There is a movement going on in our community right under our noses. It’s an effort designed to build a strong foundation for the future success of children who are now living in our most distressed neighborhoods.
Based on the ground-breaking Harlem Children’s Zone, these local efforts are called “Promise Neighborhoods” and are one of United Way of Lane County’s strategies for reaching our community’s 2020 goals in the areas of Education, Income and Health.
The Nuts and Bolts
Two “Promise Neighborhoods” have been identified. One is in Eugene’s Bethel/Trainsong Neighborhood; the other is in Springfield. United Way is focusing on these Promise Neighborhoods to make a measurable difference with limited resources. Once we can prove success in these communities, the effort can be replicated in other high-needs communities across the County.
The work begins with improving the early childhood development of the children living in the Promise Neighborhoods and providing wrap-around support for their families. The endeavor also seeks to continue supporting these children through their school years to finally break the cycle of generational poverty.
These are lofty goals, with equally lofty challenges. In the Promise Neighborhoods, 82% of children entering kindergarten do not meet early reading expectations. Shocking, right? This is important because early literacy skills are predictors of third-grade reading levels. And third-grade reading levels are predictors of future success in school and life.
We also know that children’s social/emotional development at kindergarten entry is declining. Research shows that social/emotional skills, such as being able to share, follow instructions, make friends and take turns, are critical building blocks for future academic success.
We must provide assistance to children at a very early age to get them on a track toward life-long self reliance. Simple, proven interventions for parents and children in the first years of a child’s life have been shown to make a world of difference, and we are committed to increasing the success of children in the Promise Neighborhoods and, eventually, of all children in Lane County.
KITS In Action
United Way’s Promise Neighborhood Initiative hit the ground running last summer with the first Kids in Transition to School (KITS) program. KITS provided small group instruction to kids from the Promise Neighborhoods who were entering kindergarten in the fall. This research-based program piloted by the Oregon Social Learning Center sought to boost children’s early literacy and social/emotional development through summer courses and continuing school year support.
Preliminary data has already shown that these children entered kindergarten significantly more prepared than their peers. It’s exactly the type of vital early childhood program that can begin the turnaround in our Promise Neighborhoods.
While the students were making gains, their parents were also part of the program. We know that any achievements attained by the kids must be maintained and sustained through a supportive environment at home. Parents learned effective methods to support and enhance their children’s education.
Engaging Entire Communities
The plan is to develop a full continuum of supports for children of all ages, families, schools and neighborhoods. It will require the active involvement of a broad range of community partners: education, business, social services, health, government, faith and many more.
We are already well on our way with investments from United Way. Many community members and leaders are already engaged in the Promise Neighborhoods project. We need to continue to provide and expand the availability of enriched environments and proven interventions for children and families from cradle to college.
Each one of us has a role to play in the Promise Neighborhoods vision. Together we can keep the promise to children in all of our neighborhoods, from birth through high school and then on to higher education or job training so they are ready to enter the workforce and make a good living.
For more information about the Promise Neighborhoods and ways to get involved, call United Way of Lane County at 541-741-6000 or visit the website.
Colt Gill is the Superintendent of Bethel School District and the Chair of United Way of Lane County’s Success By 6 Initiative. Judy Newman is Co-Director of Early Childhood CARES and the Strategic Advisor for United Way of Lane County’s Success By 6 Initiative. Parenting Now! is a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening families through parent support and education. Explore this site; visit us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram; or call 541-484-5316. Family Info Line is also available; call 211, extension 5, or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org/