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Written by Arika Herron, Winston-Salem Journal – View Original Post

The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust announced its next round of grant funding goals Tuesday for work to improve early childhood education in Forsyth County.

The trust has committed up to $3 million to Great Expectations annually. This new round of funding for the trust’s Great Expectations initiative will continue its commitment to early childhood development but with a more nuanced focus, driven by a months-long effort to better understand the community’s needs and capacity.

Funding priorities for 2017 will center on early intervention and health, access to quality child care and alignment of the educational services available to children from birth to age 8.

“We’ve been working in this space, so it’s true we know a lot about what it takes for children to be ready for kindergarten,” said Laura Gerald, the president of the trust, “but it’s still rather interesting to hear the perceptions of families and agencies.”

The findings largely confirmed that the trust’s work on Great Expectations had been heading in the right direction: working to increase access to high-quality preschool experiences and paying for early childhood health initiatives.

There were some surprises, though, Gerald said. Only 25 percent of parents surveyed had their children enrolled in a licensed child care center. So previous work that focused heavily on professional development for teachers in those centers would not reach the vast majority of the families Great Expectations is working to help.

These conclusions were drawn from two fact-finding missions led by the trust over the past year, in coordination with MCD, a consulting company based in Durham. MCD received a previous Great Expectations grant to complete the work, coordinating with partner agencies to better engage the families they serve.

“I think all of these agencies have a desire to hear from the families they work with, but some barriers get in the way of doing that effectively or with a level of authenticity,” said Cate Elander, program manager for MCD.

Elander said some of those barriers are time, understanding how to create strong surveys and the time and capacity to make use of data that gets collected.

To tackle such barriers, MCD started with 13 partner agencies who came together to develop a survey to administer to their client families. The survey was given to 300 families, who answered questions about how they view their role in their children’s education and what they need to be successful in that role.

While nearly all of the parents surveyed said they feel like the leader in their child’s education, about two-third of parents said they could use more information about resources available to them.

Donna Bell, the outreach regional coordinator with Child Care Resource Center, said the experience was eye-opening for the agency and will change how it talks with families going forward.

“We interact with families on a daily basis and talk specifically about child- care needs and what they’re looking for,” Bell said. “In this instance, it was more about their total experience, about child care overall.”

The trust’s work continued with an analysis of the agencies working in early childhood and the services they provide. It found that while there are many services out there for families, they are often not well-aligned.

This grant cycle will not focus on those findings but work is expected there in the future.

The open call for proposals is looking for those working in early intervention and health, after finding that too few children have access to the services they need and too few parents are aware of the resources available to them. Proposals should deal with the need for additional parent education about the importance of screening and pathways to connect them to available services.

The trust is also looking for proposals that improve access to quality child care, especially those focusing on populations with needs that often go unmet: homeless children, children with special needs and children who are dual-language learners.

Groups must contact the trust by March 23 to discuss their ideas. The application deadline is April 4.

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