Imagine walking into a classroom for the first time having never held a book, done a puzzle, or used safety scissors. You don’t know how to sit still for storytime. You don’t even speak the same language as your peers or teachers.
According to Sarah Walzer, CEO of ParentChild+, 40% of children entering kindergarten in Charlotte aren’t ready to learn in a classroom setting, putting them on the wrong path before they can even get started.
“At every turn you don’t know what to do in that classroom. You have failed on your very first day of school, and that doesn’t make you love school or set you on a path to school success,” Walzer said at a press conference on Wednesday morning announcing a new initiative that aims to bring that percentage down and tackle the city’s infamous lack of economic mobility in the process.
ParentChild+, a national organization that works together with low-income children and their parents in their own homes to ensure children are ready to succeed in schools, announced its Charlotte launch on Wednesday, partnering with the Charlotte Housing Authority, Charlotte Bilingual Preschool and the UCity Family Zone and funded by a $1 million investment from GreenLight Fund Charlotte.
The local launch of ParentChild+ will help ensure kindergarten readiness for more than 400 Charlotte children. Students who have gone through the ParentChild+ program are 50% more likely to be prepared for kindergarten than their peers and see 30% higher graduation rates than their socioeconomic peers. On average, ParentChild+ children enter school performing 10 months above their chronological age.
“A day like today is a day that we dream about often and then it actually happens,” said Dr. Stephanie Kripa Cooper-Lewter, executive director of Leading on Opportunity, a local organization that works based on the recommendations suggestions of the Opportunity Task Force, which was formed in response to a 2015 Harvard study that ranked Charlotte 50th out of the country’s 50 largest cities in economic mobility.
“This investment connects directly to our early care and education strategies,” Cooper-Lewter continued. “It aligns and fills a gap where early care recommendations were not being addressed and says, ‘This is something that we can do differently as a community.’”
Part of the local ParentChild+ efforts will be centered in Southside Homes, a Charlotte Housing Authority complex consisting of 336 apartments where planners identified a need for ParentChild+ programming.
By hiring parents who live in Southside Homes to serve as early learning specialists, ParentChild+ will help continue increasing opportunity in a neighborhood where the Charlotte Housing Authority’s Jobs Plus program has helped increase the employment rate from 25% to 75% in four years.
“What that’s showing is that our families are just like everybody else; they really want to do better, and in some cases they just don’t have the support that they need in order to do better,” said Fulton Meachem, CEO of Charlotte Housing Authority. “What was so attractive about [ParentChild+] was we’re going in the community and we’re not just talking to the kids, we’re talking to the parents. We’re teaching the kids how to [succeed], so that when we go away, they’re more self-sufficient, and that’s what we want people to be is self-sufficient, relying upon themselves.”
ParentChild+ will also operate within Charlotte Bilingual Preschool, North Carolina’s only five-star licensed dual-language academy, by recruiting early learning specialists that share language, community and cultural backgrounds with students.
Charlotte Bilingual Preschool Executive Director Banu Valladares said the new investment will be a boon to students and their families in the school’s 20th year.
“We have a strong commitment to moving our families out of poverty to create economic mobility, and the fact that we can actually hire parents is super exciting for us,” Valladares said. “We are delighted to partner with people who truly understand the importance of partnership with parents to move their children forward.”
ParentChild+ will also partner with UCity Family Zone, a network of organizations in University City consisting of UNC Charlotte, non-profits, businesses, schools, faith-based organizations and others.
Dr. Mark DeHaven and the Early Years Collaborative at UNC Charlotte will begin evaluating ParentChild+ metrics for success alongside the childhood and family resilience work led by the UCity Family Zone Steering Committee. The UCity Family Zone is being considered as a future partner site for ParentChild+.
Many in attendance on Wednesday credited Carrie Cook, executive director of the GreenLight Fund, with implementing the ParentChild+ launch in Charlotte.
After the 2015 economic mobility report was released, GreenLight Fund Charlotte led conversations with local stakeholders and families to identify opportunities for expanded services and resources. The result was a focus on early childhood resilience and parental support, according to a press release announcing the ParentChild+ launch.
GreenLight vetted dozens of organizations to find a program with the most impactful results and promise of local fit. With the assistance of GreenLight Charlotte’s Selection Advisory Council, ParentChild+ was selected as the first investment in a portfolio of solutions expected to grow each year to address gaps in services to families in Charlotte’s low-income community.
On Wednesday, Cook referenced a study from the National Forum on Early Childhood Policy that shows that for every $1 invested in early childhood education, a community can expect from $6 to $9 in return.
“So the million dollars today, when we think about the graduation rates of our kindergarten students moving through high school, leaving high school prepared for life success because they have had school success,” Cook said, “that changes a generation, that changes the game, and that puts Charlotte where we should be in terms of economic mobility.”