The Minnesota Early Childhood Initiative is a local, regional and statewide partnership between grantmakers and other community leaders to ensure that the quality care and education of Minnesota’s youngest children is a top priority. Today we hear from Tim Penny of Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation on the difference that SMIF’s Early Childhood Initiative has made in a decade.
Launched in 2003, SMIF’s Early Childhood Initiative has brought citizens together to build systems that support early childhood development. The concern that ignited the movement: over 50% of Minnesota children are unprepared to learn when they start kindergarten.
Today the Minnesota Early Childhood Initiative boasts 90 coalitions in more than 300 sites that are building local systems to support young children, so they are ready to learn when they enter school.
In our region, SMIF has helped establish and grow 21 Early Childhood Initiative (ECI) coalitions that are part of the movement. Each coalition — comprised of one or more communities — commits to three stages of involvement: community visioning, project implementation and sustainable operation.
There are still too many children who are unprepared when they start school, but we know our ECIs are having an impact. Many ECIs have mounted local education campaigns to increase understanding about how young children learn. They’ve also better identified local early childhood education resources, and in doing so, have coordinated resources and addressed gaps.
- Watonwan County: The ECI worked hand-in-hand with family child care providers and encouraged them to get further training in child development. Efforts are paying off with young children scoring higher than average on their kindergarten-readiness test.
- Faribault: A kindergarten camp was launched for children who didn’t attend pre-school. Kindergarten teachers were amazed at the level of camper readiness on the first day of school.
- Fairmont: The ECI has engaged the business community through its PECES (Partners Encouraging Children’s Early Success) Business Partnership. PECES supports employers and employees with parent information fairs and other child development resources at parent worksites.
Why are ECIs working?
ECI’s use the tried-and-true method of grassroots organizing. As a former politician, I know the best way to advance a cause is to get a wide cross-section of citizens involved.
Each community has agreed that the work is important enough to pay a local coordinator to keep things moving forward. Small, short-term projects are selected to jump start the coalitions, and the work continues to improve early childhood development in the community.
Each ECI coalition also participates in regional and statewide networks to share information and engage in public policy strategies. The networks and the continued partnership with SMIF provide technical assistance, training opportunities and financial support.
At SMIF, we continue to believe investing in children is a long-term bet on a quality workforce. Our work in the early childhood area ties directly to our other work in economic development and community vitality. We know we are growing the workers, leaders and entrepreneurs of tomorrow when we invest in early childhood education and development today.