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Early Childhood Education Builds Stronger Communities

The following post was written by Monica Bandy, summer intern for the Alliance for Children and Families and United Neighborhood Centers of America's Public Policy Office. She is a graduate student and a former Head Start teacher, who has been closely monitoring proposed early childhood education reform this summer.
Nearly 90 percent of brain growth takes place in a child’s first 2,000 days - long before they first step foot into Kindergarten. Healthy brain development requires developmentally appropriate, positive, and intentional interaction. When children have access to stimulating learning environments and responsive relationships with their parents and caregivers, their brains develop the connections necessary for success. When families have access to early childhood resources that help them build on the strengths of their community, our neighborhoods grow stronger. Watch a video on the importance of early childhood brain development from the Harvard Center on the Developing Child.
When a child is exposed to an environment that includes toxic stresses, such as: extreme poverty, chronic neglect, abuse, or exposure to violence, the child’s brain circuitry is fundamentally altered. This difference in brain development can place children exposed to toxic stress far behind their more advantaged peers, making it more difficult for them to keep up in, and ultimately graduate from, school. The achievement gap appears long before children enter Kindergarten, and this gap becomes much harder to close after age five.
Investments in early childhood education are proven to have a high rate of return by preventing these disparities before they start. In 2012 Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke estimated the return on investment for early childhood programs to be 10% or higher. Intervening early also reduces costs to society in the long run, by decreasing future enrollment in federal assistance programs and law enforcement activities. We can prevent the achievement gap, save money, and create better health and economic outcomes for our communities with early childhood education.
Quality early childhood education engages the community and develops the next generation of human capital. UNCA member agency Chicago Commons is an example of some of the fantastic work happening in the early childhood realm. Chicago Commons offers comprehensive services to families including: full day preschool, after school care, parent forums, adult education programs, and neighborhood support programs.  By partnering with families Chicago Commons prepared 1,082 preschoolers for Kindergarten in FY2011. Our communities can best realize their full potential when they can build on a strong foundation from early education.
Right now, there is a rare window of opportunity to increase federal support of early learning by building on what is already happening in several states. Twenty seven governors referenced the importance of early childhood education in their state of the state addresses, while President Obama proposed increased federal investments in early childhood education in his State of the Union address.
Show your support for early childhood education by signing the Grow America Stronger petition and/or sharing your story about your positive personal experience with early learning.
Now is the time to raise our voices in support of early childhood education. Quality early learning opportunities make every child, every family, and every community stronger.

Help Harlem Children’s Zone with their Cradle to Career Research

Guest blogger, Betina Jean-Louis, Director of Evaluation at Harlem Children’s Zone, has an exciting research effort underway. She and Geoff Canada invite you to participate in their Cradle to Career Neighborhood Survey.  Read more about the Harlem Children’s Zone research effort and how you can be involved below:

We at Harlem Children’s Zone are seeking your assistance with a Cradle to Career Neighborhood Survey; the message below from Geoff Canada, the head of the agency, provides some more information about the effort.  We would appreciate two types of support: (1) taking 10-15 minutes as a practitioner who is involved in this kind of work to help us better understand your efforts for and in your communities and (2) forwarding this request for completion of the survey to practitioners in your networks far and wide.  The more we know about the work on the ground, the better we will be able to advocate for continuing support.

Please note:

  • We will NOT share community- or organization-specific data with anyone under any circumstances.
  • Survey responders will be able to indicate whether they wish to receive a copy of the forthcoming summary report.

We appreciate UNCA’s help in helping us to get this disseminated!  A message from Geoff with additional information about the survey follows.


Betina Jean-Louis, Ph.D.
Director of Evaluation
Harlem Children’s Zone


Dear Building Neighborhoods Blog ,

To get a clearer picture of what is going on in the field, the Harlem Children’s Zone is reaching out to groups like yours that are creating or have created cradle-to-career pipelines that support the education and success of poor children.  We would like you to complete a Cradle to Career Neighborhood Survey that can be found here.  Those of us who are proponents of this approach are often asked about these efforts.  We would love to be able to provide aggregate-level information such as the following:

  • The number and type of communities doing the work
  • The types of programs included
  • The scope of the efforts

We believe that the field can be better supported when stakeholders and advocates (such as the Harlem Children's Zone, the Promise Neighborhoods Institute at PolicyLink partner organizations, the funding community, and government agencies) are in a better position to address some very fundamental questions about your efforts.  By completing the survey, you will help us all to more accurately represent the magnitude of the work.

Your participation in this survey is voluntary and you may choose to skip any questions. All the information you provide will be confidential; your name or your organization’s name will not be included in any reports, and your responses will not be reported individually to anyone.  We simply want to understand what is happening across the country.

The survey should take 10-15 minutes to complete. We hope you will participate and help us make available the valuable information that will allow us all to know where innovative strategies are being used to improve poor children’s lives.

Ideally, this survey should be completed by the individual in your organization who knows the most about this work.  If you are not that individual, please take a moment to determine who would be the best respondent and forward this request to him or her.  The person completing the survey can follow this link.  We would appreciate completion of the survey by Friday, June 14th.

Thank you for your efforts on behalf of poor children and families.



PS- if the hyperlink above does not work, the survey can be found here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/CradleToCareer

Guest Blogger: INPEACE’s Keiki Steps Teaches Parent Empowerment

The following is a guest blog post from Kanoe Naone, the Chief Executive Officer of the Institute for Native Pacific Education and Culture (INPEACE), an UNCA member organization based in Honolulu, Hawaii. INPEACE works to educate and empower Native Hawaiian communities. Since 1994, INPEACE has emerged as a local and international leader in early childhood education, workforce development and cultural land stewardship. Read more about their innovative parent engagement model below!

It seems that recently everywhere I go; I hear about parent engagement.  A few years ago I was at a conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts when the concept of parent engagement was raised. My contribution to the conversation was that parent engagement as defined by the group was not sufficient to change outcomes in education in economically disadvantaged communities, that it had a distinctly middle and upper class application and appeal. Instead we need parent empowerment. We need parents who are empowered to be advocates for their children and those in their community.

At the Institute for Native Pacific Education and Culture (INPEACE) our Keiki Steps parent participation preschool program for families with children ages birth to five; is more than a parent engagement model, instead it is a parent empowerment model. Watch the video!


Located in socially and economically disadvantaged communities across the state of Hawaii, parents come each day with their child to preschool for three hours. Instead of leaving them at the door, they sit side by side with them learning and teaching.  The Site Coordinators and Aides are facilitators of learning whose primary function is to show the parents how to do an activity of the day and share with them what the children are learning while doing the activity.  Story time, outdoor learning including planting, cultivating, harvesting and cooking, music, dance, painting, and everything else you would see in a high quality preschool are all some examples of activities at Keiki Steps. The parent/caregiver replicates what they learn from the teachers with their child. In the process, parents learn about how children learn and optimal strategies for ensuring both the child and parent are ready for school.

We often hear the analogy of teaching someone to fish instead of giving them a fish so that they can feed themselves for a lifetime instead of a day.  I see our Keiki Steps preschool as an example of teaching parents to fish instead of giving them a fish which can happen when they drop their child off at a preschool to be taught.  By the time the children in our program move on to kindergarten, our parents and caregivers are so acclimated to being fully engaged in the well-being and education of their child, they not only continue to participate in their child’s K-12 experience, they demand it.

(Disclaimer: I do support center-based preschools when centers engage authentically with families and see it as a necessary option for many families. Over the years my husband and I have utilized center based preschools, parent participation preschools, family child care and home-visiting programs with our four children.)

Innovative Savings Programs Make College Accessible to Lower-Income Children

In 2011, the San Francisco Office of Financial Empowerment, part of the city’s Treasury Department, began enrolling children in its Kindergarten to College (K2C) Savings Program. The Office was dismayed to learn that 1/3 of all children in the San Francisco public education system was born into a family with no savings whatsoever.

In an attempt to improve educational attainment and create a “college culture” among students and families, the city began K2C. Every kindergartner is given a college savings account with the first $50 provided by the program. Families can contribute up to $2,500 per year and the funds can only be used for qualified educational expenses. The city also offers bonuses and matching incentives to encourage savings. Enrollment in the program is automatic and universal for every kindergartner.

The creation of K2C involved partnerships across sectors, including banks, universities, non-profits, foundations, and local government. To date, approximately 8,300 San Francisco students have accounts with an accumulated value of over $745,000. You can watch a video about the program called “A Foot in the Door” or view this webinar on K2C and children’s savings accounts.

K2C is far from the only innovative program encouraging college savings among lower-income families. Neighborhood Centers, Inc. in Houston also automatically enrolls its Promise Community Schools students in savings accounts with its Promise Credit Union. There are numerous other programs around the country helping to foster both academic and financial readiness for college. Programs such as these help to close the achievement gaps and the wealth gaps that can persist among low-income families.


Funding Opportunity: Department of Education Investing in Innovation (i3) grants

The US Department of Education has requested $150 million for its FY2013 Investing in Innovation (i3) grant program. The grant application is open to Local Education Agencies (LEAs) or non-profit organizations in partnership with one or more LEAs or a consortium of schools. The purpose of i3 is to identify and promote innovative educational programs that “are demonstrated to have an impact on improving student achievement or student growth, closing achievement gaps, decreasing dropout rates, increasing high school graduation rates, or increasing college enrollment and completion rates.” As such, eligible applicants must be able to demonstrate significant improvements in student achievement.

There are three types of grants: Investing in Innovation Development, Validation, and Scale-up. The i3 Development application notice is expected to come out March 27, 2013, and the Validation and Scale-up application notices are expected to come out April 29, 2013. For more information on application notices and due dates, please consult the Department of Education’s Forecast of Funding Opportunities for FY2013. ED anticipates being able to make 18-35 i3 grants averaging between $3 million and $25 million each.

FY2012 i3 grants were used for a variety of projects from promoting science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, to increasing parent and family engagement. Additional information on successful 2012 i3 grantees as well as webinars and other archived information on the 2012 i3 grant application process are available online. You can also email i3@ed.gov for more information.



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by Dr. Radut