Education Week Commentary: Getting the First 10 Years Right

Annotation 2020-02-12 115821

See my Education Week Commentary on bridging the gaps between early childhood, elementary school, and health and human services. Please join me in getting the word out and supporting these important collaborations. In addition to the leading edge communities I mention in the essay, 13 communities in Maine and 13 in Pennsylvania are implementing First 10 initiatives, with more to come in Alabama and Rhode Island.

Four Strategies for Getting the First 10 Years of a Child’s Life Right (Education Week)

School-Connected Play & Learns

The First 10 Network launched in 2022 as a way to connect First 10 communities to one another so that they can learn about and build on each other’s innovations and adapt them to meet local needs. At our February network meeting, a panel of on-the-ground experts from the First 10 community—facilitators who lead play and learns and the administrators who help organize and promote them—discussed how to structure play and learns.  Our panelists shared ideas for recruiting families and forming creative partnerships with districts, libraries, Head Start agencies, and other community programs.  


First 10 communities are developing collaborative partnerships across early childhood programs and services to develop, facilitate, and promote school-connected play & learns to families with 0-5 year-olds. Including different types of providers in planning ensures that the play & learns best meet the needs of children and families.

Local libraries can be a valuable partner since they offer space and librarians can guest read and provide tours of the library and library website, connecting families to library resources. 

Recruiting Families to Participate in Play & Learns

First 10 Communities use a wide range of recruitment strategies to bring families to play & learns.  Many use social media to inform families of upcoming play & learns sessions and share pictures and agendas of previous sessions. Weekly or monthly newsletters were also popular ways to connect with families and offer resources, such as links to The Basics principle for the week. Some communities start by reaching out to families on Head Start waiting lists. Others conduct child screening at the same time as play & learns so that the families get a glimpse of what is offered at play & learns and are encouraged to participate. 

One novel recruitment idea was to spread awareness of Kinder enrollment with flyers on Superbowl pizza boxes!  

Play & Learn Setups

The panel offered several different strategies for play & learn setups. Examples included: letting children play in a gross motor room during the initial introduction for parents; giving parents activities that they could choose from; and using goodbye bubbles to close the play & learn.

Many First 10 play & learns incorporate The Basics, in a variety of ways: developing a lending library with The Basics books and sensory toys; sharing the Basics video and description via email so that the parents can just talk about it during the play & learns; and/or watching the Basics video with parents and kids, incorporating the kids in watching and interacting with the children on the video, while modeling how to interact with kids for the parents. 

One group added an outdoor component to play & learns and has found it successful in encouraging conversation and connections.

Frequency for Play & Learns:

First 10 communities are testing the number of play & learns sessions offered per registration cycle. In some cases, offering (for example) six sessions has allowed families to commit to shorter lengths of time, while in other cases, offering more sessions has allowed flexibility for families to continue engaging despite missing a session or two.

Offering Virtual Play & Learns Post-Pandemic

Some communities adapted play & learns to occur virtually due to the pandemic.  Some parents still prefer to attend virtually for various reasons, including flexibility and concern about germs/illnesses.  In these instances, books, craft materials, etc. are provided to the virtual participants, just like the in-person participants. 

Offering both in-person and virtual options creates an opportunity to engage with a much wider group of parents and families. One community, for example, startswith virtual session for 1 hour on Saturday and then goes into an in-person play & learns. 

This network meeting was a great opportunity for First 10 communities to hear successful examples of play & learn strategies and gather ideas to take back to their own communities!

Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Webinar on First 10 Community Partnerships in Action

""The Campaign for Grade-level Reading webinar, First 10 Community Partnerships in Action, was an opportunity to hear from communities about how they are implementing First 10 strategies to build cohesive supports for children, ages 0 to 10.

The webinar opens with a helpful background from David Jacobson, describing the basis for First 10 work, the First 10 Framework and strategies, and the different First 10 community models. If you have colleagues or friends who are unfamiliar with First 10, the first 30 minutes of the webinar is a great segment to share with them.

The presenters—Superintendent Andrea Berry, School District of the City of York, PA; Secretary Barbara Cooper, Alabama Department of Education; Alyssa Gleason, East Bay Community Action Program, RI; and Karen Rebello, East Providence Public Schools, RI—gave examples on:

  • why and how cross-agency collaboration between early childhood and K-12 has been important at both the state and local levels
  • how new relationships and collaborations have been built and maintained
  • how this work has led to systemic change
  • lessons learned thus far
  • and more!

This work has been an opportunity for us to just see how we can transform entire communities one at a time around the importance of investing early.”—Secretary Barbara Cooper

Watch the recording | View the slides

School Leader Perspectives on First 10 Partnerships: New Video

First 10 is excited to share the first in a series of short videos to spotlight the work of First 10 partnerships nationwide. In First 10, community agencies, families, Head Start, child care, preK, and schools form partnerships and take action to ensure all children learn and thrive. We’ll be sharing a variety of perspectives in our video series. In this first video, York, PA district leaders share their insights on First 10.

Hear from First 10 Leaders: Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Webinar on 9/27

We are really excited to have this discussion with a fantastic panel of First 10 leaders.

First 10 school-community partnerships bring together elementary schools, early childhood programs and community organizations to improve outcomes for children ages 0 to 10 and their families. Communities in six states are implementing coherent First 10 plans that include transition to kindergarten activities, substantive collaboration between early childhood educators and kindergarten teachers, school-connected play and learn groups, and community-wide parenting campaigns.

Panelists from Alabama, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island will share their experiences implementing the First 10 approach.
Register here.

First 10 Highlights from Lancaster County, PA

In our September First 10 Network webinar, we learned about a great example of county—community collaboration on First 10. We heard from Amanda Burns and Meg May from the Community Action Partnership (CAP) of Lancaster County and Denise Logue from Cocalico School District about how they are implementing First 10 partnerships in Pennsylvania together. They shared strategies that are working in their region as well as plans for future improvement.

The Community Action Partnership (CAP) of Lancaster County is an anti-poverty organization that includes programs such as Head Start, PreK Counts, WIC, and Parents as Teachers (PAT). With support from a United Way Collective Impact grant, CAP began First 10 work in 2018.

CAP’s county-wide initiatives include:

  • Forming work groups focused on social-emotional development and family engagement
  • Creating kindergarten transition tools (such as a social-emotional transition form)
  • Mounting a county-wide Basics campaign, including incorporating The Basics into home visits

CAP’s Parents As Teachers (PAT) program includes home visiting, family engagement events, parent cafes, play and learns, and other activities.

The Cocalico School District has partnered with CAP and other community organizations to create a strong First 10 partnership. Denise Logue described their successful Play and Learns (requiring a waiting list!). Their model includes parent learning about The Basics (happening while kids are playing), play time to connect kids and parents with one another, a book or poem reading, a special guest (usually a specialist) from the community such as an eye doctor, speech therapist, etc., and activities related to a theme. The Play and Learns are a true partnership: CAP funds the materials; a local library provides books, resources and toys; the district provides space, technology and their link to school personnel and families for communications.

Cocalico also offers seven Transition to Kindergarten workshops for families of preK students throughout the year. Each workshop has a different focus. The first workshop is about fun & engagement and is designed for students to see how exciting school can be. Other workshops cover social emotional readiness, gross motor skills, reading readiness, math readiness, and writing readiness. The final workshop has the students go to the schools they will be attending in the fall to prepare them for that transition.

In addition, Cocalico has organized several meetings to bring preK and kindergarten teachers together to connect and learn from one another. Sessions have included comparing preK vs kindergarten social emotional standards, examining the literacy standards, and a training on the Heggerty (Phonological Awareness Program) and FUNdations (Phonics) programs.

For more details about their initiatives, view slides from the webinar and visit their websites at caplanc.org and first10lancaster.com.

The First 10 Network is Underway: Our First Community of Practice Webinar

A community of practice brings together people around a common interest to share best practices and create new actionable knowledge. We launched our community of practice with a webinar that brought together representatives from our six First 10 states to hear from two groups that are successfully building partnership systems to support young children.

Our first speaker, Secretary Barbara Cooper from Alabama’s Department of Early Childhood Education, is working with EDC to establish First 10 partnerships in Alabama. Alabama is building a comprehensive approach to kindergarten readiness and school success. In addition to expanding its highly regarded First Class Prekindergarten program, Alabama is working to align all pre-natal to age 8 services in the state and is building partnerships within communities to create environments in which all students can succeed.

As part of this work and in collaboration with EDC, Alabama has published a Transition to Kindergarten Toolkit that includes guidance, resources, and strategies to support local communities in implementing effective transition to Kindergarten plans. 

We also heard from Cris Lopez Anderson and Amy Schmidtke from the Buffett Early Childhood Institute. Their work in Metro Omaha, Nebraska was an inspiration for First 10. Cris and Amy shared their extensive experience implementing the Superintendents’ Early Childhood Plan: A Birth Through Grade 3 Approach. This approach is centered on three pillars:

  • Quality (what children and families experience in terms of practices),
  • Continuity (how children and families experience services over time and ensuring that services are aligned and coordinated), and
  • Equity (who experiences quality and continuity).

The Superintendents’ Plan brings together home visiting (birth to age 3), family supports, and coaching for teachers in elementary schools that serve as hubs for children and families. The Plan started by testing this full implementation model in six districts seven years ago.

While showing many signs of success, over the years, the Buffett Institute has identified a key challenge to the Plan’s current implementation model: their work in schools has been siloed and not adequately connected to district goals and initiatives. To tackle this challenge, the Superintendents’ Plan is taking a systems-approach and creating an action plan with district leaders focused on how district goals for early childhood education are being supported and tackled at each level of the system. The goal is to be transparent with all community members—children, family, school staff, and school leaders—about what the goals are and what each member’s role is.

These two presentations led to small breakout group discussions to give attendees time to meet one another and to discuss what they had heard and how they could apply aspects of these approaches to their own First 10 partnerships.

It was a full agenda! We’ll be pausing community of practice meetings for the summer but are looking forward to our September meeting, where we will be sure to include lots of time for attendees to meet, network, and learn about one another’s work!

Inaugural First 10 Newsletter

With the launch of our new National First 10 Network in March, we have created a newsletter for First 10 colleagues and friends. We will share resources and news of interest via the newsletter. In our inaugural issue sent April 5, we spotlight the work that East Providence (RI) is doing to share its progress with community leaders, highlight an article on the vital role Head Start Programs can play in First 10 communities, and feature EDC’s announcement of our W.K. Kellogg Foundation funding.

View Newsletter

If you missed the newsletter in your inbox, please check your spam folder! For those of you who would like to stay connected with First 10’s work, you can subscribe here to the newsletter.

First 10 to Form New National Community of Practice

We are so excited about this opportunity to bring First 10 communities together for ongoing learning and exchange. We are beginning with communities in Alabama, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island and will add new ones as we grow. I am so impressed with the work these communities are doing improving outcomes for children and families. Many thanks to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for supporting school-community partnerships driving change.

Launched in 2019, and guided by the vision “all children learn and thrive,” First 10 assists school-community partnerships in taking action to improve outcomes for children ages birth through 10 and their families.

In First 10 sites across the country, community partnerships are working to address educational inequities, improve the quality of teaching and learning, coordinate and deliver comprehensive services, and deepen partnerships with families in culturally responsive ways.

To launch and sustain the First 10 network, we will host a series of online learning events. The series will include presentations by First 10 leaders,  feature experts in early childhood systems change, and focus on relevant topics, including:

  • Strengthening partnerships with families with young children
  • Launching community-wide parenting campaigns
  • Implementing comprehensive transition to kindergarten plans 
  • Designing joint professional learning for prekindergarten and kindergarten teachers
  • Combining explicit anti-racism training with First 10 initiatives  
  • Accessing and making effective use of federal funds 
  • Promoting continuous improvement by gathering data and monitoring progress 

The network activities will also include an ongoing online community of practice and publication of success stories and lessons learned to inform the field. 

East Providence First 10 Shares Progress with Community Leaders

What a great idea–in addition to hosting a presentation and discussion, the First 10 team set up tables on play and learns, the transition to kindergarten, the First 10 community school at Hennessy Elementary, The Basics, and early childhood programs for the Mayor and city council and school committee members.

How Head Start Programs Can Drive Change in their Communities

All across the country, Head Start, school, and community organizations are working to address the fundamental fragmentation that characterizes our mixed-delivery early childhood systems. In my work leading First 10 school-community partnerships, I’ve witnessed the vital role that Head Start and Early Head Start programs play in supporting the whole child and promoting family well-being. Head Start leaders are part of innovative First 10 initiatives across the country that are successfully reinventing school-community partnerships focused on young children and their families. Now more than ever, Head Start agencies have an opportunity to extend their influence, drive change, and improve outcomes for all children and families in their communities.

See my recent blog post for the National Head Start Association, “Head Start School-Community Partnerships Create Change.” It was really a pleasure collaborating with Dr. Deborah Bergeron and NHSA on this article.