Schools and students nationwide have been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Among obvious indicators, kindergarten enrollment is down across the country. Rural and urban areas, and crossing sociodemographic categories, have been touched by this trend. There are potentially multiple reasons why. Why it has happened, however, is no less important than how we plan for what’s next. Future Ready Collier and its partners are aware of these concerns, and are taking steps to help.
In any other year, August’s arrival means students and parents start to eagerly gear up for the school year ahead. As the onset of the 2020-2021 school year looms, however, many are wondering how best to navigate a world still dominated by COVID-19. This uncertainty applies as much to early childhood learning as to post-secondary schools. Future Ready Collier is keeping an eye on school reopening plans and safety precautions being adopted.
Only an hour from downtown Naples, but a world apart, Immokalee is home to Pathways Early Education Center. In operation for more than 56 years, Pathways ably serves its mission of creating educational opportunities for Immokalee’s youngest and most at-need children, with curricula for infant through pre-kindergarten. Pathways is newer to Future Ready Collier than some of their peers, joining in 2018 when Beth Hatch assumed leadership. Their eagerness to contribute has been manifest since day one.
Collier County families with children who will enter kindergarten during the 2020-2021 school year may be eligible to apply for free access to the Waterford UPSTART Summer Learning Path school-readiness program. Active across 15 states, UPSTART reaches the most at-risk kids in a community. In addition, program leaders are hoping to reach families whose income, employment, or access to federally funded preschool have been impacted by COVID-19.
If an objective of early childhood education is helping kids learn the value of sharing and partnership, then a collective impact model is a real-world extension of that ideological premise. As the nonprofit tasked with distributing state funds for early learning providers regionally, the Early Learning Coalition is an essential partner in fostering the collaboration and momentum that are carrying Future Ready Collier steadily towards real change. Links between early learning and school readiness, through to career training and a thriving economy, are undeniable. The Early Learning Coalition lends expertise and vital community-level connection points to the initiative.
The Florida State University Center for Child Stress and Health published a new coloring and activity book, The Germ that Wears a Crown: A Story About the Coronavirus. Co-author Dr. Javier Rosado, who is the Director of Clinical Research for the FSU Center for Child Stress and Health located at the Immokalee Health Education Site, also works as a psychologist with the Healthcare Network. The Healthcare Network is a Future Ready Collier partner.
Collier County County Public Schools (CCPS) is committed to supporting children and families in continuous learning. When the schools are closed for any reason, CCPS encourages parents and caregivers to have students engage in academic activities with a structured schedule. As such, the CCPS Curriculum and Instruction Division has developed lessons and resources to ensure learning is continuous.
A partner organization since Future Ready Collier’s founding, the Guadalupe Center has a 35-year history of, as their organizational mission decrees, using educational opportunity to help break the cycle of poverty for the children of Immokalee. Currently, Guadalupe is heavily involved in Future Ready Collier (FRC), intentionally encouraging and enabling their leadership and staff at all levels to support the initiative.
Future Ready Collier partner organizations, with pilot funding from the Early Learning Coalition, have embarked on an initiative to facilitate a better completion rate among candidates for Child Development Associate (CDA) certification. The preferred minimum credential for employment among early childhood educators is a CDA paired with a two-year degree. Stakeholders are proactively enabling candidates who have completed all CDA coursework to finalize their portfolio and undergo structured assessment to earn the certification. This effort coincides with goals to increase rates of achievement of Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees, to ensure a more robust pipeline of educators equipped to meet existing student need. Collaborators agree this is a both practical and valuable means of helping teachers, schools, and students alike.