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updated: 11/21/2013 5:36 AM

DuPage County foundation launches school readiness initiative

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DuPage County is home to dozens of family and children's service organizations, but officials say a growing number of low-income households lack the resources or ability to access the help they need -- especially when it comes to preparing children for school.

A new nonprofit initiative called Bright & Early DuPage, launched Wednesday by the DuPage Community Foundation, aims to bring those services directly to families in need.

Foundation President David McGowan said the initiative essentially will develop a network of area organizations and individuals to "build awareness and facilitate access to communitywide early childhood education across all communities within DuPage County."

"With a county like DuPage, our best strategy was to choose one community, support it and roll out from there until we reach all of DuPage County," he said. "This is the area we can make the biggest difference. The data shows that for every dollar we spend now, we won't have to spend remediation dollars in schools or human services to resolve issues."

With a 19 percent increase in low-income families since 2000, Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 was selected to be the first beneficiary of a three-year, $225,000 grant facilitated by Metropolitan Family Services of DuPage.

Theresa Nihill, executive director of Metropolitan Family Services, said the newly formed Wheaton-Warrenville Early Childhood Collaborative has four goals right out of the gate.

"Our primary goal is to increase the quality and the amount of early childhood services that we're providing, so we need to improve communication among early childhood service providers and do a better job educating parents about their children's developmental needs," she said. "We'll also increase professional development opportunities for early childhood service providers and, ultimately, increase children's kindergarten readiness."

Stephanie Farrelly, principal of District 200's Jefferson Early Childhood Center, said the collaborative effort will only boost the abilities of her staff members and their relationships with students' families.

"With this, we're empowering parents to be their child's first teacher and help them grow and develop and learn," she said. "We're also providing information about developmental screening so we can identify those children who may have potential learning problems and address those problems at an early age. We're preparing for all children to be college- and career-ready and we know that starts at the early childhood level."

McGowan said the Bright & Early board soon will begin discussing which communities will receive assistance in 2014 and beyond.

From a law enforcement perspective, the sooner the entire county is networked, the better, said DuPage County State's Attorney Bob Berlin.

"All of us in law enforcement have an obligation to be proactive and not reactive. This is an opportunity to get kids when they're young and give them the cognitive and social skills they need to be productive members of society," Berlin said. "The research is out there that it works. We make the investment in them now and save money later on."

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