At our core is thedeep desire and commitment to effect change on a larger scale, because every child deserves the same opportunities for healthy development and quality education.
We have long been the go-to destination in the region when groups want to move forward an agenda that relates to quality learning experiences for young children. In advocacy, collaboration is key to success and we are proud to team up to effect change as part of our core work.
Community awareness: Our work with the Community Design Collaborative has sparked interest throughout the city on how to design outdoor spaces where children can play, explore and thrive. We have worked with barbers, among others, as part of a Words at Play collaboration that includes the Free Library, the Kimmel Center, the Franklin Institute, the Academy of Natural Sciences, the Philadelphia Art Museum, and the Philadelphia Zoo, all working together to build community participation to narrow the word gap.
Quality improvement: Our popular workshop series at Smith Playground gives early educators throughout the region a deep dive into ways to connect children with nature. A new project with three elementary schools and surrounding preschool programs offers joint professional development to all the teachers, with an emphasis on building investigative science and math activities into their curriculum, with the Franklin Institute as a key partner.
Workforce: In collaboration with Montgomery Early Learning Centers (MELC) and the Public Health Management Corporation (PHMC) we have recently completed a yearlong inquiry into the various bottlenecks and levers for change in improving ECE teacher recruitment, retention and advancement. In partnership with MELC, PHMC and the District 1199C Training and Upgrading Fund, we are launching a CDA to Associate’s Degree apprenticeship program. Working with Philadelphia Academies Inc. and Parkway West High School, we are piloting a high school CDA program.
Advocacy: We play an active staffing role in the Southeastern PA Early Childhood Coalition, our local ECE advocacy network. We played a leading role in launching Pre-K for PA, a coalition of 10 state-wide organizations that work together to expand high quality preschool funding. In Philadelphia, we have worked closely with the Mayor’s Office on Education to fund and set up the new citywide high quality pre-K program, PHLpreK.
Developing the Workforce
Since the main indicator of a high quality ECE program is the quality of its staff, our efforts to build a more professional and better educated early childhood workforce are at the core of our work. As more investements are made in expanding access for children, we remain steadfast in our resolve to ensure providers are paid wages and benefits commesurate with their education and experience.
Our educational system is facing a stunning variety of intersecting challenges, among them:
- Educational investment is lowest in ages birth-five, the years when the brain is growing most rapidly, and when the effects of traumatic stress can most easily be reversed.
- Of early childhood programs that are available in Philadelphia, less than 20% are high quality; yet high quality ECE programs are consistent predictors of school and life success.
- With a high demand for child care, many early childhood programs in poor neighborhoods are staffed with untrained workers who are paid minimum wages to care for our most vulnerable children at the time they are developing most rapidly.
Over the past several years, we have been working with colleagues through a Workforce Transformation Initiative to:
- Identify bottlenecks in the supply of highly-qualified early childhood providers;
- Develop new pipelines, including high school CDA programs and apprenticeship programs for current workers;
- Help allies in higher education adopt best practices to strengthen their pre-service teacher preparation;
- Share best practices in coaching, in-service professional development, and director support; and
- Help ECE providers become effective participants in, and advocates for, such capacity building.
Many elements of an infrastructure to provide high quality ECE are in place in PA, and high quality early childhood programs in the state consistently demonstrate the ability to prepare at-risk children for school. Underfunding the the state’s early learning programs has created increased access challenges for many years, and today only one-in-six three- and four-year-old children in PA have access to publically-funded, high-quality pre-k.
We continue to innovate in ways to influence the on-going quest for a more significant investment by the state. We are training more and more directors in presenting the true cost of providing quality early care and education. We are advancing school district partnerships, from an early grades emphasis on developmentally appropriate practice to preparation of high school students for work in early childhood education.
As the vision behind the statewide Pre-K for PA campaign, we are proud to have played an important role in developing a widespread understanding that learning begins early, and that high quality preschool experiences make a big difference. We have helped secure investments of tens of millions of dollars into expanded high quality pre-K programs. We played a critical role in advancing Mayor Kenney’s vision of universal pre-K in Philadelphia, including advocating for and leading the original Universal Pre-K Commission, working on the effort to pass a soda tax to fund it, and recruiting ECE programs to participate. We are at the table!
Our goals are to ensure elected officials know and understand two keys facts, which influence all ECE policy: learning begins at birth, and that every environment is a learning environment. It remains critically important that we work for high quality early care and education—in preschool and all ages before then. Policies that allow new parents more time with their babies matter. Good home visiting programs matter. Developing strong partnerships between parents and their ECE programs matter. Effective early intervention matters.
While we and the larger early childhood community cannot take responsibility for every child in every environment, we can advocate for and build the partnerships necessary to make every environment a HIGH QUALITY learning environment.