The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) hosted an early childhood panel, titled “Innovative Models for Early Childhood Success,” at the Michigan Governor’s Education Summit held in East Lansing, Mich., on April 24.
Michigan’s efforts to develop quality early childhood development and learning opportunities for all children have been bolstered by recent state and federal investments. Attendees learned about innovative models that are engaging families and communities from Susan Broman, director, Michigan Office of Great Start; Dr. Nkechy Ekere Ezeh, CEO, Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative (ELNC) in Grand Rapids, Mich.; Denise Smith, vice president, early childhood, Excellent Schools Detroit in Detroit; and Pat Sosa VerDuin, executive director, Ready for School in Holland/Zeeland, Mich. Sharnita Johnson, WKKF program officer, moderated the discussion.
Broman shared perspective from the Office of Great Start on how the state values early childhood – beginning with healthy birth outcomes and early childhood development and learning, and efforts to align the state-level effort with what’s working in communities. In Grand Rapids, ELNC has taken quick action to connect with trusted institutions within target neighborhoods to create 11 small schools, all of which have earned at least a 4-star rating from the state. In the last two years, the organization has created about 320 early childhood opportunities in neighborhoods where there were previously none.
The Holland/Zeeland community, including local business leaders, recognized the impact early childhood learning has in shaping a child’s future success and creating a thriving community for all, VerDuin said. To help grow the number of children in early childhood programs, Ready for Schools had to address the barriers facing children and families, including cost, transportation, hours of service and trust. The comprehensive, community-led effort is paying off as more children are receiving the early childhood learning opportunities they need and deserve.
Detroit parents don’t send their children to kindergarten because of similar barriers seen in Grand Rapids and Holland/Zeeland. To address this, Excellent Schools Detroit launched a “Kick Off of Kindergarten” campaign to go into neighborhoods and talk to parents about the value of early childhood for their child’s long-term success.
Grassroots solutions such as these are driving change in communities across Michigan, according to Johnson.
“High-quality models of early childhood exist across the state and in communities where it’s most needed,” Johnson said. “The question remains how do you scale? We have to build on the momentum around early childhood funding and recognize the great models and resources that community-based, child- and family-focused organizations, such as ELNC, Excellent Schools Detroit and Ready for School, offer in showing what works and the barriers we need to continue to address. Our panelists are just a few shining examples of the passion of hundreds of people throughout Michigan who are making sure our children have the strong start they need and deserve.”
While each program has its own approach and uniquely represents the children and neighborhoods it serves, common themes in making impact include working with trusted local leaders, going out into the neighborhoods to engage with parents directly, and a focus on access to quality.
Learn more about our work in Michigan.
About the W.K. Kellogg Foundation
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), founded in 1930 as an independent, private foundation by breakfast cereal pioneer, Will Keith Kellogg, is among the largest philanthropic foundations in the United States. Guided by the belief that all children should have an equal opportunity to thrive, WKKF works with communities to help break the cycle of poverty by removing barriers based on race or income that hold back children, so they can realize their full potential in school, work and life.
The Kellogg Foundation is based in Battle Creek, Mich., and works throughout the United States and internationally, as well as with sovereign tribes. Special emphasis is paid to priority places where there are high concentrations of poverty and where children face significant barriers to success. WKKF priority places in the U.S. are in Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico and New Orleans; and internationally, are in Mexico and Haiti.