Thursday, June 19, 2014

Dream Big, Start Small says 'Your child deserves pre-K'

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave Media
June 19, 2014

Because it's critical to reach children as early a possible if they are to be ready for school there is a new initiative called Dream Big, Start Small. Zinta Aistars has the story.

Jacque Eatmon, Great Start Collaborative coordinator, has seen many changes over her 35 or so years working in the organization.

"Up until a couple years ago, early childhood programs were seen as just babysitting," she says. "It used to fall under human services, but finally was moved to education, and that made a great difference in federal, state and local funding."

Great Start is a statewide initiative to foster school readiness and life success for children ages birth to five. The local Great Start Collaborative is one of 55 such networks, a coordinated system of community resources tying together all Michigan counties. The Great Start system is funded by the Early Childhood Investment Corporation, a public corporation formed in 2005. 

"Our goal is to give all Kalamazoo County children the social, emotional, physical and intellectual foundation they need to be successful in life," Eatmon says. 

Easier said than done, Eatmon admits. "It can be a little like trying to eradicate poverty," she says with a laugh. Or creating world peace. 

Forming a collaborative, Eatmon says, meant bringing many different organizations, businesses, schools, nonprofits, hospitals, churches, insurance companies, parents to one table to create one cohesive system of family support, parenting leadership, pediatric and family health, social and emotional health, and child care with early education. 

"What we had was a lot of silos," Eatmon says. "What we had to do is to try to get everyone out of their lane and talking to each other. We needed to move everyone from just networking into a real collaborative."

The result was that Kalamazoo County Ready 4s, Kalamazoo RESA’s Head Start and Great Start Readiness programs, the Great Start Collaborative, all nine Kalamazoo County school districts and the kindergarten-readiness component of The Learning Network of Greater Kalamazoo are now collaborating as Kalamazoo County Pre-K. Dream Big, Start Small is the collaborative’s call to action.

"We had all these great programs, but parents were getting overwhelmed and confused by all of it," Eatmon explains. "It wasn’t always convenient for parents, and too often the kids were dropping out."

The state budget has dedicated less and less funding over the past five years to support child care quality, Eatmon says, even as 98 percent of Michigan kindergarten teachers, according to a 2009 survey conducted by Lake Research Partners, say it is important for Michigan to make a significant investment in early childhood supports and services. 

A child’s most rapid brain development occurs before age 5, and early educational efforts have shown dramatic outcomes in later years. Nearly as many of those teachers have urged the establishment of a community entity--such as Great Start Collaborative--that focuses on the needs of children ages birth to 5. 

"We started by sending out a survey to all the Kalamazoo school superintendents just to define what it means to be ready for kindergarten," she says. "A big part of our collaborative was the parents. More than any one thing, it was the communication piece with parents and between all of us that was missing."

Eatmon and the people around the table opened their ears to parents. One message that came through was that ...


Playground outside K-RESA

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