Promise Neighborhoods Grantees Emphasize Early Learning as Key to Success

The five communities receiving 2011 Promise Neighborhoods (PN) implementation grants represent well America’s geographic diversity, stretching from the hills of Appalachia to the shores of the San Francisco Bay. Among the core elements they have in common is a strong commitment to early learning as a key ingredient for achieving their cradle-to-career goals.

In addition, 14 of the 15 PN planning grants announced by OII’s Assistant Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton on behalf of the Obama Administration are also embracing the focused commitment to early learning. “Education is the one true path to opportunity and the American Dream,” Shelton noted following the December 19th announcement in Minneapolis, and “the tremendous interest in early learning among Promise Neighborhoods is a testament to the recognition that the path begins in a student’s earliest years.”

In San Antonio, for instance, the Eastside Promise Neighborhood (EPN) will address the needs of nearly 6,000 students who face persistent barriers to academic achievement through the expansion of an Early Learning Network.This important component of San Antonio’s plan is designed to improve the formal and informal networks of care by providing new early learning opportunities from a mix of public and private resources and service providers. For children who are provided early care by family, friends, or neighbors, those providers will be supported in enrolling in and graduating from San Antonio College’s Child Development Certificate program and offered a network designed to help them provide high-quality care. At childcare centers in the community, including Head Start and Early Head Start classrooms, the EPN’s goal by 2016 is to nearly double the percentage of children currently enrolled in their programs.

A public charter school is at the center of the hopes of a community in the northeastern corner of Buffalo, N.Y., where the Buffalo Promise Neighborhood (BPN) will establish a continuum of services to cultivate the healthy development of more than 3,000 children, starting from birth. The project plan is comprised of four major Continuum Initiatives to revitalize the neighborhood by uniting the resources of 15 of Buffalo’s top education, health, and service organizations, along with help from M&T Bank. One of the four initiatives, Early Foundations, will combine outreach to all new parents in the community with a comprehensive approach to community-based health care. They will employ a two-generation strategy—connecting young parents to resources and opportunities to advance their own educations and career needs as they tap into services that will help insure the healthy development of their infants and toddlers. The cornerstone of the BPN’s Early Learning Network is the construction of a new facility for 150 preschool-aged children that is expected to open next fall.

The high level of commitment from this year’s Promise Neighborhood grantees to early learning comes at an auspicious time. On December 16, the White House announced the awarding of $500 million to nine states in Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grants, which will support the work of the state grantees to develop new approaches to raising the bar across early learning centers. The Northside Achievement Zone in North Minneapolis, another Promise Neighborhoods implementation grantee, is a specific focus area of Minnesota’s State Early Learning Challenge Fund grant—one of the states to receive the award.

Whether using federal, state, local, public, or private resources, Promise Neighborhoods are closing the school-readiness gap through systems of high-quality early learning and development programs.

Editor’s note: The entire project narratives of the 2011 Promise Neighborhoods grantees, including the early learning component of their plans, will be available here after January 16.