Zero to Five Changing Lives in the Bachman Lake Area
A new early childhood education project in the Bachman Lake area has shown that parents are as eager to learn as pre-schoolers. The pilot project, sponsored by the Zero to Five Funders’ Collaborative, is saturating Bachman neighborhoods with classes and activities that help parents prepare kids for kindergarten. The Dallas Foundation is a founding member of the Collaborative.
The pilot project’s goal is for youngsters to be physically, socially and intellectually ready to succeed in school.
“Parents have responded incredibly enthusiastically,” said Project Manager Danny Henley. “Across the board, parents want more in terms of programming.”
School readiness is a profound challenge in the densely populated, low-income, largely immigrant area around Bachman Lake. Many families do not speak English at home, and many adult residents don’t have high school diplomas. Parents may be unaware of how much babies and toddlers can learn about language and literacy, and why parents need to promote those skills even before the children start formal school.
“If you start out behind, you stay behind and it’s very hard to catch up,” Mr. Henley said. Targeted interventions, like the Bachman Lake initiative, “can change the trajectory of a kid’s life.”
Twenty-six Foundations and Civic Organizations
The Bachman project was developed by the Zero to Five Funders’ Collaborative, a group 26 foundations and civic organizations concerned about early childhood education in Dallas County. The Dallas Foundation and the Meadows Foundation co-founded the group, and both have awarded grants to the effort. In addition, The Dallas Foundation serves as the Collaborative’s fiscal agent and the Meadows Foundation provides office space and other in-kind support.
Members of the Collaborative spent about two years studying the issue of early childhood education, visiting programs in Dallas and elsewhere in the state, and talking to experts. The group decided to use vocabulary size as a measure of school readiness because research has shown that children entering kindergarten with larger vocabularies tend to do better in school. Members selected the Bachman Lake area for a five-year pilot program because of its high percentage of preschoolers, significant poverty and the general lack of services.
In 2009, the Collaborative awarded $1.3 million to four nonprofit agencies: The Concilio, Catholic Charities, East Dallas Community Schools and AVANCE-Dallas Inc. Each group offers a slightly different mix of services and classes in settings that range from school auditoriums to apartment complexes to local churches.
Feedback is Overwhelmingly Positive
Feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive. In less than two years, more than 2,000 parents and youngsters have enrolled in the Collaborative-funded programs.
“It’s been a fabulous experience,” said Lisa Oglesby Rocha, executive director of AVANCE-Dallas, which operates “Baby University” in the neighborhood. AVANCE teaches parents how to promote learning at home and also to become involved in their children’s schools.
At most AVANCE sites, parents only spend one year in its program. But at Bachman Lake, a second year of programming nurtures parents’ leadership skills.
“They’re doing all sorts of amazing projects,” Ms. Rocha said. “They’re tutoring other moms in reading and writing. They participated in a week-long reading campaign on school campuses. We had one mom who did a weekly fundraiser to raise money for another mom who was diagnosed with cancer.”
Southern Methodist University to Provide Evaluation
The Collaborative has hired an external evaluation team from Southern Methodist University’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development. The team will gather qualitative data as well as more concrete numbers to assess the project’s effectiveness at promoting school readiness.
“Members of the Collaborative agreed early on that we need to know if these programs really work,” said Mary M. Jalonick, president of The Dallas Foundation. “We know that adequately prepared children do better in school. We just want to make sure we’ve found the best way to achieve that goal.”
For more information about the Zero to Five Funders Collaborative, please contact Project Manager, Danny Henley at 214.288.7318 or email@example.com