (MA, Ph.D), Curriculum and Design (MA), Education al Evaluation (Ed.D).


Dr. Rupal Gupta, MD, Medical Director, Operation Breakthrough Clinic, Children’s Mercy Hospital

Rupal Gupta, MD, FAAP is a pediatrician and Medical Director of Children’s Mercy Hospital’s Operation Breakthrough Clinic, an NCQA-certified Patient-Centered Medical Home co-located within Operation Breakthrough, a large Head Start/Early Head Start agency. This innovative cross-sector clinic offers primary care and developmental/behavioral care to children within the school and surrounding community. Dr. Gupta serves as a medical advisor to Mid-America Head Start and attends their Health Services Advisory Committee. She is also an active participant in Children’s Mercy Hospital/Operation Breakthrough’s Partnership for Resilient Families. Dr. Gupta is Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and is training to serve as a co-facilitator for Kansas CATCH grants, and is also a member of the Academic Pediatric Association. Her passion for community-based advocacy has led her to join state-wide QI initiatives for her clinic including AsthmaReady Communities, and she thrives when she can communicate health information to at-risk, high-need populations in an understandable, enjoyable way.

Dr. Rupal Gupta, MD, Medical Director

Operation Breakthrough Clinic


Donna O’Malley

Donna O’Malley, PhD, RN, is the Director of Community Programs for the Department of Social Work at Children’s Mercy Kansas City. She provides strategic leadership and support to the Children’s Mercy Team for Infants Exposed to Substance Abuse (TIES) and Healthy Families Children’s Mercy (HFCM) home visiting teams. Supporting existing community efforts aimed at creating additional opportunities within our community for children and families to achieve health and wellness is a priority. She also co-leads the Children’s Mercy and Operation Breakthrough Partnership for Resilient Families. Her background includes many years as a trauma nurse in the Children’s Mercy Emergency Department, seven years as Clinical Operations Manager for the child abuse team, and four years as Business and Academic Manager for Emergency and Urgent Care Services. She successfully defended her doctoral dissertation “Understanding the Family Violence Assessment Practices of Pediatric Emergency Department Nurses and Physicians” in December 2011.  Research related to family violence prevention is her personal and professional goal.  She has a particular interest in the biology of adversity and believes that decreasing children’s exposure to violence and extreme poverty is the key to addressing many of the lifelong negative health effects of toxic stress.

Re-imagining Systems & Policy Change: The Importance of Collaboration and Diverse Settings in Family Engagement Efforts

 Christine Tran, M.Ed., M.A., Program Officer at First 5 LA

First 5 LA, a leading early childhood advocate, aims to strengthen families, communities, and systems of services to ensure all children in Los Angeles County enter kindergarten ready to succeed in school and life. Family engagement is a key component in our work. Families and caregivers are agents of change in developing responsive programs, policies, and systems. In our family strengthening and support work, we are identifying best practices to enhance engagement between providers and families to collectively inform and improve services. Intentional strategies include incorporating family voice, practicing family-centered approaches, and enhancing family engagement efforts in diverse settings.

From grantmaking to program implementation, participants will explore effective strategies and collaborations of family engagement efforts at various stages. Points of conversation will include the role of philanthropy in family engagement efforts, the importance of families and caregivers in the continuous quality improvement of programs, development of provider capacity, as well as connections to policy and systems change work. These efforts can improve program- and systemic-level engagement by mitigating what literature calls “subtractive spaces,” or areas of interactions that undervalues families and caregivers. One way to be more responsive to families is to develop practices of “authentic care,” a relational term that describes the respect that parents and caregivers receive when they are acknowledged as leaders of their home and communities. This session will highlight our family strengthening and support efforts with diverse populations within diverse settings, such as schools, homes, and community-based organizations. Programmatic examples include provider capacity lessons from our partnership with Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors, an evidence-based bilingual curriculum designed by and for Latino families.

Inside the Mind of a Teen Parent

Participants will gain a basic understanding of the unique needs and behaviors of adolescent parents. Strategies designed to maximize positive relationships will be explored.

Debrah Clark, MA, Certified Family Life Educator, Director Infant  Child Care Center at Joliet     Township High School

This population has been my life’s work the past 22 years as an Infant Childcare Center Director supporting people who are responsible for young children. I have been advocating for, educating, and partnering with parents, specifically adolescents, my entire adult life. Their needs and behaviors as adolescents have a direct impact on their infants and toddlers. As practitioners, we can support or destroy. I wish to assist all who come into contact with adolescent parents in supporting them. I wish to be a support to all who have the privilege of walking along these families on the journey.

“How should I say this?” Tips for holding difficult conversations

I am the Mental Health Coordinator for Child Parent Centers, a statewide consultant and a national trainer on communication, positive guidance and trauma informed approaches. One of the things that stands out to me the most is the importance of relationships – and how challenging maintaining them can be. It is so important to have skills and confidence to hold difficult conversations and without them, our relationships break down and our influence is compromised. Whether it is a “hiccup” with a co-worker, a need to address a concern with a parent, or an on-going personal challenge, the ability to initiate and successfully navigate a hard discussion requires tools… and the end result can be successful resolution and increased trust. Relationships are the key!

For 18 years Tessa has been supporting teachers & parents. She is a passionate, engaging and inspiring presenter who tackles tough topics with a balance of expertise and humor.

Collective Impact

Carla Biro, Coalition Director Gr8t Beginnings

From its inception, Gr8t Beginnings in Elkhart County continues to work toward ensuring the Collective Impact model is utilized as the core framework of each active work group. Gr8t Beginnings is a county collaboration that works to ensure high-quality developmental opportunities and promote social-emotional well-being for all young children in our community. There is an emphasis on parent engagement as County Coalition stakeholders work diligently to ensure the continuum of embedded resources from school to home. Nearly 40% of Elkhart County families are ALICE families (Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed). These families are hardworking individuals looking to obtain high-quality child care resources for their children but are not at the income level to equate to self-sufficiency. Gr8t Beginnings utilizes the stakeholder engagement process to bring businesses, city and state officials, and community organizations to the table to offset the cost and increase the community knowledge base of quality Early Childhood Education. As action groups are formulated to continue to move the Gr8t Beginnings mission forward, the visitation of the “wheel” is imperative. This wheel is utilized to ensure we have the right people at the table committed to the work and creates a platform for stakeholders to “liberate” themselves when the work they have committed to is accomplished and a plan for sustainability is in place.

This is just a preview of what’s planned. More sessions, descriptions, and presenters will be added, regularly. Follow us on Facebook, to get updates in real time. The full schedule of listings will be available in January.