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CAIRO: SVP’s Investment in an Innovative Preschool

Posted by Social Venture Partners Portland
CAIRO: SVP’s Investment in an Innovative Preschool

We are often asked what a high-quality preschool program looks like. The Center for African Immigrants & Refugees of Oregon (CAIRO) Preschool is a prime example of a quality, culturally-specific early learning program. 

Research shows that Somali immigrants children have some of the highest disparities in academic success. Most prominently, Somali children are impacted by the stark cultural differences in the approach to formal education. However, they are also impacted by lack of readiness and bias within schools, as the 2016 Oregon Somali Community Needs Assessment shows. Enter CAIRO’s Preschool Promise program.

In 2016, Preschool Promise emerged as a new State investment in publicly funded preschool. This program funds quality preschool for families who haven’t had access to them. In Multnomah County, those funds are invested in programs that serve children of color, implement culturally-relevant practices, and prioritize family engagement. CAIRO Academy’s Preschool Promise classroom was an early recipient of this funding, serving 20 children from African communities (primarily Somalia) and helping families learn to navigate Portland’s educational system with confidence and a clear sense of cultural wealth. 

At the upcoming site visit, Partners can witness the power of this quality program, firsthand. CAIRO Board member Abdisalan Muse reflected on his own observations: 

“[The CAIRO classroom] was the first time the child ever experienced such a learning environment, seeing same-aged children who looked like her, meeting with the teachers, not to mention the class activities that affirmed her culture. When the mother informed her that she would be returning as a permanent student, her eyes lit up, sparking a big smile knowing that she would be back soon.” 

SVP first invested in CAIRO in 2018 to help develop an organizational strategic plan. Since our initial investment of time and talent, SVP Partners contributed 300 hours, working in partnership with CAIRO leadership to address highest need capacity building areas. 

In 2019, Partners conducted in-depth analyses around financial management and HR systems, and are currently working with CAIRO in these areas. SVP Lead Partner Erin Stevanus has been an exceptional resource for CAIRO’s leadership, providing coaching in times of staffing changes. 

CAIRO’s Preschool Promise classroom is well-known and admired in Portland’s early learning community. A group of SVP Partners were able to see the program in action last year:

“One of the things that impressed us all at the site visit was the incorporation of oral storytelling into group time,” said Partner Teresa Gonczy O’Rourke. “I am hopeful that CAIRO will bring that kind of culturally-specific education to more children, so the children recognize the value of their traditions, and other educators can see how cultural customs can build children’s early skills.”  

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