BOSTON — Anna Grimes had just graduated high school in Illinois when she found out she was pregnant. She opted to go to community college instead of the school she'd originally chosen, where she'd have no housing options or supports as a parent.
She later transferred to Endicott College, where a small program allows a handful of single parents to live in campus housing with their children and receive babysitting, tutoring and other supports. It's there that Grimes has found herself in an environment so steeped in academia that the other night, when she was cooking dinner, her toddler daughter asked her to quiet down so she could focus on her homework.
"I looked at her and I laughed because she's 3, and she doesn't have homework, but she's heard me say that so many times because in our house, homework is part of our routine, so she took that upon herself to do homework," Grimes, 22, told the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities Tuesday. "Every test or homework assignment I've ever completed has been with my daughter by my side."
Showing the lawmakers a graduation day photo of herself and her daughter in matching gowns and mortarboards, Grimes told them initiatives like Endicott's Keys to Degrees program let young parents take a situation that some may see as a barrier to success and harness it as a strength.
Grimes and other Keys to Degrees participants testified in favor of bills that would charge the state with investigating "two-generation approaches" to childhood education — those that serve a parent and child simultaneously.
"Having access to a two-generational program is so crucial, not only to the development of myself but to the development of my child, my family and thus my community," said Isis Patterson, a mother and public policy major. "I have grown up in a constant, almost seemingly inexorable, inescapable cycle of poverty. In some aspects, it's not only a cycle, it's a culture because it's been so normalized, and education to me has been the gateway out."
Legislation filed by Rep. Steven Ultrino and Sen. Jamie Eldridge would create a special commission charged with studying strategies "aimed at reducing chronic, multi-generational family poverty by getting better outcomes for the child, parents, and community simultaneously."
The commission would be given a year to report its findings and submit any draft legislation and would need to "establish a two-generational school/employment readiness plan to promote long-term learning and economic success for low-income families by addressing intergenerational barriers to school readiness and workforce readiness."
Ruthie Liberman of Economic Mobilities Pathways (EMPath) said a two-generational approach can be used in college settings and programs that serve residents in their homes, including programs the state already invests in.
"We believe that it's time for the state to begin to retool them to serve the entire family and to set goals for all family members," she said.
Liberman said EMPath's two-generational programs focus on skills for children like improving grades, starting routines and saving money, while adults work toward goals like getting jobs or advancing in current careers, reducing debt and better managing family stress.
Karley Ausiello of the United Way Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley told the committee that parents can double their income over their lifetime by completing their college degrees, and said higher incomes for parents are associated with higher future earnings for children. She said healthy development and education for children serve as "powerful motivators for parents to improve their own well-being."
"A growing body of research demonstrates the significant impact of addressing the needs and strengths of children and parents together as a unit to break the generational cycle of poverty and sustain children's success in school and in life," she said. "Parents' educational attainment, economic stability, and mental and physical health have a positive effect on a child's development and future success."