SVP’s Kindergarten Ready Grant Committee has announced five finalists for this year’s multi-year capacity building grant! These organizations, the committee found, are each uniquely dedicated to ensuring bright outcomes for all children by building equitable access to quality learning and care. They are also at place where the potential for growth is at its highest. Learn more about the incredible work these organizations are doing below.
Started in 1983 when three organizations came together to create a single, unified statewide voice for kids, Children’s Alliance is perhaps best characterized by a long list of legislative wins. Whether in protecting children from budget cuts or placing a stronger spotlight on the racial inequities that leave a disproportionate number of children of color without the tools to succeed in life, Children’s Alliance is an unwavering advocate for policy changes that benefit our children.
Their leadership plays a significant role in three policy areas that affect the well-being of Washington’s 1.6 million children: early learning, children’s health and ending childhood hunger — early learning being their largest program area.
In this trifold approach, Children’s Alliance works as a convener of the Early Learning Action Alliance (ELAA), a broad and diverse coalition of nonprofits, professional associations, businesses and industries. Together, the ELAA adopts an annual shared legislative agenda and carries out strategic, coordinated advocacy. Alongside the ELAA, the Children’s Alliance engages in a coordinated effort to increase transparency and accessibility of the policy-making process for those most impacted. Not stopping at passed legislation, they also operate to ensure policy works for kids and families on the ground.
An example of this approach in action is Children’s Alliance work on the expansion and implementation of the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP), Washington’s high-quality, comprehensive pre-k program serving low-income 3- and 4-year-olds. The program currently serves about 11,600 children per year, leaving many eligible children unserved due to a lack of available slots.
The legislature has committed to making ECEAP available to all eligible families who want it by 2020, and Children’s Alliance will be working over the next three years to make sure that happens. This includes securing funding for the new seats and ensuring the expansion has strong implications for advancing racial equity – such as providing incentives and support for dual-language programming and implementing strategies to recruit and retain culturally and linguistically diverse providers. Of the 7,400 new seats that will need to be added, more than 1,400 children live in King County. Visit Children’s Alliance online to learn more about their approach and the range of services they provide.
Chinese Information and Service Center
Located in the heart of Seattle’s International District, the Chinese Information and Service Center (CISC) has worked for 44 years to help Asian immigrants make the transition to a new life while keeping newer generations in touch with their rich heritage. Their work in early learning spans five programs, designed to prepare immigrant children from birth to age 5 for kindergarten.
One of the most significant challenges immigrant families consistently face is isolation in part due to the language and cultural barriers that come with resettlement. Leading up to kindergarten, many of these children stay at home with parents, family, friends or neighbor caregivers with little opportunity to interact with other children their age. And in many cases, their parents are often unaware of the role they play in their child’s early education, or they lack the skills — because of language and cultural barriers — to be their child’s first teacher. Likewise, parents often do not know what resources are available, how to access to them, or are ashamed to seek help.
CISC’s two largest early learning programs offer the wrap-around services these families need to overcome the obstacles and support their children. The Step Ahead Bilingual Preschool improves school readiness with a curriculum that embraces the rich cultural and language backgrounds of its students. Using the Teaching Strategies Gold assessment, the program provides children with experiences that support their physical, social, emotional, cognitive, bilingual and bicultural development.
In an effort to also reach the most vulnerable and isolated children, CISC offers more intensive, individualized services. Providing a non-directive, non-didactic approach, the Parent-Child Home Program matches families with trained home visitors who engage both parent and child in quality reading and play. Specialists focus on building a meaningful relationship with the family and support parents in realizing their role as their child’s first teacher. By modeling behaviors for parents, gifting books and educational toys, and encouraging continued play and reading between visits, the program empowers parents in preparing their children for success in school. Visit CISC online to learn more about their approach and the range of services they provide.
Kent Youth and Family Services
Kent Youth and Family Services (KYFS) is a staple to South King County and families living in the Kent School District. For nearly 50 years, the agency has provided everything from youth and family counseling to early learning. In addition, they also run three youth centers at Kent’s King County Housing Authority communities and own and operate a 10-unit apartment building for homeless young mothers. Their assistance extends to about 6,000 young people and their families each year.
Preparing the next generation of young people to thrive in life is among their highest priorities. Last school year, less than half of children entering kindergarten in the Kent School District met expectations in all areas of development and learning. And even fewer children with limited English, special needs or from families with low incomes, entered school with the skills to succeed in kindergarten.
That’s why enrollment priority for KYFS’s early learning programs are given to children at risk of being caught in the opportunity gap — including children in foster care, children from families of color, and families who are experiencing economic hardship or homelessness. Last school year, 81 percent of the more than 400 children in KYFS’ preschool program came from these backgrounds and almost half were immigrants or refugees. But unlike the numbers seen at the district level for incoming students, 90 percent of KYFS Head Start and ECEAP students met school readiness standards for preschool.
KYFS also understands that a parent can’t fully engage in a child’s life if they’re worried about how they’re going to feed their family or pay rent. So they offer a full-circle approach to supporting the families who come to them. Parents are matched with family support specialists who serve as a connection to resources. With KYFS family support and teacher staff parents have the aid they need to set and achieve goals for themselves as well as their child. Visit KYFS online to learn more about their approach and the range of services they provide.
While research has proven time and again that quality early learning improves outcomes for children, the burdens of poor quality and limited choice of early childhood programs often fall on marginalized communities. In contrast, Launch places their services in communities where they’re needed most – helping to ensure all kids, regardless of income or family background, have access to quality education.
In the 2015-2016 school year, 71 percent of students at Launch qualified for free tuition under the Seattle Preschool Program. Another 24 percent qualified for partial tuition. Its kindergarten readiness programs are offered on-site or adjacent to public schools in Seattle, allowing for continuity between preschool and elementary school. Launch preschool operates six classrooms, which have all been awarded a Quality Level of Excellence by Early Achievers.
Launch’s 10-week summer program, Leap Ahead, for rising kindergarteners is offered at nine locations and mimics a typical school day. The program focuses on helping children make a successful transition into elementary school, by providing added support to those who need more to become kindergarten-ready.
At the heart of Launch’s success is their use of the play-based HighScope curriculum, a platform that centers on adult-child interaction, the classroom environment and daily routine. A typical day at Launch’s preschool includes a routine of large and small group time, outdoor time, and rest time.
One of the unique components of the HighScope routine is “Plan-Do-Review.” With the help of the teacher, children plan where they’re going to play and the materials they’re going to use to play during work time. During “Work Time” children carry out their plans or shift to a new activity. Finally, during “Review” children and their teachers come together as a group to talk about what they did and learned, and whether it was the same or different than they planned. A Launch preschool classroom is also divided into clear spaces optimal for the HighScope routine and for different types of play and learning, like the block area, music area or sand and water area.
In the third element of the HighScope curriculum, teachers work alongside children, communicating with them both verbally and nonverbally. The adults scaffold children’s learning, meaning they support the child at their current developmental level and help them build upon it. A key strategy for adult-child interaction is modeling shared control and taking a problem-solving approach to conflict. Children are supported with encouragement instead of praise. Visit Launch online to learn more about their approach and the range of services they provide.
Refugee Women’s Alliance
One of their longest-standing programs, the Refugee Women’s Alliance (ReWA) Early Learning Center is built on the belief that all children should have the opportunity to succeed in school and beyond. To support the first and second generation immigrant and refugee students that come through their doors, that means breaking down language, cultural and religious barriers that often leave families feeling disconnected from conventional child care programs.
With a qualified bilingual and bicultural staff that speaks more than 50 languages and dialects collectively, the cornerstone to ReWA’s early childhood education program is its dual-language curriculum. Based on the Soy Bilingue language model, students are taught in the language of their lead teacher part of the week, in English part of the week, and a mixture of both one day a week. As of the start of this year, the Center is enhancing their dual-language approach by developing the first tri-lingual curriculum for its preschool in the Puget Sound area. Later in 2017, they plan to educate students (ages 3-5 years old) in three languages – either Tagalog/Mandarin/English, Vietnamese/Chinese/English or Cambodian/Vietnamese/English depending on the classroom.
ReWA’s Early Learning Center supports parents as partners in their children’s education by hosting monthly parent education discussions, where parents can learn together in topics like healthy nutrition and how to best handle challenging child behaviors. Parents and children have also received free wellness check-ups through partnerships with Seattle-King County Public Health, UW’s School of Nursing, Seattle’s Office of Education and Early Learning and Child Find. Partnerships like these have been invaluable in linking families to services when children have been identified with developmental delays.
Beginning in 2018, ReWA will take their education programming an additional two steps forward. It will collaborate with the Low Income Housing Institute to open a preschool program at the Institute’s newest Lake City family housing project with a capacity for 80 children. It will also expand its programming in southeast Seattle by building three new classrooms at its existing center to serve 40 more students. Visit ReWA online to learn more about their approach and the range of services they provide.
The grant committee will spend the March visiting each organization on-site, seeing their work in action. Following the visits, the committee will meet twice more before selecting the 2017 Kindergarten Ready Grant recipient in April. The selected organization will be awarded a multi-year capacity building grant, with a first-year investment of up to $30,000.
In addition to funding, SVP will match the nonprofit with volunteers and paid consultants who will help heighten their impact in a variety of ways, whether it be through strengthening financial management systems or revamping marketing strategies.
If you are interested in participating in SVP’s next grant committee, which kicks off in the fall, email Ben Mitchell. Plus, check out these upcoming education sessions that mirror key aspects of the grant committee learning process, without the six-month commitment!
Cecilia Garza is SVP’s staff writer. In her free time, she enjoys sailing the Puget Sound by way of her small yet comfortable Coronado 25’ and romping the beach with her 10-pound Italian Greyhound.
Learn more about Cecilia and read more of her work here.