By Ellen Collins and Gregory Taylor

Mississippi is a state that has historically faced severe economic challenges, as well as high rates of poverty, dropouts, and illiteracy. Efforts though to bring community partners together have gained traction to create a system of quality education for young children.

Community, state and national leaders saw the need for action to improve the state’s ability to compete economically, to enhance the quality of life for its children and families, and to increase opportunities for all Mississippi children to achieve success. With the support of business, philanthropic, community and education leaders, many child care programs and preschools are receiving help to increase quality early childhood education.

Mississippi has adopted a quality rating system to promote quality improvements and business leaders have backed an early childhood education demonstration model that aims to improve the quality and delivery of services to children in early learning settings. At the same time, coalitions and calls for early education innovation and investments that will benefit young children across the state continue to grow.
Supporting Partnerships to Assure Ready Kids (SPARK) Mississippi has helped to lay a foundation from which an early learning system in Mississippi can evolve. This system includes multiple strategies and service components that ensure children’s health care needs are addressed, parents are supported in their efforts to provide nurturing and stable home environments, and that early care and education settings provide high-quality learning experiences while working with schools to develop effective transition plans.

Starting their work in five locations, mainly in the Mississippi Delta, SPARK staff worked with cohorts of three-year-olds in each community to provide them and their families with the supports and services needed to ensure their seamless transition into school and academic success through the third grade. By providing transition strategies, intense intervention, and scaling the SPARK work, we were able to make a difference in the early childhood education community in our selected sites; Most of which have evolved into model programs that can be replicated statewide using existing governmental resources.

Intervention strategies include: professional development and technical assistance for early learning center staff; resource fairs and cultural awareness activities for children and families; home visitation and the coordination of transition activities between early learning settings and public schools. In a recent evaluation, SPARK children, with all of these interventions, out-performed students in a comparable school district who did not have access to these interventions on a statewide achievement test.

A key component that has led to the success of SPARK Mississippi is the formation of Local Children’s Partnerships. These partnerships are made up of community members representing early education, local school districts, business leaders, parents, health providers, SPARK staff and other stakeholders who realize that the success of their community and ultimately the state rests upon meaningful investments in its children. These stakeholders work together to act on issues of quality, transition and alignment of the early education community.

The next phase of work plans to take the lessons learned from the first six years of the initiative and expand the model into additional communities throughout the state. We want to ensure that the investments made will continue to build support for early childhood care and education and influence early childhood policy and practice across the state.

To help share the lessons learned through SPARK’s early learning initiatives, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation partnered with IDEO, a renowned design and innovation consulting firm, to help communities improve their learning systems. Instead of relying on outside experts — the usual method for reforming schools — these communities are looking inward, tapping parents, teachers, business and faith leaders, and even students to help generate solutions that work for them.
The best programs, we continue to learn, link parents, teachers, and students and create strong connections between classrooms and communities, building an educational continuum.

Communities, school districts, and policymakers are creating new ways to teach and nurture children from age 3 through third grade. National leaders are taking notice and, more important, taking steps to replicate successful programs across the map. President Obama is asking states and communities with innovative ideas to help reshape American education. To propel these innovative ideas, two new federal funds for innovation will provide a total of $5 billion to inspire communities to shake up the education landscape.

Through the President’s initiative we have the chance to further revolutionize learning and set Mississippi’s children on a path to long-term success despite the current economic crisis.

Collins is the executive director of SPARK-MS, an initiative of the Children’s Defense Fund – Southern Regional Office. Taylor is vice president for programs at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
Copyright (C) 2010 by the Mississippi Forum 2/10


Centennial College said...

There is a major disconnection between real education and formal education. Knowledge of people like mechanics, gardeners, farmers, musicians and photographers is not recognised because they do not have any formal qualifications to show given that they belong to the subterranean education system. Establishing a relationship with natural learning can result in enormous education and hence, country's progress with no hiccups.

early childhood programs