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posted: 7/22/2014 3:54 PM

Bright & Early childhood initiative off to a good start

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By Joelyn Kott
DuPage Community Foundation

The DuPage Community Foundation's board recently approved two additional $75,000 grants as part of the foundation's Bright and Early DuPage early childhood initiative.

Both grants were to Metropolitan Family Services. One grant is intended to support the Addison Early Childhood Collaborative and the second to support the continuation of the Wheaton/Warrenville Early Childhood Collaborative. Metropolitan Family Services serves as the lead agency for both.

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Introduced last November, Bright and Early DuPage is intended to leverage area resources to ensure that all DuPage youngsters from birth to age 5 receive the comprehensive support critical in preparing them for success in kindergarten and beyond.

"For every dollar invested in early childhood education, it has been estimated that $7 to $10 is saved on crime prevention, welfare and other costs," said David McGowan, president of the DuPage Community Foundation. "When you analyze the data of low-income neighborhoods where our initiative is focused, the results are startling. Despite being born just as healthy as their more privileged peers, 42 percent of the children who grow up in these low-income neighborhoods are at a high risk for failure in school before they even get started. We envision the result of this initiative to be better prepared children who will enter kindergarten on an even level with their peers."

A great deal of progress has occurred since the program was introduced last fall. Newly formed partnerships and connections made through the Wheaton/Warrenville Early Childhood Collaboration have enhanced services to families and put new processes in place to improve kindergarten readiness. Examples include:

• Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 in Wheaton has adopted the Ages and Stages Questionnaire, an online or paper-based screening tool that parents and caregivers can complete to identify developmental delays. District 200 previously used an in-house tool that did not align with any other organization. Easter Seals DuPage and Fox Valley and District 200 are working collaboratively to communicate to Wheaton/Warrenville parents about the importance and benefits of Ages and Stages screenings.

"Developmental delays identified early in a child's life enables him or her to receive early treatment and interventions that ultimately improve long-term learning," said Barb Szczepaniak, foundation director of programs.

"Easter Seals (which evaluates completed screenings) has committed to share information (with parental consent) to Jefferson Early Childhood personnel for those students who live within District 200 boundaries," added Kathy Robson, project director of the Wheaton/Warrenville Early Childhood Collaboration. "It is anticipated that with this collaboration, the chances of a child in need of intervention will not slip through the cracks."

• Giant Steps Illinois, an autism training center and school, provided a program for DuPage PADS staff on managing the needs of children with autism who are homeless.

• District 200 and World Relief DuPage are teaming up to assist World Relief families with kindergarten registration and completion of the Ages and Stages Questionnaire for their children. District 200 is providing translators for immigrant and refugee parents who have limited English language proficiency and, as a result, immigrant and refugee children were enrolled in kindergarten this year on a timely basis. This is significant as many of the children were not registered before school began; in some cases children missed the first few weeks of school.

• Wheaton/Warrenville Early Childhood Collaboration participated in multiple parent education and outreach events to establish an identity and awareness of the collaboration in the community and to provide information on child growth and development, kindergarten readiness, child development screenings and other community resources. Connections were made with the resident service coordinator for the Marian Park apartment complex, which is home to 91 low-income families with approximately 170 children. Establishing relationships with these residents is a time-consuming process but trust must be developed before the parents will engage with collaborative partners.

Wheaton/Warrenville Early Childhood Collaboration participated in seven community outreach events, impacting approximately 200 individuals. Two "Play and Learn" events also promoted family understanding of child development and learning through play. Seventy-one adults and 75 children participated, including 20 families from the World Relief preschool.

• Professional development opportunities offered by the collaboration drew 108 early childhood service providers. A two-part training to incorporate music and movement into early childhood programs was provided in collaboration with Wheaton College's Community School of the Arts. The training was funded by the JCS Fund of the DuPage Community Foundation. Another professional development workshop that was offered focused on math and science.

DuPage Community Foundation also has helped facilitate connections to increase the impact of the Addison Early Childhood Collaborative. The launching of Bright and Early DuPage provided an incentive to the community and the collaborative to formalize its vision, mission and goals with the intention of applying to DuPage Community Foundation for collaborative funding. Consultants funded by the foundation have provided assistance that has helped to further their efforts this past year. Addison Elementary District 4 recently announced it is building an early childhood center.

• With funding and technical assistance provided by DuPage Community Foundation, Positive Parenting DuPage is redefining its role in the community and becoming more focused on providing specific support to local collaborations. A regional meeting of DuPage collaborations is planned for August.

An early childhood collaboration also has been seeded in Bensenville. Consultants funded by the foundation have provided assistance to develop a framework for a collaboration in that community.

For information about the DuPage Community Foundation, visit dcfdn.org or call (630) 665-5556.

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