Oregon’s Early Learning Hubs: A New Approach to Coordinating Pre-K with Kindergarten

As we mentioned in a previous post, we will profile some of the states that have coordinated their pre-K programs with kindergarten.

The Oregon Department of Education’s Early Learning Division created 16 Early Learning Hubs across the state whose function is to enable local organizations involved in early learning, K-12, health and human services, and the private and not-for-profit sector to create “aligned, coordinated and family-centered early learning systems.”

The Early Learning Hub efforts are targeted to low-income and vulnerable families. As the Early Learning Hubs documentation puts it:

Decades of research has shown that the first five years are important brain building years that shape our children’s futures. Quality early learning experiences are predictors of health, happiness, growth, development and learning achievement at school …

There are 250,000 children under the age of five in Oregon. Of those children, 130,000 are exposed to risk factors from the moment they are born. That’s more than half.

While these factors may be out of their control, making sure these children get access to early learning experiences before they are six, while their families also get access to support services is in our control—and it can change everything for these children and their families.

Each hub prepares its own strategic plan and work plan to accomplish this goal. For example, as described in individual program documents:

  • The Blue Mountain Early Learning Hub has among its strategic goals the following:
    • Increase by 10% the number of at-risk children served in 3, 4 or 5 star QRIS [Quality Rating & Improvement System] programs and quality early childhood programs in identified ‘hot spots.’
    • Increase by 5% the number of children who receive a developmental screening (ASQ) before the age of three.
    • Increase by 25% the number of families that participate in at least 70% of a parenting education series.
    • Increase by 10% the number of children who receive regular well child visits and regular dental visits.
  • The Northwest Early Learning Hub’s work plan includes the development of memoranda of understanding to allow organizations to
    • share information on budgets and enrollments;
    • conduct joint early learning and health screening events for children from target populations;
    • support parenting education efforts and increase parents’ utilization of supportive services; and
    • create opportunities for early childhood educators’ professional development, among other initiatives.

One source of funding for the hubs is the Early Learning Kindergarten Readiness Partnership and Innovation (KRPI) grant program, which was established in 2013. The grants are offered to support models of pre-k/K-12 integration and to support community and school partnerships that result in children being measurably more ready to learn when they enter kindergarten; in both cases, the ultimate goal is to replicate local successes at the state level. One example of how the KRPI grant program has been used is cited in a New America report, “Connecting the Steps: State Strategies to Ease the Transition from Pre-K to Kindergarten”:

For example, Early Learning Multnomah, the early learning hub for the Portland area, has used a portion of its grant funds to establish the P–3 Schools Project. This project funds eight full-time P-3 coordinators in eight high-need schools across the county; they are charged with coordinating early learning activities such as Play and Learn groups where children aged zero to five can come together with their parents to play educational games while parents learn more about what is expected once children reach kindergarten. The P–3 coordinators also accompany kindergarten teachers on visits to the homes of incoming kindergarten students and families, and they help organize and staff the Early Kindergarten Transition Program, a two-to- three-week summer program in which incoming kindergarteners are given the opportunity to become familiar with their new school and parents learn about ways to support learning at home.

Oregon has shown a clear commitment to ensuring that at-risk children enter kindergarten ready to learn. Its multi-faceted approach supports children and their families by promoting community partnerships that focus on health and environmental issues at home, the provision of quality pre-K, teacher development, and the transition to kindergarten. The first year evaluation of the program showed that families gained confidence in their abilities to support their children’s reading and math skills; there were increases in the engagement of under-served communities in KRPI events; early childhood learning staff reported increased knowledge about the pre-K to kindergarten transition process, while K-3 teachers reported better understanding of the pre-K environment; and there were overall improvements in pre-K to K-3 program alignment.

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