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How Schools, Districts, and Communities Are Joining Forces to Bolster Early Learning

A common complaint in the early-childhood field is that several different entities exist to support young children and their families, but those organizations often don't work together. 

But in a number of communities across the country, schools, districts, and early-childhood providers have come together to dismantle those organizational silos. 

For example, Cherry Park Elementary School in Portland, Ore., a part of the 9,700-student David Douglas district, runs a summer kindergarten transition program to prepare young students for school, supports a home-visiting program, operates a food bank, and offers cooking classes and financial literacy programs. 

Another example: the city of Cambridge, Mass., established a birth-to-3rd grade partnership that includes representatives from the 7,000-student Cambridge district, as well as early-childhood and community-health providers. The partnership there includes creating home visiting and play-and-learn groups for infants, toddlers and their parents; working to boost the quality of family child-care providers; and providing coaching in early literacy, math, and science for the district's prekindergarten and early-elementary teachers. 

Those efforts and many more are catalogued in the report "All Children Learn and Thrive: Building First 10 Schools and Communities" by David Jacobson, released earlier this spring. Jacobson, a principal technical adviser for the Education Development Center, said he was particularly interested in capturing work that is blending academic support for the first decade of a child's life, along with programs that also help parents and caregivers. 

"I was seeing a need for these more comprehensive approaches that combined the teaching and learning and the comprehensive services pieces,"  Jacobson said. 

He focused on two particular models that seem to be gaining traction. First 10 School Hubs are anchored by a single elementary school, which can connect families in its boundaries to programs such as Head Start, health services, or family child-care providers. A First 10 Community Partnership, in contrast, may work with several school districts, government agencies, service providers, and other entities that support young children and families.

The goals of these models are the same, but each has its own pluses and minuses, Jacobson said. For example, a program started at a school may be easier to get off the ground, but it can peter out if school administrators or teachers leave. A community partnership can operate across a large geographic area and reach many more families and children, but they require a high level of coordination. The most powerful model, Jacobson believes, is a blend of both approaches, where a community partnership supports schools as they work directly with families in their boundaries. 

I moderated a panel in the spring where Jacobson talked about his findings. Other speakers included Deborah Stipek, a professor of education at Stanford University, Kwesi Rollins, vice president for leadership and engagement for the Institute for Educational Leadership, and leaders of "First 10" work in Omaha, Neb., Multnomah County, Ore., and Cambridge, Mass. The panel can be viewed below. 

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