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Toyota Grant Funds Expansion of Kentucky Early-Learning Initiative

Plans to expand an innovative early-learning initiative into elementary schools across the state of Kentucky mean that more parents soon will have the opportunity to learn how to better prepare their kids for preschool and kindergarten.

State officials and Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky announced yesterday that the company is donating $115,000 to United Way of Kentucky to establish bornlearning Academies in 10 Kentucky elementary schools. The company also plans to expand that investment to $450,000 to create four more academies over the next five years, according to Elizabeth Whitehouse, deputy executive director of the Governor's Office of Early Childhood.

The bornlearning Academies, which will operate in the family resource centers at the schools, will offer workshops to teach parents how their young children can learn through everyday experiences, Whitehouse said Wednesday. The sessions will help empower parents and grandparents to create "little teachable moments, whether it's going to the grocery store, or when you're driving and talking about what you're seeing," she said.

Whitehouse said the academies target families with children who do not attend organized child care or preschool and expect to serve 25 to 30 families at each school.

The academies, slated to start this fall, are an expansion of a successful pilot program begun in northern Kentucky in 2010. The program inspired "an overwhelming response. Parents were so excited," Whitehouse said. "We wanted to find a way to take [the bornlearning program] across the state. It's a great opportunity for parents to get involved."

The development of the bornlearning Academy concept was a collaboration involving: United Way Worldwide; Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights; Tim Hanner, a retired school superintendent who developed the workshop model; and the United Way of Greater Cincinnati. The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence also has gotten involved, Whitehouse said.

She said the expansion of the academies continues Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear's commitment to early learning, which has included last's year creation of the Governor's Office of Early Childhood.

"It's so important that young people be prepared to learn when they enter school," said Wil James, the president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky, during a press conference Tuesday at the state Capitol, according to published reports. "Yet, we all know that too many children are unprepared upon enrollment, and it is a difficult struggle for them to ever catch up. The Toyota bornlearning Academies will help parents become more aware of how their young children learn."

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