Posted: 2/14/22

City, County, TAMIU Collaboration Helps Parents Help Kids with Texting Service Focused on Parenting Success


Dr. James O'Meara
Dr. James O'Meara, Dean, College of Education  

A new collaborative venture between the City of Laredo, County of Webb, and Texas A&M International University (TAMIU) is aimed at making sure that access to a foundation of healthy development and learning for infants and toddlers is as close as their parents’ cell phones.

Dubbed the Learning City @Laredo (LoC@L) Pre-Natal-3 Project, it’s funded by the Texas Legislature through The Texas PN-3 Collaborative, which hopes to increase access to high-quality services for at least 300,000 low-income infants and toddlers and their families by 2026.

Three of the state’s leading children’s policy advocacy organizations — TexProtects, Texans Care for Children, and Children at Risk — are spearheading the Collective project. Other local partners include the Laredo Economic Development Council and United Way Texas-Laredo. 

A critical component of the funded LoC@L initiative is connecting Laredo parents and care-givers to the Bright By Text service to engage parents in a City-wide effort to ensure all children are on track for healthy development by age three. 

TAMIU president Dr. Pablo Arenaz noted that this sort of engagement is important for strong parenting and child development.

“Infants and toddlers rely on interactive experiences and strong relationships with their parents and caregivers for healthy social-emotional development. Building the capacity of parents to provide quality experiences and build healthy relationships at home is an important way we can impact the families we all so proudly serve,Dr. Arenaz said.

Dr. James O’Meara, dean of the TAMIU College of Education, explained that the Bright by Text service can be a critical tool to help parents.

“Bright by Text sends free games, tips, and resources right to your cell phone. For over a decade this free service has provided families across the country with free and timely support without the need for a smartphone or costly data plan.  The messages, in English or Spanish, provide developmental education and guidance based on the expected birth date or age of a child up to age five. Topics include information on child development, language and early literacy, health and safety, behavioral tips, and more,” Dr. O’Meara explained.

He said providing parents with easy access to information that can enhance their parenting is important.

“All educators will concur that parents and caregivers are the ‘first educators’ of our youngest. In essence, we are expanding TAMIU’s teacher education program beyond preparation for classrooms to include equipping these first educators with the knowledge and skills they need to support our youngest to be safe, stay healthy, and get ready for school.  That’s why we’re proud to partner with the visionary leadership of the City of Laredo and the County of Webb and others to make this happen,” O’Meara noted.

Mayor Pete Saenz concurred, noting that the challenges of the Pandemic have brought additional importance to this.

“Now more than ever it is important for every family in Laredo to have access to all the health services and programs available for infants and toddlers in Laredo,” Saenz observed.

Webb County Judge Tano Tijerina agreed.

“There is so much information out there about what gives your children the best start in life. Deciding what’s relevant and research-based can be challenging. Bright by Text makes it easy for parents and caregivers to access what they need for their child to succeed,” Tijerina noted.

Parents interested in participating can sign up by texting “TEXASKIDS” to 274448. Once enrolled participants will receive two to five text messages per week, each including a link to a landing page with more detail, short modeling videos, and links to related resources.

Parents, grandparents, babysitters, aunts, uncles, neighbors, friends, and teachers can elect to receive the messages. A Content Advisory Board, comprised of national early childhood experts, ensures accuracy and relevance. Messages provide parents and caregivers with research-based content sources from Bright by Three PBS, Vroom, and Sesame Street. Community messaging, targeted to each family’s zip code, provides a way to connect them with valuable and often under-utilized community services available in the area. Bright by Text is a free service, however, check your mobile service plan to see if text messaging or data fees apply.

O’Meara said future project elements include conducting a Pre-Natal-3 system needs assessment to identify needed changes to programs, policies, and systems to increase access for all families, and the establishment of a PN-3 parent leader network to build community capacity.  This will improve the quality of PN-3 services and the outcomes for all infants, toddlers, and their families here.

He said it’s part of a loftier goal that organizers believe is also attainable.

“The program in Laredo and others that were funded by the Texas Legislature are among 11 those in select states that benefited from funding supported by the Pritzker Children’s Initiative.  All the Texas programs are focused on making Texas the best place to be born.  Our Laredo program is taking it one step further,” he said proudly, “we want to make Laredo the best place to be born.” 

For additional information contact Dr. Filiz Shine, TAMIU College of Education at  filiz.shine@tamiu.edu; Reynol Vela, City of Laredo Health Department at rvela@ci.laredo.tx.us and Marah Mendez Webb County, at mendezm@webbcountytx.gov



Related Links:

See Bright by Text FAQ

More information about the National PN-3 initiative here

More info about the project here