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.
Early Childhood Education and Future Ready Collier
Falling outside school district oversight, early learning is among the more challenging aspects of the end-to-end educational experience to grapple with. How best to reach students and families who, in some circumstances, can’t even be identified? What we do know is that only about half of kids come into kindergarten prepared. Susan Block, who has been CEO of the Early Learning Coalition for 7 years, acknowledges that, “children are learning whether you do something intentionally about that or not.” Supported learning, broadly construed, that begins from age zero creates a child’s best chances of success going into school.
The Early Learning Coalition is unique among Future Ready Collier partners, as both a regional entity, serving four counties including Collier, and as a quasi-governmental agency operating under specific funding constraints. However, Block doesn’t hesitate to endorse the importance of Future Ready Collier, or stipulate her belief that the Coalition’s involvement is worthwhile. Block views Future Ready Collier as “expediting work that might never [otherwise] happen.” Adding, “Part of the work is creating relationships that haven’t existed before and strengthening those already in place.”
Meeting Challenges Together
Block points to key examples of Future Ready Collier’s collective significance. When Hurricane Irma struck in September 2017, participating entities were, in Block’s words, “able to galvanize and do the work in response to the immediate need because of these relationships. It was one of the biggest team-building experiences you could ever encounter.” Vested engagement from funders including the Community Foundation of Collier County, Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation, and Naples Children and Education Foundation, and strategic support from the Collier County Public Schools, have been instrumental in creating a strong foundation from which to grow.
The COVID-19 pandemic has similarly created opportunities for alliance amid uncertainty. Future Ready Collier workgroups and committees continue to meet digitally. And support is being thoughtfully shifted based on need. As an example, the Early Learning Coalition is working on behalf of Florida’s Department of Education and Office of Early Learning to get information to first responders and healthcare workers about an early childhood education scholarship program. For up to 3 months, these essential workers may apply to receive scholarships so their children can attend a contracted provider. To read more information about the details of the scholarship fund, including eligibility, please click here.
Working Towards Results
Even with demonstrated trust and mission alignment, a looming factor is time. Block is aware that, while, “we have to look at the long game,” for funders to continue justifying their backing, “you want to see measurable outcomes.” Thankfully, Block advises that there is increasing awareness, even statewide and nationally, “that we need to quantify what’s happening to our young children before they enter kindergarten.”
In attempting to translate big goals into real results, Block advises with a smile that, “Sometimes it’s just the right people, right place, right everything, and that’s a part of what’s happening here.” Even under such strained and unprecedented circumstances as the COVID-19 crisis poses, those on the ground who are a part of Future Ready Collier will keep doing the hard work, leveraging the collective wisdom and passion of the group. Offers Block, “It’s the meaning of what we make together.”
Written by Caroline Ridgway of C1B1 Communications, with contributions from Susan Block of the Early Learning Coalition.