United Way of Dane County Partners with Leopold Elementary to Help Bridge Achievement Gap

Newly Created ‘Leopold Early Childhood Zone’ partners county, United Way to help kids and families succeed in Leopold Elementary School Neighborhood

The county will partner with United Way of Dane County to launch a new pilot birth to four-year-old kindergarten program to help more children and families succeed in Madison’s Leopold Elementary School neighborhood, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced today.

This newly created ‘Leopold Early Childhood Zone’ will be included in the County Executive’s 2013 budget, to be introduced on October 1st. The proposal expands the county’s successful Early Childhood Initiative (ECI) to help more families, and partners it with the United Way’s Parent-Child Home Program to comprehensively help kids.

“Through this new collaboration, we will help kids have a successful start in life and care for them until they walk through the doors to their four-year old kindergarten classroom,” said Parisi. “Stability at home helps kids succeed in school. It’s an early investment to fight the achievement gap and a way county government can step forward to be part of the community’s solution to the challenges in our schools.”

Dane County’s Early Childhood Initiative currently offers birth-to-three resources for families to ensure a healthy start for children in needy neighborhoods throughout Dane County. As of January of 2012, ECI has connected 358 moms and dads with employment. This newly expanded effort will cover children from birth to four-year old kindergarten, and open a new ECI office in the Leopold Elementary School neighborhood. Pairing the effort with the United Way’s Parent-Child Home Program will provide a critical bridge for children about to enter school and their families.

The ‘Leopold Early Childhood Zone’ will provide hands-on resources for parents, located in their own neighborhood, to help them prepare their children for success in school with at-home education and an emphasis on enrollment in 4-year-old kindergarten at Leopold School.

Children will receive regular in-home visits from staff, and together, children and their parents will be taught valuable developmental skills.

Children and their parents can also attend regular program events that reinforce the work they do together at home. These sessions will help children prepare for and succeed in school, and help their parents continue a lifestyle of learning at home.

Staff will also work with parents to help them find meaningful employment that will lead to long-term stability for the entire family. The two goals are considered keys to addressing the achievement gap among school children. United Way plans on opening an additional Play and Learn site in the Leopold neighborhood giving additional educational opportunities for parents and caregivers to reinforce the learning strategies they will be gaining through the Early Childhood Zone. This also helps draw a direct connection for caregivers between long-term school success and the importance of early childhood development.

“38% of Madison children entering kindergarten do not have the skills necessary to be successful in school,” says Leslie Ann Howard, President & CEO of United Way of Dane County. “Children who start school behind their peers have difficulty catching up. The creation of Early Childhood Zones, like this one at Leopold, will assure that children enter school prepared, ready to learn, and ultimately graduate from high school. We are thrilled to be partnering with the County Executive to help our youngest citizens.”

The ‘Leopold Early Childhood Zone’ will focus on dozens of families served by the Leopold School district in Madison and Fitchburg, one of the most diverse schools districts in the city. Staff will work closely with the Madison Metropolitan School District to track results for the program’s enrolled children, with extra emphasis on enrolling students in 4 year-old kindergarten and creating consistent attendance expectations.

The county’s Joining Forces for Families program has been working in the Leopold neighborhood for over 5 years, and will provide additional staff support and resources for the new pilot project.

The total cost of this new initiative is $150,000. The County Executive’s 2013 budget will fund the county’s share of $60,000. The United Way will contribute $60,000, with the project drawing an additional $30,000 in federal dollars the county will secure. Other partners in the ‘Leopold Early Childhood Zone’ include the Madison Metropolitan School District, Group Health Cooperative, Forward Service, Center for Families, Children’s Service Society, and the South Central Workforce Development Board.

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