YMCA Expands Learning Readiness Program to Help Close Early Ed Gap

YMCA of the USA is spending more time and money on education with an initiative promoting early learning readiness across the United States. The organization offers Early Learning Readiness Program for Informal Family, Friend and Neighbor Caregivers that helps adults enhance their role in a children’s cognitive and emotional development. YMCA’s goal is to provide preschool education to all children living in low-income communities across the country, and this program constitutes a small step toward that goal.

In August, YMCA received a $1 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to expand its early learning readiness initiative. The organization expanded to 30 centers nationwide, including YMCAs in the Florida Suncoast, Washington State’s Grays Harbor and Kansas City, Mo. In addition, some school districts helped the Ys find neighborhoods where children needed the extra support, writes Renee Schoof of McClatchy DC.

YMCA’s centers help children develop the skills they’ll need to hit the ground running when they begin school. The centers include some suggestions for adults about how to engage children with stories, puzzles, Play-Doh, counting objects and other things that are easy to do at home.

Barb Roth, national director for youth and family programs for the YMCA USA, said her organization decided to reach out to children who didn’t go to preschool, and it chose a program modeled on one developed in Hawaii that encouraged the caregivers to teach. It’s had good results, she said.

“We’re intentionally starting very early because we believe it’s more cost-effective than remediation when a child has been behind for years,” she said.

Helen Blank, the director of child care and early education at the National Women’s Law Center, said the YMCA’s approach “makes a lot of sense, because so many caregivers at home with infants and children are not getting the kind of support they need.” She added, “We know the first five years are critical.”

A new study conducted by the Southern Education Foundation revealed that a majority of students in public schools in the South and West of America are low-income for the first time in at least four decades. The research is based on the number of students from preschool through 12th grade who were eligible for the federal free and reduced-price meals program in the 2010-11 school year.

W. Steven Barnett, the director of the institute, and Cynthia E. Lamy, a senior fellow, recently authored a book, Closing the Opportunity Gap, arguing that preschool should provide quality education and should hire highly-qualified teaching staff to have lasting payoffs for society and the individual.

The authors wrote in Closing the Opportunity Gap that children in poverty can be 12 to 18 months behind the average child by the time they enter kindergarten — a gap that has proved both difficult and expensive to close.

10 28, 2013
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