Our small, local community foundation began to concentrate on early literacy in the fall of 2010 following the results of a needs assessment that indicated that quality of education was the number one issue in our community. We engaged community leadership and volunteers around early literacy and created a community advisory council – hoping to better prepare our community’s children to be ready to read and ready to succeed when they entered kindergarten. We focused primarily on the census tract that represented the lowest income families in the City of Brunswick, GA.
To date, we have created, stocked, and staffed with volunteers three learning/media centers in pre-K centers and Boys & Girls’ Club sites near public housing authority properties; three more are in planning stages. The volunteers, mostly local Rotary Club members, have all completed an audible reading course. We have organized local child care center directors – both nonprofit and for-profit - into a quarterly “lunch and learn” group and have brought professional development opportunities and resources to them. Several have determined to participate in the state’s pilot quality rating system because of Baby Step’s assistance. Our community foundation gave a grant to the education department of our local college to underwrite the cost for their senior education students to create fourteen literacy kits for use in local child care centers. Each kit contains detailed lesson plans, and the students modeled the kits in the centers. Through community outreach, we have raised awareness among local corporations, media, civic groups and community and government leaders. Our local newspaper responded to our initiative by featuring the importance of early literacy each month for a year in 2012. We have provided family service workers locally with parenting brochures and resources for single mothers. We have developed a website, www.babystepsga.com with information and resources for parents, educators, center directors and the general public. Most importantly, we have created a permanent endowment at the community foundation for education.
Among the challenges, we have found it difficult to engage the local school district whose primary focus is, understandably, K-12. We hope that due to the fact that federal and state monies for early literacy most often flow through local school districts, we might convince them to concentrate on transition into kindergarten and the importance of upgrading and expanding pre-school opportunities. Likewise, we had hoped that the local United Way – because of the strong focus on early education at U Way national, would partner with the community foundation in this initiative. The United Way here has decided recently to focus its resources on high school dropout prevention, though. Finally, we had hoped to create a community wide “movement” toward improving early literacy, and to see the cause taken up by area civic groups, governments, and churches. A community foundation has a legitimate role in convening around a central issue and to bring financial resources to bear upon that issue. We are not in the business of “doing programs” and so need to find local entities who will sustain all or part of our programs over time if we can provide some type of revenue stream.
Another disappointment has been the lack of response from local African-American pastors to spread the message of the importance of early care and learning and to engage from the pulpit and in their congregations the vital role that parents must play.
We were very hopeful that the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, as well as our Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students (GEEARS) would have brought forth funders interested, not only in large metropolitan areas, but in smaller communities like ours. Unfortunately, we are not seeing much other than rhetoric materialize.
We have learned so much about the importance of early literacy and the very basic and easy things that parents and caregivers can do to stimulate a child’s brain and develop pre-literacy build blocks. We have also been pleasantly surprised to learn that we have many retired educators locally who are passionate about early literacy because they saw firsthand in their upper level classrooms the effects of poor preparation in literacy fundamentals in the child’s early years. They have been a tremendous resource and validation for our efforts.
Our College’s senior education students created 14 themed literacy kits for use in our GA state funded pre-K program and our Head Start program. We funded the creation of the kits through a community foundation grant.