The First 10 initiative of the Education Development Center (EDC) supports a network that will soon include more than 60 community partnerships in Maine, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Massachusetts and Michigan. Some are First 10 School Hubs, which are anchored by a single elementary school; and some are First 10 Community Partnerships, which bring together multiple elementary schools and the early childhood programs in the community. The efforts nurture relationships between early childhood organizations, public schools and health and social service agencies. In part I of this interview, David Jacobson, who designed and leads the initiative, discusses the tenets of the model and their context. Part II focuses on three examples.
Mark Swartz: How do geographic and cultural differences manifest themselves in different First 10 Partnerships?
David Jacobson: As different as our rural and urban communities are from each other, we find that they have success with many of the same practices as long as they are tailored to meet their specific needs. In fact, in many cases, our rural and urban communities learn from each other. I can tell you about three First 10 Partnerships that are showing impact and promise—York, Pa., Russellville, Ala. and East Providence, R.I.
Swartz: Let’s start with York.
Jacobson: In York, we have a champion in Andrea J. Berry, Ed.D., Superintendent of Schools, who talks about Bearcats from Birth. Bearcats are the district mascot, and she’s saying that as superintendent, she includes babies and toddlers in her vision. The district plays the role of backbone in that particular community, helping to convene these different partnerships. The United Way, the Community Foundation and a coalition of local county funders all support the countywide commitment to the work. The Early Learning Resource Center has played a critical role in bringing these funders to the table. The library system is involved, along with Head Start and community-based early childhood centers, the city Bureau of Health, and other healthcare providers.
Swartz: Russellville must have a very different culture, even if the concerns are similar.
Jacobson: This is a small, rural community in northwest Alabama that is working hard to serve a growing immigrant community. About half of the student body are relatively recent Spanish-speaking immigrants.
Similar to what we discussed in York, Dr. Heath Grimes, the superintendent in Russellville, talks about Golden Tigers from birth. This commitment inspires principals in First 10 communities to tell community-based preschool and Head Start directors, “These children are all of ours from the time they are born.”
Last April, we had our first joint professional learning for pre-K, Head Start and kindergarten teachers, as part of our transition to kindergarten plan. The room was abuzz with animated conversation.
Swartz: Can you describe the meeting?
Jacobson: We met in a large boardroom, and all the teachers were at mixed tables, with at least two kindergarten teachers and several district pre-K, Head Start or community-based teachers at every table. We compared pre-K and kindergarten standards. We looked at similarities and differences. What’s hard to teach about these strategies? What teaching strategies work well? How can we better align?
At the end, the teachers said, “This is so valuable. We can’t believe we haven’t always done this. Why haven’t we always been doing this?” The principal of that school said, “We always made sure that our second grade teachers met with the third grade teachers in the next building, but it never occurred to us to have our pre-K and kindergarten teachers meet.”
This is a community that is not only bridging early childhood and K-12, but it is also broadening its partnership to include health care, social services and churches.
Swartz: This local enthusiasm can reach state administrators.
Jacobson: Yes, and Alabama has the vision of creating a pilot school-community partnership in every county in the state, starting with 19 new First 10 partnerships this fall. It is also combining a strong statewide push on early literacy with a focus on the transition to kindergarten.
We recently worked with the State of Alabama on a statewide toolkit that the Department of Early Childhood Education is now, very thoughtfully, rolling out statewide.
Swartz: How about East Providence?
Jacobson: This is an urban community—about 47,000 residents—that’s part of a larger metropolitan area. This partnership began with a focus on the transition to kindergarten between the school district, the Head Start and a few community-based programs.
They developed a comprehensive plan and did outreach to community-based preschools. They created new opportunities for children and families, and they brought their pre-K and K teachers together for joint professional learning.
Swartz: How do they find families?
Jacobson: The district teamed up with the East Bay Community Action Program (EBCAP), which also runs Head Start, and the Parents as Teachers home visiting program. EBCAP places family navigators in the elementary schools that serve the highest proportion of families and households with low incomes.
They started implementing school-connected play-and-learns to reach younger children well before they get into school. Libraries and elementary schools host the groups. Each has a caregiver learning component, and each deliberately connects families to health care and other services in the community. The East Providence Public Schools, the library and EBCAP are pooling talent and learning from each other, something we love to see in all our communities.
Swartz: What part does the state play?
Jacobson: The Rhode Island Department of Education rolled out this work and has been deliberate about recruiting communities that have the highest concentrations of families and households with low incomes.
Rhode Island is a small state, but we’ve now reached the one-third of communities that have the highest proportion of households with low incomes.
Swartz: It’s all coming together, then.
Jacobson: When school districts and elementary schools come together with early childhood programs and other community agencies, and when they have success implementing concrete strategies, that’s when the partnerships deepen and grow.
Early Learning Nation columnist Mark Swartz writes for and about nonprofit organizations. Author of the children's books Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, Lost Flamingo, Magpie Bridge and The Giant of the Flood as well as a few novels, he lives in Takoma Park, MD, with his wife and two children.