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.
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.
The second post in this series showed how First 10 partnerships are funded, how they are advancing equity by using this funding to support urban and rural communities with significant low-income populations, and how some partnerships are combining First 10 with anti-racism efforts. In this post, I discuss how communities get started with First 10. I describe the two structures—community-wide partnerships and school-based hubs—First 10 partnerships employ to carry out their work, how they form teams, and how they begin their planning efforts.
Community-wide and School-based First 10 Structures, Sometimes in Combination
The First 10 initiative in York City, PA is a good example of a comprehensive First 10 community partnership (see Figure 1 below). York City is a district of approximately 6100 students, 91% are students of color, and 95% are low-income. The First 10 initiative spans the entire city. First 10 is overseen by a steering committee that includes a board member/parent representative and senior leaders from the district, several early childhood programs, the library, local funders, and other nonprofit organizations. York is forming a family advisory committee to allow for more direct community representation, and importantly, the school district is pairing its First 10 work with a major racial equity and cultural competence training push. At the beginning of the pandemic it established several First 10 teams to carry out a number of strategies that impact the entire community:
I’m really looking forward to this conversation with Dan Wuori of the Hunt Institute about the great First 10 work underway in Maine and Pennsylvania. We’ll also talk about similar initiatives in Alabama and Rhode Island. I hope you can join us.
“The ultimate goal of a stronger, more seamless care and education continuum is to initiate and sustain a strong foundation for future success by providing effective learning opportunities across the infant-toddler years, preschool ages, and early grades in all settings.” (National Research Council, Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation).
“The broader lesson of our analysis is that social mobility should be tackled at a local level by improving childhood environments.” (Chetty and Hendron, The Impacts of Neighborhoods on Intergenerational Mobility)
The United States is on the cusp of making a historic investment in early care and education (ECE). This investment comes at a moment in time when the pandemic has exposed the fragmented and siloed nature of our early childhood systems in both urban and rural communities. Widespread racial protests have launched a national reckoning with pervasive racial inequities. Also, during the past two years, an important development has been taking place in the ECE world that can help inform our response to these challenges. Twenty-eight states across the United States have been hard at work improving state and local ECE systems, supported by $275 million of Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five (PDG B–5) funds. The aim of these efforts is to improve the quality of early childhood programs and services, including how programs and services work together in a coordinated fashion to best meet the needs of children and families. I suggest that state and local system-building efforts like those supported by PDG B–5 are essential to how we address learning loss in the aftermath of the pandemic, and how, as we expand access to ECE programs, we rebuild better, more equitable systems of care and education.
While I disagree with the suggestion that public schools can’t do this work, I appreciate the dual generation/comprehensive services thrust of Conor’s article. See this recent webinar series for more examples of school-community partnerships for the whole child.
A few excerpts:
“This juxtaposition — family members decades apart, but attending classes down the hall from one another — is central to a ‘dual-generation’ educational approach ….
These programs have a straightforward theory of education: If children’s success is tightly intertwined with their families’ stability (and we know it is), and families do better when they have access to nutrition, health care and economic opportunity, why not address all of these needs together? …
Now, more than ever, American schools are realizing that they cannot ignore these challenges as they try to reconnect students with learning opportunities. ‘Education is one arm in somebody’s success,’ said Reena Gadhia, the former manager of one of Briya’s work force training programs. ‘You really cannot disregard access to mental health services, access to social services, access to child care, transportation, all of it.'”
New America’s Elise Franchino has summarized our recent webinar series in 10 takeaways. Check out her post here. She includes great insights from the presenters. Many thanks to all the panelists, moderators, and partner organizations! You can find the webinars and associated resources at these links:
The New York Times business reporter, Andrew Ross Sorkin, asked experts and industry leaders to name one thing we should do right now to “fix America.” Harlem Children Zone leaders Kwame Owusu-Kesse and Geoffrey Canada argue that we must, “We must broaden the focus of education to encompass the communities around the school building.” An excerpt:
“How do we make schools actually work for all children?
The nation has been pondering this question for decades, with answers that have fallen woefully short for poor students. But we think this is the wrong question. What the country should be asking is, how do we change the neighborhoods around schools to make them places where young people can find success — in school and beyond?
If we are going to break the cycle of poverty, we must reimagine education in America. We can no longer view education as simply the things that go on inside that building we call “school.” Such a narrow-minded focus has proved inadequate to the task of moving large populations out of poverty. We must broaden the focus of education to encompass the communities around the school building…
An emerging field of practice centered on “place” (i.e., where a child grows up) has championed the providing of comprehensive services to neighborhoods to effectively combat poverty. These services include high quality education and cradle-to-career youth programming, physical and mental health support, work force development, affordable housing and community leadership development.”
COVID-19 has exposed a fundamental truth about our systems of education, health, and social services: They are fragmented and siloed, thwarting efforts to improve the quality of learning and care for children. Nowhere is this clearer than in the schools, preschools, and community programs that serve the 44% of U.S. children under 9 identified as low-income. The lack of collaboration and shared vision among these systems means that the extraordinary efforts of people who work on the frontlines are severely handicapped in meeting the needs of children and families.
As we rethink national and state education policies, and as we rebuild schooling and caregiving, we must ensure that the schools and programs that serve children and their families work together at the local level where it matters most.
For over a decade, I’ve studied the work of innovative communities nationwide where just this sort of collaboration is in full force. Preschools, elementary schools, and community health and social service organizations join forces to create and carry out a clear equity agenda that focuses on improving the quality of life for low-income children and their families and children of color and their families. Their successes provide a road map to reinventing early childhood education that begins with three core design principles:
Connect Early Years and Early Grades. When early childhood and K–12 educators collaborate, they can ensure high-quality learning for children. Yet this seldom happens. Instead, we have created two systems with very different philosophies and practices for children of similar ages. The innovative communities that I’ve studied bring early childhood programs together with elementary schools to align curricula, work on how best to teach young children, and develop common approaches to supporting families. As a result, children’s learning can proceed smoothly, consistently, and successfully.
Deepen Partnerships with Families. It’s time to move beyond “random acts of family engagement” like occasional back-to-school nights. Research shows that families play a vital role in children’s success in school, and schools and communities must make two major shifts to support families in this role. The first shift is one of mindset: begin with respect for families and their contributions, be responsive to families’ cultural traditions, invite families to participate as full partners in school affairs, and promote families’ development as leaders. These changes must be coupled with new structures to support families with comprehensive services such as family liaison positions, family resource centers, and well-thought-out partnerships with health and social service agencies.
Strengthen Communities. Harvard’s Opportunity Insights project has shown that of all government policies, investments in low-income children have the highest returns and pay for themselves. The project’s researchers have also demonstrated that the neighborhoods where children grow up have enormous impacts on children’s future social mobility. They conclude that, “The broader lesson of our analysis is that social mobility should be tackled at a local level by improving childhood environments.” Here the first two design principles come together with a third: the most powerful way to improve childhood environments is to implement comprehensive strategies across the elementary schools, early childhood programs, and health and social service agencies that serve children and families in the same community.
Translating principles into action:How does life change for children in these communities? Communities in Maine, Nebraska, Oregon, and Pennsylvania are improving home visiting, family childcare, preschool, and Head Start programs. They are finding new, more effective ways to help children acquire key literacy, math, and social-emotional skills. Families are receiving the health, mental health, and social service support they need to build on their strengths and overcome challenges. Schools, preschools, and community agencies are coordinating their work: sharing data, aligning curricula, supporting children and families through the transition to kindergarten, and leading community-wide campaigns on parenting, school attendance, and early literacy. They are sustaining this work during COVID-19. These communities are demonstrating how to create coherent systems. They are showing us the way forward to better futures for children and families.