Letter from the Executive Director
RCMA thrived during 2020-2021. I am happy to report that, thanks to the support and guidance from our committed Board of Directors, and specifically, your support, RCMA is in sound financial shape. We continue to build on our strong foundation and add to our years of success.
With strong policies in place to keep our staff, families and children safe, by far our greatest accomplishment was keeping our classrooms open and providing quality services to our families throughout the year.
Our robust infrastructure and systems allowed RCMA to be nimble in the face of challenges. Our agency-wide support functions worked together through quarantines and closures to ensure teachers and centers had everything they needed to provide our children with a safe and nurturing environment.
Supporting the mental health of our teachers was critical amidst the stress of COVID-19. Where many companies nationwide struggled with resignations and layoffs, RCMA’s workforce remained secure. We prioritized keeping our personnel’s income steady and rewarded our teachers’ loyalty and commitment to our children with salary increases and cost of living adjustments.
When vaccines became available, our teams throughout the state rolled up their sleeves and led by example, providing the most effective barrier of protection in keeping our children and communities safe. We came together with long-time partners to bring COVID-19 prevention education and COVID-19 vaccines to our communities.
We lived up to our commitment to support our families through crises. We provided thousands of families throughout the state with emergency support such as food, diapers, formula, even rental and utilities assistance.
Aside from that, we did not lose momentum in expanding our charter schools. Our elementary and middle school in Wimauma were combined into one Wimauma Community Academy and its charter was approved for 10 years. Immokalee Community Academy positioned itself well for its charter renewal and expansion of 7th and 8th grades in the coming year. The silent phase of our capital campaign to build a new charter school in Mulberry and plans to build others in other parts of the state continued to develop.
RCMA was quick to seize opportunities that resulted in millions in federal funds, including $16.4M in hurricane disaster assistance from the Office of Head Start to build a hub for community support in Immokalee.
In line with our overall strategic priorities, RCMA was able to refresh and roll out our brand, which is already making an impact.
Also, RCMA has been able to ramp up our advocacy efforts– meeting with policymakers from throughout the state to solidify their connection to our centers and charter schools and the children and families we serve.
It’s been a busy and full year, driven by our mission to open doors to opportunities from crib to high school and beyond. You are a critical part of that.
Note from the chair
This year has had many challenges. I am grateful to work with an excellent group of Board member colleagues in supporting RCMA. The passionate and committed staff allow the Board to do the most for our organization. Our children, families, staff and administration not only held strong but took great strides toward making RCMA even stronger. Though we can’t predict the future, with the strength and resilience shown during 2020-2021, I’m confident that the RCMA family is up to any challenge.
Child Development Outcomes
RCMA centers operated at capacity throughout the year. We served 5,500 children statewide. Understanding that the precious years of child development do not stop during a pandemic, teachers throughout the entire spectrum of care – early childhood programs through our K-8th charter schools— used all their experience, training, tools and creativity to ensure our children continued to learn and develop.
Foundational to RCMA’s success is our approach to learning. We utilize the HighScope Curriculum. It is play-based, child-centered, and grounded in research. In our classrooms, our well-prepared teachers guide and encourage children to explore, interact and exercise their creative imagination through purposeful play. They support and extend each child’s learning based on their developmental levels, so that children may enter school ready and eager to learn.
While all of our children were busy growing and learning, we focused on our 4-year-olds as they prepared to enter kindergarten. We served 831 rising kindergarteners; 70% of these children are English language learners and 10% of them had an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP.)
COR Advantage is HighScope’s assessment system. RCMA uses it to assess early childhood development from infancy through kindergarten. We measure a child’s growth through our comprehensive child development goals, which we term School Readiness Goals, and include: Approaches to Learning (APL), Social Emotional Development (SE), Perceptual Motor and Physical Health Development (PHD), Language and Literacy (LLC) and Cognition Goal (COG). COR Advantage also measures English acquisition for English language learners.
Gains are considered significant if they exceed .51 of a point over the course of a program year. Overall, our rising kindergarteners’ growth was 1.35 of a point.
COR Advantage data shows us that our rising kindergartners can, among other things: control how they express their feelings, play collaboratively with two or more children, make healthy choices, point out words that rhyme, begin to use invented spelling, identify more than 10 letters, retell stories, combine letters to form words, count more than 10 objects, name shapes, compare and create patterns, sing songs and move to the beat, sort items, make simple predictions and explain how things work. All these skills tell us our kids are ready for kindergarten!
Our 4 year-olds also excel at English language acquisition skills according to our assessment. This is yet another measure showing that we are preparing our English language learners for kindergarten!
Charter School Expansion
RCMA’s long history of serving students and their families has been marked by a series of important milestones. Notable among these was the growth of our early childhood program from two centers in Homestead to 63 centers currently providing infant care and early childhood education to over 5,500 children in 21 Florida counties. The collected stories behind each center’s opening speak to how RCMA responded to a multitude of needs. Whether spurred by the tragic death of a child in the fields or a call from the Coalition of Black Churches in Highlands County, the opening of each center brought equitable opportunities to underserved communities.
In 2000, RCMA responded to a different need voiced by parents reluctant to leave the RCMA fold. Their request for school-age programs helped trigger the opening of two charter schools, Immokalee Community Academy (ICA) in Collier County and Wimauma Community Academy (WCA) in Hillsborough County. In doing this, RCMA became the first organization in Florida to offer education and wraparound programs for both early childhood and school-age charter schools. This marked an important step in pursuing RCMA’s mission to open doors to opportunities from crib to high school and beyond.
In 2021, the renamed Immokalee Community Academy served 290 students in grades K to 6th. The school’s dual language program offers rural students a unique opportunity to be bilingual, biliterate and bicultural scholars.
Wimauma Community Academy, also a dual language school, served 336 students. The school is also notable for being a math powerhouse known for graduating 8th graders with high school credits in algebra, geometry and coding already on their transcripts.
Expanding RCMA charter schools into additional communities already served by early childhood development centers continues with the projected opening of the Mulberry Community Academy, pending approval from the Polk County School District. Parents who have long dreamed of having both younger children and older siblings in one central RCMA location will soon see that dream realized. The vision is to offer students and families the same opportunity in Miami-Dade, the birthplace of this vision, followed by other locations.
Caring for frontLine Workers
Supporting the mental health of our teachers, who are charged with maintaining a safe and nurturing learning environment, has always been a priority, but it suddenly took on a new urgency in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our support teams found creative ways to ensure our teachers were able to access stress-relieving activities such as mindfulness classes, nature walks and painting activities.
With poverty and chronic health conditions already deeply affecting our community members’ health, RCMA staff and parents are more at risk for COVID-related complications and death. RCMA partnered statewide with local allies to blanket our communities with education about the new disease. Our parents learned about COVID-19, ways to prevent it from spreading and what to do in the event of infection through lots of one-on-one conversations, informational sessions, informational flyers, vaccination drives and health fairs.
Advocacy / Political Relationships
By building relationships with policymakers, RCMA is building on the excellent political clout we’ve exercised in the past to have a say in policies that impact RCMA and the children and families we serve.
Family Support Services
RCMA provided $196,822 in utility and rental assistance to 383 families.
We provided emergency support such as food and diapers to 3,747 families.
Thank you letter from parent:
During this pandemic everything changed, my hours were reduced to nearly none at all. Then my husband became ill and couldn’t work. My husband was in and out of the hospital and needed my total care upon recovery. My bills were piling up, my food supply nearly gone. I received a phone call, it was RCMA, my child’s daycare. RCMA was reaching out to check on me and my family, they asked how we were doing and if we needed food or help with a bill. I was so happy and thankful. I received the food right away, they then told me to bring in my information about my bill. I brought them all my information on my rent payment, they took this information and helped me pay the bill. I was so thankful, I was in tears. I’m so thankful for RCMA during these difficult times.
Building Community Hubs
RCMA locations in rural Florida lend themselves to be used as critical staging areas to respond to community needs after natural disasters and other emergencies. Head Start recognized RCMA’s capacity and experience in responding to community needs after emergencies, and awarded $26.3M to develop two new RCMA community hubs in Immokalee and Avon Park, FL. Our goal is to strengthen, upgrade and build new facilities that are hurricane resistant.
The hubs will be used to support recovery efforts that are lacking in rural communities and to create safe and strong spaces where the buildings can be used as a place to reprieve for the families impacted by a crisis. RCMA partners with agencies such as; FEMA, food banks, Salvation Army and other groups who help provide services and support to families.
Immigration Assistance Program
We began an Immigration Assistance Program eight years ago because our families asked for information they could trust, assistance understanding the complexity of the laws related to immigrants, and help to know their responsibilities and rights. This service is part of our holistic approach to supporting families and children; well-informed adults provide more secure homes for their children.
RCMA is recognized by the Department of Justice (DOJ), which legally allows our DOJ-accredited staff to provide services at our Immokalee headquarters and in our child development centers in Dover, LaBelle, Mulberry, Plant City, and Ruskin/Wimauma.
We offer citizenship classes, help filing legal documents, virtual education sessions, and informational flyers on topics such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
During the 2020-2021 fiscal year, we worked on 514 cases, including 134 related to citizenship and 33 for people renewing green cards.
We are grateful to funding partners, including the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative; the United Way of Lee, Hendry, & Glades Counties; and the New Americans Campaign (NAC) from UnidosUS and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC).
RCMA Alum Works in DC for Migrant Families
RCMA has more than 50,000 alumni. Here, we spotlight one inspiring story.
Life has come full circle for Ilda Martinez.
She’s part of a large family of agricultural workers, a job she did from age eight through high school, traveling with her parents and younger siblings from Florida to North Carolina to Michigan picking fruits and vegetables.
While Ilda says working in the fields as a child was a necessity to help her family, her parents made sure she went to school and only helped in the fields on weekends and holidays.
Education for Ilda and her siblings started at our Dover Child Development Center. She credits RCMA with getting her ready for kindergarten by teaching her English, because her parents spoke only the Mixteco dialect.
“When you’re coming from a household where your parents speak a native or indigenous language, RCMA is a space where you’re starting your development with English because you have nowhere else to practice it. RCMA emphasized that your family can speak multiple languages and your child can be successful.”
Ilda says additional skills she learned at RCMA are a big part of who she is today.
“That age range is so important in your development,” she says, noting that RCMA taught her to be open to learning and trying new things, to become trilingual, and to have confidence.
Ilda was not only part of our National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program as a child, she was working for us during high school when we told her about an internship opportunity with the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association in Washington, DC. She obtained that internship and is now Program Manager at the association, helping other migrant families like hers.
“It’s so important to have programs available for the farmworker community,” Ilda says. “They’re the biggest advocates for themselves. Whatever we can do to continue to support them so they can share their stories, that’s what I’m passionate about.”
Some issues Ilda wants to address include higher education for migrant students and mental health for the migrant community.
Data from 2020-2021
Board of Directors 2020-2021
Barbara Mainster Rollason | Vice President | Lee County
Jaime Weisinger | Vice President | Collier County
Joaquin Perez | Vice President | Lake County
Larry Salustro | Treasurer | Indian River County
Linda Miles-Adams | Vice President | Hillsborough County
Medora Krome | President | Miami-Dade County
Michael T. Bayer | Vice President | Palm Beach County
Richard Pringle, P.A. | Secretary | Lee County
Sandra Hightower, PhD | Vice President | Polk County
Wilma Robles-Melendez, PhD | Miami-Dade County
Al J. Hinson | Highlands County
Gloria Kendrick | DeSoto County
Donna Gaffney | Pinellas County
Ansberto Vallejo | Hillsborough County
Dani Higgins | Polk County
Sonia Tighe | Hillsborough County
Steven Kirk | Miami-Dade County
Susanne A. Bizerra | Polk County
Aedan J. Dowling | Manatee County
Mirta Negrini | Miami-Dade County
Parent Board Members
MSHS Policy Council Executive Committee
Leticia Lara | President
Emig De La Cruz | Vice-President
Alicia Mejia-Chavez | Secretary
Erik Martinez | Treasurer
Cirilo Perez Perez | Parliamentarian
HS/EHS Policy Council Executive Committee
Kanta Allen | President
Carrie Johnson | Vice-President
Fannie Fair | Secretary
Daniela Ortiz | Treasurer
Zurisadai Garcia | Parliamentarian
Charter School Parent Liaisons
Patricia Miranda | Immokalee Community School
Maria Juarez | Wimauma Community Academy