Danbury's Promise For Children Partnership
Danbury is a thriving, close-knit city located in Western Connecticut. We have a strong economy and a low crime rate—and that has brought people from all over the world to live, work, and be educated here. In fact, more than 42% of our population speaks a language other than English in the home. “Diversity is our strength” has been a rallying cry. But we have our challenges as well, with more than 22% of families with children under age 5 living below the poverty level and only 35% of low-income children reading on grade level in third grade.
Family support providers, early childhood educators, schools, and parents had worked together for a long time in Danbury, but in 2007 we formalized our relationships by creating a partnership focused on young children. Called Danbury’s Promise for Children Partnership, it brought everyone in the community together to create a set of strategies designed to prepare all young children for school success. Until 2012 our emphasis had been on health, behavioral health, school readiness and connecting parents to resources. When we joined the Campaign for Grade Level Reading in 2012 we began to use the tools, resources, and messages available to us through the campaign to supplement those strategies and promote greater awareness of the importance of school attendance and summer learning loss.
Here are some of our accomplishments:
Chronic Absence: Improving attendance is a major strategy in the Danbury Public Schools’ District Improvement Plan. This year, the schools were able to use the District Attendance Tracking Tool (DATT) and technical assistance from Attendance Works to identify and analyze the chronic absenteeism data from all 13 Danbury elementary schools. We found that we had some interesting “outliers”—some of our schools that serve very low income children had better attendance rates than schools that serve more affluent children. The information will help inform attendance messaging and strategies moving forward.
Summer Learning Loss: We still need to develop broader strategies around summer learning loss, but at a workshop offered through the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund, we learned that the best way to start is to do a community scan of what resources are available to our families over the summer. To that end, we used the services of an intern to create a survey to gather information about what programs are available and if they include a learning component. We are finalizing the survey, and plan to use the information gathered to create a directory of summer learning programs for the summer of 2014.
School Readiness: Danbury has been a leader in the state in tracking the performance of our children who benefit from Connecticut’s state-funded School Readiness programs. We conducted a study that shows that low-income children who benefit from the program start behind their peers on the Preschool Assessment Framework (PAF), but over time those children catch up—and even exceed their higher-income peers in some PAF domains. From the first PAF Assessment to the last PAF Assessment, the gap between low-income children and high-income children narrows significantly in both literacy and math skills. Children who are in the program for two years benefit the most, scoring significantly higher than their same-age peers who are in the program for only one year. The study has given us the data we need to advocate for more funding for school readiness programs, both locally and statewide. It has been a compelling tool to draw attention to the need for more high-quality preschool experiences for Danbury’s low-income children.
Parent Engagement: In Danbury we’ve learned that the best messengers for spreading the word about the important role parents play in early learning are parents themselves. Through a small grant from Families and Work Institute, we became a Mind in the Making Learning Community. We began using Mind in the Making videos as the basis for discussion groups and book clubs about how language and literacy skills begin at birth, and why it is so important that parents talk and read with their children from a very young age. We presented the short, engaging videos at a large community event, as well as at a smaller gatherings, such as at a MOMS Club meeting, at a library workshop, and to a group of teen moms. A graduate of Danbury’s Parent Leadership Training Institute conducted a book club based on the Mind in the Making book and video for Spanish speaking parents at the Public Schools’ Family Literacy Center, and another book club was held at one of our school Family Resource Centers. We’ve found that the Mind in the Making videos are great discussion starters, combining fascinating research on early learning with simple, practical messages about how the parent-child relationship is the foundation for all learning. We’ve also created our own Facebook page that posts messages to parents about the importance of early learning, and offers information about free and low-cost activities for families in Danbury with young children. As of early November 2013, we now have 240 “likes” for our page!
In Danbury, we still find it challenging to reach those “hard-to-reach” parents who need support and information the most. We have been developing a Parent Outreach project to reach those parents, and have been disappointed that we have not yet been able to find funding for that project. Unfortunately, there is not a strong evidence base to prove the long-term effectiveness of this type of outreach work, even though we know that research supports “social connections” and “knowledge of parenting and child development” as two protective factors in preventing child abuse and neglect.
Getting the message out to businesses has also been a challenge. This year we have the resources to hire a development professional who will help us get the message out to local funders and businesses about the importance of early childhood education. To support that work, we hired a videographer during the past year to create a video that explains the work of our Partnership. That video is included as part of this Tell Our Story submission to the Campaign for Grade Level Reading.