Do you remember the name of your first teacher? My first two were named Edie and Blake, or as my siblings and I called them, Mom and Dad.
Some of us may have first had a grandmother, aunt, or older brother or sister as an early caregiver, who is truly a child’s first teacher. Regardless of title, this role is universal to all individuals in a child’s life, yet the supports necessary to thrive from day one of kindergarten are not. Too often, barriers such as the high costs of childcare or returning to school limit a family’s access – whatever its makeup - to enriching early learning opportunities.
The success of an adult’s life directly influences their child’s success. We know this intuitively, and it is the crux of our philosophy at the Community Foundation of Sarasota County that a two-generational (2Gen) approach, informed by Ascend at the Aspen Institute, builds cycles of opportunity for the whole family.
We can see this approach (and its telling results) in a three-year pilot partnership our foundation invested in with Horizons Unlimited Christian Academy (HUCA), an early learning center in North Sarasota. Beginning in 2017, we committed to long-term relationship development and economic and social support of 11 Pre-K families. The goal? To enhance their economic success and, in turn, increase the likelihood of their children reading on level by third grade. The pilot also helped develop HUCA's resources for quality early education through its infrastructure and teacher trainings, as well as creation of non-traditional early-childhood programs that involved parents and caregivers, like a summer learning program, and skills training and pathways for the adults of the preschoolers to pursue a post-secondary education.
These efforts would be incomplete without the Early Learning Coalition of Sarasota County (ELC), who ensured participating families had the necessary assistance for childcare so they could attend classes and engagement sessions. Another key pilot partner, Women’s Resource Center, provided case management and resource navigation so families could access funds for college entrance exams, childcare tuition, and other costs incurred along their educational journey.
The results that can now be measured are a testament to these partners’ commitment, and the families’ determination to succeed. At the end of the summer learning program in year one, 100% of the VPK students were deemed ready for kindergarten. And, according to 2021 data from the Sarasota County School District, HUCA preschool students also entered kindergarten at a higher rate of readiness than their peers across the district attending Title I schools. As for their parents, eight of the 11 participants enrolled in college, with a majority seeking to enter the nursing field, and 100% reported feeling they have a greater capacity to create a better future for their families. (You can read the full report and hear from participants on our website.)
Last summer, each family had a 529 College Savings Plan of $1,000 established – through the generosity of the Allen Wirtz Nobbe and Jo Bowen Nobbe Fund and with administrative support from the ELC – for their children, significantly increasing the second generation’s likelihood of post-secondary enrollment and graduation. In the months since, nearly all the parents have joined our foundation’s inaugural Parent Advisory Council to share feedback and insights about our multi-generational investments, build social capital, and – of course – stay connected through a caring support network.
As this inspiring pilot teaches us, ensuring our children are comfortable and confident taking that first step into their kindergarten classroom requires all individuals in their life – from parents to early-learning programs to the broader community – to work together and invest in whole families.
As always, I want to hear from you. How have you taken a whole family approach in your own charitable giving or volunteerism? What lessons would share with those who haven’t begun this journey yet? I encourage you to share any thoughts, feelings, or impressions in a personal message. Let me know. We’re listening.
With hope for the future,