It takes a strong, engaged community to help our most vulnerable young children have the healthy start they so strongly need and deserve.
Through a neighborhood based movement in the heart of northwest Detroit, Early Learning Communities (ELC) – funded by the United Way for Southeastern Michigan and managed by Development Centers – is working to increase kindergarten readiness from 50 to 80 percent through an ongoing collaborative approach. This engaged effort targets young children by training parents and caregivers to utilize best practices in early childcare, as well as by connecting them with a variety of needed and necessary social services.
“When a social worker identified my 3-year-old daughter Jaylynn as developmentally delayed, I initially panicked,” said Tiffany Hoosier, a parent who participates with her child in the play groups at the ELC. “But when I learned about Development Centers’ Bright Stars program, an interactive class for children, parents and caregivers, I decided to give it a shot. We had nothing to lose.”
Once mother and daughter started attending Bright Stars, Hoosier said she began to notice drastic changes in her daughter’s behavior.
“She became more outgoing and interested in interacting with others outside of our family unit, and she openly embraced educational activities,” Hoosier said.“It was very refreshing to see her finally come out of her shell – both emotionally and educationally.”
With the help of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), there are 65 neighborhood-based ELCs located in 10 of metro Detroit’s most vulnerable communities. Each center is run by various grassroots partners with deep ties to their specific neighborhoods. Because of their dedication to their communities, they are effective at improving the quality of early care and education for Detroit’s children.
ELC’s offer two different programming opportunities: one focused on early childhood playgroups and another on adult education. The goal at the ELC groups is to provide children with a one-to-one guided experience with their favorite adult, and to successfully teach interested parents and caretakers about early childhood development and care.
“[ELC has] always been a strong community program and because we’re tailored to early childhood education, there aren’t huge restrictions on enrollment – we want to help any child, parent or caregiver that is in need and that is our primary concern,” said Pam Weaver, program coordinator for Early Childhood Community Readiness Initiatives at Development Centers.
A range of early intervention and adjunct community services for families with young children ages 0 to 5 are offered at many of the partner ELCs. Each facility focuses on parent engagement and early child care as the primary foundation for successful future growth and development.
Because the ELC focuses on helping the most vulnerable children in Detroit receive necessary education and developmental support at very young ages, they promote positive interpersonal relationships between children and their peers. Additionally, a robust network of parents, home-based and center-based caregivers, family members, friends and neighbors are encouraged to attend program events, group meetings and community initiatives at the ELC to ensure the child’s development is culturally enriched.
“Our ELC hub focuses on the attachment bond between the parent or caregiver and child, as well as relationships between children,” Weaver said. “Parents and caregivers are taught by modeling the instructor, and this encourages them to take what they learned and use it at home. It also reinforces that anyone can help positively impact their child’s early development.”
Weaver added that the benefits of the playgroup model “revolve around providing social opportunities for children who may otherwise live very isolated lives,” while their experiences within the playgroups get them ready for school and help them become more actively informed of their education, “thus setting part of the foundation for school readiness.”
Many families, like the Hoosiers, keep their children enrolled in programs like BrightStars at the ELC from birth to school-age years. The sense of community and reinforcement of healthy early childhood best practices often draws alumni back to their original centers to share their success stories.
“Because of the ELC, Jaylynn and I were both pushed from our comfort zone – and for the best,” said Hoosier. “The program has worked wonders on her developmental progress and we’re actually excited about the future for the first time in a long time.”