March 23, 2021
Prior to entering kindergarten, high-quality early childhood education is the critical time in a child’s life where they are learning so much more than the ABCs.
Preschool can improve a child’s social skills, creativity, self-esteem, and confidence – giving them a jump start as they prepare for K-12 education and beyond. The experts’ message is clear – children who attend preschool are more prepared for kindergarten than children who don’t – especially those who have experienced economic scarcity and insecurity.
Because education has been proven to be the best path out of poverty, United Way of Central Indiana created a long-term strategy more than a decade ago to ensure children, especially those from low-income households, entered kindergarten ready to learn.
United Way’s 10-Year Plan
In 2012, United Way set ambitious goals to improve the health and safety of childcare in our community and focus on classroom learning.
“The initial plan was grounded in improving the infrastructure and the health and safety measures of registered ministries throughout Central Indiana,” United Way of Central Indiana’s Family Opportunity Senior Director, Shannon Jenkins said. “But we knew that was only the first step.”
Early on, United Way broadened its scope to include infrastructure of facilities, quality and capacity of classrooms, scholarships for more kids to access quality pre-k, and increased advocacy efforts to continue strengthening the system to support more high-quality early childhood education opportunities for families.
Through public awareness campaigns, significant investments in childcare facilities, United Way convened an entire community of civic leaders, for-profit partners, and nonprofit organizations to proudly proclaim that pre-k was not just an educational priority – it was a business imperative.
“Education is essential to both an individual’s success and to Central Indiana’s future,” said Connie Bond Stuart, United Way board member and regional president of Southern and Central Indiana for PNC. “Children with access to high-quality education are more likely to graduate, earn higher wages, contribute to our local economy and truly engage in our community.”
While United Way is proud of our strategic efforts in childhood education, there is still more work to be done.
The Two-Generation Approach
Early childhood education is one of the six components of the Two-Generation (2Gen) model – which integrates programs and services for both children and their parents simultaneously. The 2Gen approach is proven effective and is considered a best practice in moving families out of poverty and toward economic stability.
“Some may think early childhood education is specifically for the individual child, but it’s a critical support for a whole family,” Shannon said. “Families that have young children need access to high quality care while their parents are working or participating in job training. High-quality early childhood education for children and skills training and pathways to careers for their parents go hand in hand. This is the nexus of two-generation work.”
Looking back at the 10-year plan, United Way remains focused, dedicated, and committed to children in our community who need – and deserve – a quality education. Dedicated to supporting children and parents together, the organization now plays a critical role that benefits the family as a whole.
Over the next five years, United Way plans to maintain a leadership role in early childhood education advocacy, workforce development, and continued investments that align with the 2Gen approach.
“Leading with strategies that support the early childhood systems will drive our work moving forward,” Shannon said. “We know that early learning and high-quality education is so critical and truly sets the path for children throughout our community. It’s the foundation that sets the trajectory for long-term educational success and economic mobility.”
Learn more about the Impact of Early Childhood Strategies by reading United Way’s 2012-2021 Report: Preparing Children for Kindergarten.