Community Coordination

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IMPACT OF FOCAL AREA

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When early learning settings are developed and delivered with attention to quality and are intentionally aligned to one another, all children benefit. While the process is complex, clear benefits have been reported by those who strive toward building effective collaboration among school districts and community-based providers. By jointly planning and delivering early learning programs, schools and communities can maximize resources, improve and expand services, minimize barriers to implementation and provide higher-quality programs.

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Successful partnerships often include both the usual suspects and some unusual ones. Creating cross-agency collaborations (with others in the early childhood field, including K–12 and other family support organizations), as well as cross-sector partnerships (with those outside the early childhood field, like business leaders, religious organizations, and cultural institutions), helps to establish more connections within the community that lead to stronger and more sustained relationships with families. Working alongside community-based organizations that are authentically rooted in community life can bring to programs a better understanding of the culture and assets of families, as well as resources that programs may lack. As go-betweens, they can build relational bridges between educators and parents and act as catalysts for change.


"Leveraging community resources and local partnerships supports high-quality academic and enrichment opportunities by broadening the experiences children and families may typically experience by expanding access to local expertise."


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LOCAL STRATEGIES

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Community organization coordination and partnerships are key elements of Community Innovation Zones. These collaboratives share program planning, implementation, and evaluation processes to ensure that the proposed innovation is a worthwhile and necessary endeavor, and complements the broader system of service delivery in the community.With these goals in mind, the CIZs are required to have a three-part leadership structure consisting of an early learning partner serving children ages 0–5 years, an elementary school partner serving children in grades K–3, and a community-based partner, like a United Way or library, to create mutual accountabilities with a specific focus on family engagement and strengthening community collaboration. With this structure, CIZ implemented effective strategies to strengthen coordination with local early learning programs and agencies, as well as develop a broad range of partnerships.

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Coordination With Local Early Learning Programs

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Broad RangeOf Partnerships

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COORDINATION WITH LOCAL EARLY LEARNING PROGRAMS

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Creating new or stronger partnerships between local early learning programs and agencies in the community was a significant success of the CIZ initiative, particularly among grantees that did not have robust partnerships in place before the grant. Most grantees established partnerships with other local agencies and systems in the community as part of implementing their CIZ grants, although the grantees varied in the extent to which interagency partnerships were a focus of their work. CIZ grantees started in very different places in terms of their existing relationships and prior collaboration with partners; many experienced the benefits of building meaningful and intentional community connections.

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CIZ Stories from the Field

Family Connection is the nonprofit family center for the Easton Area School District. Originally, the organization started at Cheston Elementary and over the years has expanded to serve all students in the school district. Family Connection works to provide a range of services for young children and families addressing multiple needs via community partnerships, such as with early learning, health, and food resources. Family Connection offers a variety of programs and services that aim to support young children, to school-aged youth, to parents.

“Family Connection is the nonprofit family center for the Easton Area School District. Family Connection has several Early Childhood Initiatives. Our Parent-Child Home Program, or PCHP, has been in operation since 2002. This program helps kids between the ages of two and four grow up great through home visits that build social, emotional, and literacy skills in preparation for school success. Home visitors meet with the child and their parent two times a week for 25 weeks. PCHP is a two-year program, meaning families receive 100 visits in all.”

“A focus on a child’s transition to kindergarten improves school readiness. That’s why Family Connection started its Kindergarten Connection initiative in 2009. Our goal is to give families a smooth transition from home or preschool into kindergarten in Easton. Events such as visits to the Easton Area Public Library, promotion of on-time registration, free backpack distributions, academic bridge sessions, and Spring Festivals at all Easton elementary schools connect incoming kindergartners to EASD. Kindergarten Connection also offers professional development opportunities for Easton educators in an effort to make connections and align systems. We want all children to be Rover Ready.”

“Backpack Pals assists Easton Area School District students at risk of hunger. Bags are distributed before long holiday weekends, so we can be sure that students who depend on school breakfast and lunch have food in their homes when there is a long break in the school calendar. Thanks to many local partners who supply donations to this program, we can provide nearly 1,000 bags of food each school year. We’ve also been working to establish a school-based pantry at EAHS for our older Rovers.”


“Before the grant, we were really all working in isolation...everybody was doing their own thing. Now we’re doing things collectively.”


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Broad Range of Partnerships

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CIZ grantees also formed partnerships with a broad range of organizations in the public and private sectors, allowing them to increase their reach in the community and meet family needs beyond the education sphere. Partnerships with diverse organizations provided an opportunity for grantees to support the holistic needs of families and engage families beyond the education setting. Grantees developed partnerships between early childhood programs and schools and also partnered with a broad range of more nontraditional organizations and agencies, such as local businesses, religious organizations, utility providers, health care providers, and others. In some cases, these partnerships allowed grantees to use a community hub approach in connecting with families.

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CIZ Stories from the Field

Pottstown School District, in Montgomery County, is also focusing on social and emotional learning, but more specifically. Pottstown is leveraging community resources and building local capacity to become a trauma informed community, and is working with the Scattergood Foundation to support these efforts. The first community meeting brought out 125 people. Through the use of a steering committee, Pottstown is working to provide trauma trainings to local agencies, gather and review data, develop safety plans, and learn from other communities undertaking similar work. Pottstown has leveraged the resources of more than 15 community organizations to create work groups, to develop a web page, to offer regular meetings and trainings, to implement a social and emotional curriculum in pre-K through ninth grade, and to bring families into the conversation.

“Pottstown School District has taken a lead in forming a Trauma-Informed Coalition to bring community organizations together to promote the message of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) and resiliency. We started out with the theory of change model and later recognized this did not meet our needs, so we transitioned into a logic model under the guidance of Scattergood Foundation and Yale University. A steering committee was formed with individuals from various organizations to lay out a plan and figure out what the work would look like. From there, the group met on a regular basis and later determined it was necessary for us as leaders to become informed about ACES and trauma-informed care. Our community partner meetings consist of trained professionals addressing the audience—speakers have included the likes of Dr. Sandra Bloom and Dr. Roy V. Wade, and we have sponsored talks hosted by Dr. Kenneth Ginsberg. The 24 members of our steering committee have all been trained in trauma-informed care by attending Trauma 101 training.”

“The trainings extend to all new teachers in the Pottstown School District, the entire police department, our child care sites, and other area business members, parents, and social service agencies, including the local food pantry.”

“In our work of promoting trauma-informed care, we make it clear that trauma and the ACES score is not the end—there is hope. We spread the message that a positive relationship with just one caring adult can make the difference in the life of a child. We are very clear in our messaging and encourage our teachers to move away from saying ‘What is wrong with you?’ to ‘What has happened to you?’ In Pottstown, we really take the approach of looking at the root of the problem—not just focusing on the problem—and then identifying supportive ways to help our families in times of need by connecting them to much-needed resources.”

“To help, we have started social media campaigns and increasing personal connections, such as high-fives, sharing a smile, replacing the regular text messaging with a phone call, and so on. We have also created videos to demonstrate the difference between the trauma-sensitive approach and the old way of doing things. In our schools, we have implemented the social and emotional learning curriculum called Second STEP to further promote our cause. This curriculum allows skills to transfer from the classroom into the home.”