Op-ed about Thrive by Five in Detroit Free Press

July 29th, 2014
Can Detroit, and Michigan, be a model for early education across the country? (Photo by Romain Blanquart/ Detroit Free Press)

Detroit can model early childhood success (guest column)

Detroit Free Press
July 29, 2014

By Robert Shaw, William Jones, John Van Camp and Ann Kalass

Imagine a community, region and state where babies are born healthy, and where curious children are arriving at kindergarten doors ready for school and life success. Parents and caregivers are engaged, educated and meeting the challenge of raising successful adults.

We can now make the audacious claim that Detroit is poised to become a city regarded as home to a model of early childhood education excellence.

We can’t blame anyone for being skeptical. Headlines claim early intervention programs don’t produce lasting effects, and that nothing has changed in Detroit.

But a new spirit of cooperation is emerging. People working together across sectors, organizations and neighborhoods is becoming the new business as usual. Replacing what was unsustainable and ineffective are new collaborative models that are breaking the cycle of poverty and ensuring children receive necessary support to achieve success. A pooling of resources from federal, state and local initiatives will help establish Detroit as a model of early intervention success.

Detroit has been chosen as one of five cities across the country to pilot a first-of-its-kind national model to bring innovation, quality and impact to children through Head Start and Early Head Start programming. Thrive by Five Detroit, a collaboration comprising Development Centers, Focus: HOPE, Southwest Solutions and Starfish Family Services, will not only serve children but their entire family. Pregnant women may enroll in the program, ensuring their children get the earliest start and caseworkers will help families achieve their goals related to housing, education and employment.

We are confident we will deliver positive results by expanding our focus to include the development of our students, parents and other caretakers; providing mental health services and prenatal care, and facilitating vocational training and literacy programs for our families.

Organizations such as Matrix Human Services, Metropolitan Children and Youth, and New St. Paul are also a part of this exciting federal pilot program. Together, we will serve thousands of Detroit children and their families, and every eligible child in the city will be able to find quality Head Start care.

At the state level, Michigan is committed to expanding access to quality preschool programs through the Great Start Readiness Program. In 2014, a time when many budget items are under attack, the Michigan Legislature added $65 million to expand the number of preschool slots for 4-year-olds. The 2015 budget proposes another $65-million increase in state funding for the coming school year. This means fewer waiting lists and more choices for Michigan families.

Locally, young children and families are succeeding in some of our most distressed neighborhoods in Detroit, Inkster and River Rouge, where community coalitions are forming around literacy, education and public safety. Foundations like Skillman, W.K. Kellogg and Kresge are supporting these transformational efforts to empower families and citizens. Through the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, an Early Childhood Innovation Fund has been established to ensure the strength of Head Start services as a foundation to our system of care for young Detroit children.

Collectively, we all have a stake in the success of our endeavor. Children who are not ready for kindergarten are up to 70% more likely to drop out of school, become trapped in poverty, and be involved in crime. The region depends on having a community of educated and successful citizens.

Robert Shaw is CEO of Development Centers, William Jones is CEO of Focus: HOPE, John Van Camp is CEO of Southwest Solutions and Ann Kalass is CEO of Starfish Family Services.

(See this op-ed in the Detroit Free Press)

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