Leslie Ann Howard: Take a stake in early childhood education

June 26, 2013– On June 20, United Way celebrated our first graduating class of Parent-Child Home students. These 35 4-year-olds are the first group to go through the evidence-based home visitation program whose primary goal is to ensure children enter kindergarten with the necessary skills to succeed — a critical strategy in preparing students for a lifetime of academic success and in closing the racial achievement gap. Oftentimes when the gap emerges early, it only widens as the student goes further along in their academic career. Early intervention is the key and best strategy to start a child on lifelong success.

The Parent-Child Home Program is an evidence-based strategy that focuses on the parent and child interaction, reaching developmental milestones, and language growth. The program targets low-income families with children 2 years of age. A home visitor visits a family twice a week for two years. Each week the child receives a new, developmentally appropriate book or toy to keep. The home visitor shows the parent how to interact with their child using that book or toy. The second visit of the week reinforces the use of the book or toy and ensures it’s being used.

In July of last year, our board of directors approved the expansion of its Parent-Child Home Program from the 35 students (graduating today) to 130 students/families in 2012-2013. The reach of this program was broadened even further in September 2012, as it is included as a part of the nation’s first-ever Leopold Early Childhood Zone, which will focus on connecting families served by the Leopold School district in Madison and Fitchburg with consistent resources from birth to 5 years old.

United Way’s commitment to early childhood education is expanding even further this year, as we are digging into the issues of preparing our earliest students for success in the first five years of life with the reconvening of the Born Learning Delegation, which originally met in 2007. This group of local leaders, co-led by Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and Michael Morgan, senior VP of administrative and fiscal affairs at the University of Wisconsin System, will meet over the next six months to create an additional set of strategies to reach even more of our highest-risk families and students in their early years.

Evaluating the success of our programs is something that we have done from Day One. This most recent delegation gives us an opportunity to continue to improve the results of our early childhood work to benefit each and every young student. Assessing programs that work (like the Parent-Child Home Program), responding to the community’s needs and feedback, and finding the best ways to address critical community issues will always be our core work in the community. 

We are asking the community to take a stake in the early education of all the children in our community. Take action. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, please call United Way 2-1-1 or log on to www.unitedwaydanecounty.org and click on the VOLUNTEER button.

Again, I cannot stress this enough — change the first five years of a child’s life and you can change everything.Leslie Ann Howard is the president and CEO of United Way of Dane County.

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