Ready For School, Ready For LifeBy Yasmine Regester / February 11, 2016
A community wide effort to transform the early childhood system in Guilford County is underway.
Ready For School, Ready For Life hosted its first Get Ready Guilford Early Childhood Summit on Thursday, February 4, at the Koury Convention Center, along with more than 100 service providers and advocates for children and families.
Ready For School, Ready For Life is a community initiative developed out of the idea of building a solid education foundation for students in Guilford County, that will produce a skilled workforce that can sustain the local economy for years to come.
“This is about getting agencies and organizations in education all working together on the same page,” said Mary Herbenick, executive director of Ready for School, Ready For Life.
Featured speakers for the kickoff event included: Kathleen Gallagher, Ph.D., a scientist at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute and clinical associate professor at UNC-Chapel Hill; Ralph Smith, senior vice president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation and managing director for The Campaign for Grade Level Reading; and Dr. Pennie Foster-Fishman, professor and senior outreach fellow at Michigan State University and a national systems-change expert.
Dr. Kathleen Gallagher noted that positive early childhood experiences coupled with social, emotional and cognitive development are important towards school readiness.
“A common fact is that brain development comes during the early stages of life, so we cannot deny those positive experiences. We have to start pre-natal by making sure babies are healthy and making sure families get what they need, so the children get what they need,” said Gallagher.
The vision for this new initiative is to build a model around what is needed for early childhood development in Guilford County. The group’s steering committee spent the last year collecting data and research from 230 families in Guilford County on what is important to them in the educational system.
Nine families from the focus groups also participated in a Photovoice Project, where they met and shared their experiences of raising children in Guilford County, and to make recommendations to the community. Photos taken by the families for the Photovoice Project were on display at the education summit.
“This was an opportunity to share our life experiences and concerns with a group that understands and supports you,” said Photovoice participant, Tratricia Bovill, who added she was concerned about community safety. “I have to work to provide for my children, but if I’m not around, I’m constantly worrying if they are safe,” she said.
In the afternoon, attendees participated in interactive sessions to design and launch “100-Day challenges” or plans that will have an impact in the lives of 37,062 children age five and under in Guilford County. The groups will present the results of the challenges in May.
Foster-Fishman was also one of the experts brought in to assist with the development of Guilford County’s Ready For School, Ready For Life initiative. She and Joan Blough, another systems-change expert from Michigan State University facilitated training to start the 100-Day Challenges.
“We want to make sure we are getting to the root cause of the problem and not just treating the symptoms,” said Foster-Fishman.
Ready For School, Ready For Life co-chair and vice-president of the Joseph M. Bryan Foundation, Ed Kitchen, along with Cone Health, The Cemala Foundation, a host of other local foundations helped launch this effort to combine the county’s early childhood development resources last year.
“Health is critical to successful development, especially in the first 2,000 days,” noted Kitchen.
According to Ready For School, Ready for Life, children with high-quality early childhood experiences during the first 2,000 days of life, have higher reading and math scores; become more financially self-sufficient; and are five times less likely to be chronic criminal offenders by age 27 than their peers.
Gallagher noted that Ready For School, Ready For Life focuses on all areas of childhood development.
“Guilford has put together a model that can support children for years to come. Guilford has a lot of talent, and bringing it together for such an important cause as this is beautiful,” said Gallagher.
For more information visit, www.getreadyguilford.org.