The buzz in recent years on the importance of early childhood has been roaring. Young children’s brains are producing 1 million new neural connections per second in the first few years of life, and we now understand the bigger picture of why we need to set families up for success from very early-on. Research has shown that investing in quality care and programming at this young age, specifically for our most disadvantaged children, leads to a 13% return on investment annually. Kenosha County residents of all generations, and our economy, would benefit widely from this return. This is the work of our Smart Beginnings Network.
Dr. Diane Gerlach, pediatrician at Aurora Health Care and champion of this work, demonstrates this. “When children are struggling early on, they tend to have behavior problems. This adds stress to the parent who may also be struggling with parenting, and it bleeds over to their [employment] with poor productivity and attendance. Identifying problem areas early allows for early treatment, which decreases their struggles and behavior problems, which decreases parent stress. This creates better current and future employees.” Smart Beginnings brings together community partners to directly address the importance of early childhood through alignment of programs and systems.
This group has launched its collaborative action approach by aligning with childcare centers and equipping them with the Ages & Stages Questionnaire (ASQ-3), a developmental screening tool. Childcare centers get trained to educate parents and caregivers about developmental milestones and provide them with activities to help their child thrive. Parents are a child’s first and most important teacher, so when parents understand the importance of reading, talking, and playing with their child, it can result in significant gains in developmental outcomes. Regular screenings can also ensure that families receive needed interventions early. When parents are supported, they can be more present and productive employees, residents, and leaders in our community. Businesses and our overall economy are then poised to profit.
We are already seeing small wins with this alignment. The number of reported ASQ-3s in Kenosha County has doubled over this time last year, resulting in more children receiving necessary interventions earlier. Suzi Wolf, Early Intervention Program Manager at KAC, shares, “Providing services before a child is school age is more effective and less costly because the developing brain is the most capable of change.” Is this an investment we can afford not to make?
How You Can Help
The success of this work depends on stakeholders of all shapes and sizes. Consider:
THE WISCONSIN PARTNERSHIP RECEIVES NEARLY $350,000 THROUGH $20 MILLION GRANT PROGRAM BY NATIONAL NONPROFIT STRIVETOGETHER TO USE DATA TO IMPROVE RESULTS FOR KIDS
The Wisconsin Partnership one of 16 winning initiatives that will tackle systems changes needed to help children and families living in poverty move up the economic ladder
KENOSHA, WI — The Wisconsin Partnership, which includes Building Our Future, Milwaukee Succeeds, Higher Expectations for Racine County, and Achieve Brown County has received nearly $350,000 from StriveTogether, a national nonprofit working to bring communities together around data to make decisions and improve results for kids. The Wisconsin Partnership will use its grant award to test, learn, and spread strategies focused on advancing policy change within Wisconsin.
The grant award is part of StriveTogether’s Cradle to Career Community Challenge, which seeks to create local change to enable economic mobility. The program’s goal is to strengthen and align the many systems, such as education, employment, health and housing that shape opportunity for children and families in America.
“This project will allow Building Our Future to elevate our work in state and local activities in order to generate meaningful student outcomes at scale,” said Tatjana Bicanin, executive director of Building Our Future.
“We have leadership from all sectors of Kenosha County that understand the need for alignment,” said Jean Moran, former CEO of LMI Packaging and executive sponsor. “We all know there is much more work to do. The best news of all is that we are ready, willing, and able to do what is needed.”
The Wisconsin Partnership will focus on addressing mobilization of systems-level barriers that prevent families from accessing high-quality early care and education through community engagement.
Through the Community Challenge, more than $20 million over the next three years will fund projects
across the country that aim to shift public policy and engage the systems needed to help students progress from kindergarten to postsecondary completion and finding a job.
The Wisconsin Partnership is receiving its grant through the Community Challenge’s Strategic Initiatives Fund, which supports projects working to advance policy change for children by engaging policy leaders, leading grassroots advocacy and coordinating efforts within state and local coalitions. As part of the Strategic Initiatives Fund, the Wisconsin Partnership has one of seven policy-focused projects being awarded grants of up to $350,000 per year for three years. Communities in the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network were eligible to apply for the Community Challenge.
“Education is key to a strong economy, and every child should have the opportunity to achieve his or
her fullest potential, but existing systems don’t always support the success of students, particularly students of color and those from low-income families,” StriveTogether President and CEO Jennifer Blatz said. “Using the common language of data, we can create better, more equitable systems to improve outcomes for major milestones in every child’s life. Our Cradle to Career Community Challenge will enhance and expand the real, lasting results underway across our 70 communities.”
About Building Our Future
Building Our Future is Kenosha County’s first cradle to career collective impact effort focused on
education and workforce development with leadership representing schools, businesses,
government, civic organizations, and nonprofits, committed to improving student outcomes. As a community we focus on three shared goals: Every child enters school ready to learn, Every student succeeds in school, and Every student succeeds in a career.
StriveTogether leads a national movement of 70 communities to get better results in every child’s
life. We coach and connect partners across the country to close gaps by using local data, especially for children of color and low-income children. Communities using our proven approach have seen measurable gains in kindergarten readiness, academic achievement and postsecondary success. The
StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network reaches 10.4 million students, involves 10,800 organizations and has partners in 30 states and Washington, D.C.
Established January 2017, the Building Our Future Leadership Table was formed to guide and advocate for the work of Building Our Future, which brings together all sectors in Kenosha County to improve student outcomes from cradle to career. High School students were engaged from the start of this work. With the support of school districts, three parents and students took a step and joined the team. Darian Lott was one of them.
Darian was born in Racine, Wisconsin. He attended the Head Start program in Racine and then attended Dresden Elementary until he moved to Kenosha, Darian started at Stoker Elementary, then finished Wilson Elementary. He then attended Bullen Middle and has recently graduated from Lakeview Tech.
“The poverties in education in certain areas was one of the biggest shocks from joining the Leadership Table,” he says about his experience. “But it’s good to see businesses and people in the community that are trying to help out the education and upbringing of the kids.”
Darian was approached by his principal at Lakeview asking if he would be interested in participating in Building Our Future. Darian saw this as an opportunity to share his story, his accomplishments, and connect with other students so they don’t feel as though they’re alone.
“I want to set an example of no matter what situation, neighborhood, or nationality anyone may be, they can succeed in life if they work hard for it,” he says. “If I had to share my story, it would be of how I, coming from a low income family and neighborhood, have been successful in school and in accomplishing my dreams.”
Darian, a recipient of the Tech Excellence Award and Gateway Promise, will be heading to Gateway for two years until he transfers to UW-Whitewater, where he plans to major in video game design and Computer numerical control (CNC) programming. Since he was a kid, Darian has wanted to become a video game designer, and the scholarships he’s received for all of his hard work are helping him get one step closer to that goal.
Why Join the Leadership Table?
“It’s important to have feedback from students in the community on how they grew up here and their stories in the areas they grew up in.”
For more information and how to get involved, go to http://www.buildingourfuturekc.org/get-involved.html.