Tell Our Story
The United Way of Greater Topeka's focus on educational attainment, starting with early childhood, took us to a neighborhood with very high poverty. Elementary schools in this area had less than 45% of their children ready for kindergarten and many of these single-parent families are making less than $10,000 a year. With the help of the Topeka Housing Authority, Topeka Public Schools and United Way, the development of a high-quality pre-school in this neighborhood became a reality.
The first class of preschoolers graduated from Pine Ridge Prep in May showing incredible improvement in one year. From some children starting with very little skills, a few not even knowing what a pencil was, to writing their names, recognizing letters, and knowing letter sounds. They were ready to start kindergarten!
The housing authority covered the costs to rehab two housing units creating a preschool to benefit the residents of this neighborhood. After quickly realizing the need for full-day preschool, they generously began rehabbing two more neighboring units, to permit expansion of the preschool program for this year. The school district has also been at the table the entire time, providing high-quality staff, curriculum and supplies for the preschool. By working together to make an impact and showing great momentum others have now joined in the efforts. One example is the United Way Young Leaders Society, who is building a Born Learning Trail in the neighborhood, which offers outdoor learning activities and games that families can do together to build pre-literacy skills critical to school readiness.
The early results of this work have been amazing; neighborhood parents have begun talking about hope for their children’s futures and for the neighborhood. Last fall, residents opened their doors, for the first time in years, to somewhere around 35 trick-or-treaters at Halloween. During the winter, children built snow families in their yards, a sight not seen for at least 15 years. Another unexpected outcome is the perception from residents that it is a safer neighborhood. The sense of community is returning to this neighborhood and early literacy is growing in Topeka!