Using ‘innovation’ to get more children into early learning programs

Apr 8, 2016 by

By Kalyn Belsha –

In Austin on the city’s West Side, early childhood advocates are going to extra lengths to find children who could benefit from preschool: By targeting parks and laundromats, they hope to recruit families who otherwise wouldn’t know about, or take advantage of, early learning programs.

Once families have been recruited, someone helps them figure out which early learning programs have space for their children, as well as offers referrals to programs to help with transportation, housing, health care and other needs that are common in this impoverished neighborhood.

“Parents want to be involved, want to be engaged. They care deeply about their children’s education, but if you’re struggling to find a place to live, and food to eat every day and transportation, then that takes first priority,” says Amy Voege of Austin Coming Together, a network of 65 social service agencies.

Austin and 10 other communities around the state are part of the federally funded Innovation Zones initiative, which launched in fall of 2013 with part of a $52 million Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grant. The 11 communities include five in Chicago and were chosen to participate based on their level of need and history of collaboration. Other states that won Race to the Top grants — from Pennsylvania to North Carolina to New Mexico — are using the Innovation Zone approach to try new strategies aimed at getting more children who could benefit from early learning into programs that have space.

Illinois has spent just under $5.7 million on its 11 zones, targeting children from key demographic sectors, such as children who are homeless, from lower-income families, have special needs or are learning English as their second language. The zones also aim to screen more children for early intervention services and improve the quality of early learning, as measured by the state’s three-year old rating system.

The goal is to find effective strategies that can be scaled up and used statewide.

Data are still being collected and analyzed for a final report after the program ends in December, but officials say the zones have been “bright spots” in the state’s early learning work.

Source: Using ‘innovation’ to get more children into early learning programs | Catalyst Chicago

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.