History and Context (Story #1 of 5) – Kindergarten Readiness Series
For more than twenty-five years, the DeKalb County Community Foundation has strived to enhance the quality of life in the county by addressing community needs through a variety of actions. They have given out millions of dollars in grants, managed philanthropic endeavors, and provided leadership amongst DeKalb County’s nonprofit community. Even though the Foundation has helped many area nonprofits with countless projects, the desire is to do more. The idea of moving the needle on a specific area of need in the county became a focus of the Foundation.
In 2014, the Community Foundation conducted a community-wide survey, the results of which identified youth and early education as a high priority to residents throughout DeKalb County. At that point, the Foundation recognized there was a need to support young children and their families across one of the most important transitions in life: from birth to kindergarten.
The Community Foundation identified the area in which to concentrate efforts and began to focus resources on addressing kindergarten readiness in DeKalb County; joining similar national, state, and local initiatives.
“Our vision is for all children in DeKalb County to have equitable opportunities to be prepared for school and life success,” said Dan Templin, Community Foundation Executive Director. “Having a shared understanding and definition of kindergarten readiness is critical. So are clear objectives and strategies to help various partners work together to make the vision a reality. It is a privilege for us to work with passionate educators and those who support children and families.”
The kindergarten readiness initiative for DeKalb County is overseen by the Kindergarten Readiness Collaborative. The Collaborative is made up of representatives from the DeKalb County Community Foundation, the Trauma-Informed Committee, Community Coordinated Child Care (4-C), DeKalb County Regional Office of Education, DeKalb County Health Department, DeKalb County Community Mental Health Board, and local educators.
Since the 2014 initial study, the Collaborative has made significant progress over the last few years. In 2016, the NIU Center for Governmental Studies and the NIU Center for P20 Engagement were contracted to conduct a background assessment of kindergarten readiness in the county. The results from this effort were compiled into a DeKalb County Kindergarten Readiness Study. The study provided information, which launched and informed the county’s discussion of how to best prepare children for success in school and life. To learn more about the results from the study, read story #2 in the Kindergarten Readiness Series.
Following the release of the study in 2017, early care and kindergarten educators, along with other early learning professionals, were invited to attend the Defining Kindergarten Readiness Workshop, facilitated by Amy Jo Clemens of the NIU Center for P20 Engagement.
A similar invitation was extended a few months later for the first Early Learning Summit. Attendees shared programs and projects of interest and extended discussion from the Defining Kindergarten Readiness Workshop. A variety of ideas were generated during the summit including the suggestion to offer readiness toolkits across the county. The immediate challenge for implementing the toolkits was funding for schools with little to no budget. In response, the Community Foundation created the Kindergarten Readiness Toolkit Grant program. This new funding opportunity gave educators the support they needed to purchase toolkits for kindergarten age children. All school districts in DeKalb County are eligible to apply for a toolkit grant. Grant criteria and more can be found online at dekalbccf.org/toolkitgrants.
The next Early Learning Summit was held in October 2017 and discussion centered around results from the previous study. The identified areas of interest were discussed and paired with organizational backbones to help lead and coordinate efforts. In January of 2018, the Community Foundation gave a grant to the DeKalb County Regional Office of Education (ROE) to provide coordination for the priority issue areas and early childhood related services.
In June of 2018, the ROE hosted The Basics presented by Dr. Ron Ferguson, founder of The Boston Basics. Over 80 early childhood stakeholders (educators and youth service providers) attended with initial discussion of how a similar program might be implemented throughout DeKalb County. The content was well received and members of the Kindergarten Readiness Collaborative unanimously decided to integrate the Basics DeKalb County program into the kindergarten readiness efforts for the county.
“It was at this point that the we saw a need for funding to assist with the coordination and efforts of a Basics DeKalb County program,” said Amanda Christensen, DeKalb Regional Superintendent of Schools. “After several conversations with other early learning leaders in the state, we developed a working partnership with the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, who strongly supports the creation and implementation of the KIDS Assessment. Their mission aligned well with our systems-change approach to addressing inequities in our community.”
The Collaborative then made a request to the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, a Chicago based foundation, to provide support for the Basics DeKalb County programming and community saturation. The funding request was approved and a generous $100,000 grant was received.
In April of 2019, the ROE hired Courtney Hill as the Basics DeKalb County Coordinator to oversee county-wide saturation efforts. The Coordinator’s role is to ensure all communities are exposed to and educated on the Basics, including ways to implement them into daily life.
We are proud to be a part of the efforts and progress of this initiative,” said Teri Spartz, Community Foundation Community Engagement Director. “Early childhood is such an important time in a child’s life to play, learn, and grow. These experiences play a significant role in development and the degree to which a child is ready for kindergarten.”
The Community Foundation’s commitment and support to early care and education is made possible by 20 CommunityWorks Funds, generating over $100,000 in grant resources annually. These Funds support three identified interest areas; early care and education, land use, and workforce development.
If kindergarten readiness work is of interest to you or you wish to provide support for ongoing efforts, please contact Teri Spartz at 815-748-5383 or email@example.com.
We hope you enjoy this 5-part kindergarten readiness story series detailing the important work of addressing kindergarten readiness in DeKalb County. Story #1 provides a brief overview of the planning efforts, story #2 dives deeper into the findings of the DeKalb County Readiness Study, story #3 details the Kindergarten Readiness Toolkits Grants, story #4 brings awareness to the Basics DeKalb County Program, and story #5 takes a behind the scenes look at the additional workings of the Kindergarten Readiness Collaborative.