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Chicago Groups Work on Developing Birth-to-College Education Model

What if teachers, administrators and family support staff could collaborate on delivering a seamless education to prepare at-risk kids for college starting with preschool and following through to high school? Might that help these children achieve success in school and life?

Those are the big questions that the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute and the Ounce of Prevention Fund are exploring through a series of case studies they are conducting on building a birth-to-college model of public education. Since 2009, the two organizations have primarily been carrying out that work at the Ounce of Prevention's Educare School in Chicago. Part of the Educare Learning Network, the school is one of 17 funded by public and private partnerships and serving low-income, at-risk infants, toddlers and preschoolers up until kindergarten.

The latest study, released this month, discusses the use of professional learning communities of teachers, administrators, and family support staff spanning early childhood through kindergarten-grade 12 schooling, according to the Ounce of Prevention Fund. The intent of these communities is "to create environments where practitioners take the lead in collaboratively studying and piloting effective, developmentally informed practices that prepare children for college, beginning at birth," Ounce of Prevention officials said.

Tim Knowles, the John Dewey Director of the Urban Education Institute, said the goal of the model is to create "a tightly aligned educational experience" for children and families. "The fundamental promise of this work is to make education a much more powerful antidote to school failure for the children and families who depend on it the most," he said in a news release.

The birth-to-college model development project included devising a system that coordinated admission to Educare and then to University of Chicago Charter School campuses to create an education pipeline for families.

The study looks at the evolutionary process of professional learning communities created at three schools, including the Educare School run by the Ounce of Prevention and serving kids ages 6 weeks to 5 years old, and the University of Chicago Charter School's Donoghue and North Kenwood/Oakland campuses, which serve children in preschool through 5th grade. The professional learning communities focused on those educators dealing with children from infancy through grade 3.

A major component of the professional learning communities is educating teachers to develop a mindset focusing on the long-term impact of their involvement with students, rather than the "here and now," officials said.

"It helps teachers in early-childhood programs to have the vision of where these children are going. They need to tweak and think about how they're comparing, so they can be ready for that environment. [Also], there is the give and take that has to happen, so that all teachers are learning at the same time about what's appropriate for the children that they'll be receiving or that they'll be sending up," Brenda Eiland-Williford, Educare director of program and curricula, said in the study.

Survey results show that participants think the communities are effective: 82 percent of 25 respondents said their involvement had "impacted their thinking about their practices in the classroom and with families;" and 45 percent said they'd changed their practices.

Still, the study notes that building a birth-to-college model is "ambitious" and "developmental" work. It adds that the work will continue, though, because the Ounce of Prevention Fund and the Urban Education Institute believe "in the expertise and commitment of teachers and family support staff, investing in their growth and development to learn and lead the way to a birth-to-college approach to educating children at high levels in collaboration with their families."



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