In many communities across Arizona and Florida, early childhood education resembles a patchwork of programs and services. Families choose different settings for their younger children based on finances, transportation, convenience and preference. These settings include family homes, center-based programs and school district campuses.
Unfortunately, the level of program quality provided to children ages birth through five is often inconsistent, uncoordinated, does not align with existing infrastructure and does not provide for a seamless transition from kindergarten through first, second and third grades.
The lack of access to high-quality, coordinated and aligned early childhood learning has a rippling effect on young children and their ability to succeed in later grades. Research tells us that children entering kindergarten without strong emergent literacy skills rarely meet the critical milestone of reading proficiently by the end of third grade, a strong predictor of future academic and vocational success.
In 2012, Helios Education Foundation shifted its focus in the early childhood education impact area from programmatic funding to building a coordinated system of early learning across multiple communities. This shift is aimed at providing high-quality early learning environments that give children the opportunity to succeed in the early grades regardless of their age, community or choice of early learning setting.
Children exposed to high-quality early learning environments are more likely to perform well academically, be more socially and emotionally well-adjusted, abstain from delinquent behavior and graduate from high school. Children who are not proficient in reading at grade level by the end of third grade and reside in communities with limited resources and a high poverty rate are less likely to graduate from high school.
"Any successful early childhood education system must have a strong literacy sub-system as one of its key components," said Dr. Karen Ortiz, Helios Education Foundation's Vice President and Program Director, Early Childhood Education Initiatives. "Emergent literacy skills are essential for setting a student on a path for academic success."
In Arizona, Helios' early childhood system-building investments are being implemented broadly through Arizona BUILD and more specifically in four communities through Read On Arizona:
The Foundation invested $300,000 over three years to support the state of Arizona's participation in the BUILD Initiative, a national effort that helps states plan and implement a comprehensive system for early childhood learning. BUILD is providing technical assistance and policy expertise to create a strategic and actionable agenda for Arizona. Leaders in Arizona now have the opportunity to gain insight from peers and national experts who have and are creating similar plans in other states.
Read On Arizona
Helios also invested in the implementation of early literacy programs in four Arizona communities -- Flagstaff, Phoenix, Tucson and Yuma. These four communities put together community solution action plans to address literacy challenges such as school readiness, summer learning loss and chronic school absenteeism over a ten-year period. They are now partners in a statewide initiative known as Read On Arizona, which builds on the momentum created around regional early literacy efforts.
READ ON Arizona is a statewide, public/private partnership of agencies, philanthropic organizations and community stakeholders committed to determining the gaps, identifying solutions and creating an effective, systematic continuum of supports to improve language and literacy outcomes for Arizona's children.
Although the Read On initiative shares similar goals across the four communities, specific activities are unique and custom-designed for each area, reflecting the characteristics of each community.
Through a $1 million partnership with the United Way Suncoast over three years, Helios is helping address quality early learning concerns and providing community resources to strengthen early childhood learning, especially in the area of language and early literacy in the Sulphur Springs and Potter neighborhoods of Hillsborough County and the Campbell Park and North Greenwood neighborhoods of Pinellas County. The partnership is focused on:
Collectively, these investments in Arizona and Florida have the potential to impact policies that address the coordination and leveraging of resources. This work will help build in-depth knowledge and enhancements across both states, specifically at the community level, toward the development of an early childhood system that aligns and coordinates with the existing education system in Arizona and Florida.
"Ultimately, Helios' investments in building a coordinated, effective early childhood education system are focused on better preparing children for success in the early grades and ensuring that they are reading proficiently by the end of third grade, opening the door to future academic achievement," Ortiz continued.
This strategic approach will provide more opportunities for children to enter the early grades with curiosity, excitement and the skills that will allow them to succeed and carry that success with them throughout their academic life.
In 2012, Helios invested over $2.687 million in strengthening early childhood systems in Arizona and Florida.
Childsplay / EYE Play: Teaching Literacy Through Drama
Folds their successful model of educating elementary school teachers to use drama in teaching literacy into a curriculum for Early Childhood practitioners. It will also offer professional development that uses creative drama to achieve Department of Education and site-specific objectives for language and literacy. Visit Website
United Way Northern Arizona/ Northern Arizona University / Read on Flagstaff
Promotes community awareness and mobilizes action towards reaching the goal of every Flagstaff child reading at grade level or higher by the end of third grade. Read On collaborators will build a culture of literacy within families and neighborhoods where children are most at risk. Visit Website
Valley of the Sun United Way / Read on Phoenix
In collaboration with the City of Phoenix, several school districts and community partners, VSUW is leading the Read on Phoenix initiative to increase the number of children reading at grade level by the end of third grade. Visit Website
Early Childhood Education — Statistical Reference Page