GEEARS/PAACT (Promise All Atlanta Children Thrive)

ELPM is fortunate to have the opportunity to collaborate with organizations across Georgia to further the cause of high-quality early learning and development. We are able to bring a unique expertise in the realm of construction, renovation and facility management so that centers are prepared to host learning programs and serve other community needs.

Quality improvement was identified as a high priority in a recent initiative launched by GEEARS, Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students. GEEARS has over ten years of experience in advocating for investments and policy-building for early care and education.

In 2018, GEEARS convened the  Atlanta Early Education Leadership Council (AEELC)  which consisted of leaders from both public and private sectors including local government, state agencies, business, faith, health, philanthropic, and early education communities and, after 6 months of extensive research, the PAACT initiative was developed to carry out an eight-prong strategic plan to improve early learning conditions. PAACT, Promise All Atlanta Children Thrive, is a citywide alliance working to support high-quality early learning, education, and the healthy development of Atlanta’s youngest children. The PAACT vision is that families in the City of Atlanta have what they need to ensure that all children starting at birth are healthy, learning and developing so that they enter school ready for success, thrive once in school, and are prepared to reach their full potential as residents of our city.

Item one of PAACT’s strategic plan is dedicated to the quality of childcare programs and expanding the accessibility of high-quality programs to underserved children and families in Atlanta. The initiative first examined data from Atlanta Public Schools to identify areas with the greatest need. The Douglass and Washington clusters were made top priorities based on the low availability of Quality Rated facilities, along with other factors such as families living in poverty and literacy levels. Quality Rated is Georgia’s system for evaluating and improving childcare and education programs.

ELPM partnered with PAACT to implement the 21-22 grant cycle for its Atlanta Fund for Quality Facilities Improvement Program (FIP), focusing on the Douglass and Washington Atlanta Public School clusters. Through a competitive grant process, early care providers were awarded grants to cover maintenance projects they have not been able to fund.

ELPM utilizes its experience and resources in the construction industry to manage these maintenance and renovation projects on behalf of the providers. Through the FIP, early care providers in the Douglass and Washington clusters are able to continue their important work in refreshed, improved facilities. Higher quality facilities enable providers to better serve children and tap into other opportunities available through Georgia’s Quality Rated system.

ELPM’s mission is to provide safe and adequate facilities where early learning can take place. In order to fulfill this mission, ELPM is devoted to building strong collaborations with early learning providers, funders, and administration and community groups. With over twenty years of experience in providing high quality learning environments, we have unique expertise in construction and facility maintenance as it pertains to childcare. We are fortunate to have strong relationships and enjoy participating in strategy discussions to help link nonprofits with community resources, as well as identifying potential fundraising opportunities and conducting needs assessments.

The Clarkston Development Foundation is a valued collaborator in the early learning arena. CDF: A Collective Action Initiative supports the residents of Clarkston, Georgia to utilize resources and develop services that enrich their community. A primary focus of CDF is to ensure that children are prepared for their education journey and supported every step of the way. Their early education initiative, Clarkston Families Decide, empowers families to be active participants in their children’s early learning from birth to age eight.

In order to address the lack of available Head Start and Georgia Pre-K slots, as well as barriers of language and transportation, Clarkston families who attended the Early Learning Community Trust in 2014 supported the development of the READY School Initiative. Realizing Early Achievement in the Development of our Young was envisioned as a free, multilingual program for three and four year old children from low-income households.

The first Clarkston READY program was established in an apartment complex and served residents of the complex, many of whom were from Iraq and Somalia. The teaching staff spoke Arabic, Somali and English. Within six months, the program served 30 children and 15 children transitioned to a Head Start or Pre-K program. Partnering with the Scottdale Child Development Center, the READY program utilized the Center’s curriculum, training and family support
programs. The success of this READY program serves as a model for expansion to other community locations that are convenient to families.

This program now operates at three sites with teachers who speak in English and the home languages of their students. It highlights the importance of creating a positive environment where young children can thrive. For many students, it may be the first time they are away from their family. With support from their teachers, they can learn how to interact with peers, follow a schedule and other skills that will better prepare them for kindergarten and beyond. Not only
that, but the READY program also provides opportunities for employment and training to community members. With the program’s connection to an established childcare provider, teachers are guided through the process of gaining credentials and advancing their professional development.

Today, there are three READY school sites with goals of expanding to other areas throughout metro Atlanta. Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the READY program found ways to serve the community, such as the Story Time Zoom sessions. An expert storyteller assisted teachers in crafting one-hour, hands-on story time sessions. Before each sessions, families were provided with corresponding handouts, craft activity materials and a copy of the book. Sessions focused on corresponding vocabulary words in English and home languages, a color and a number and movement exercises.

As the programs returned to in-person learning, READY school students and their families took part in guided outdoor play at the Tinkergarten sessions. Classes met at community greenspaces and learned about exploration, observation and about how the five senses interact. Not only did the sessions provide immersive, hands-on experiences, but they also helped parents and family members learning about their children. They gained more insight about learning styles and how
to continue the learning at home.

Looking ahead, the READY program aims to make expansion to additional sites as seamless as possible. This plan involves the creation of a READY School Tool Kit that will include steps for set-up, lesson implementation and program evaluation. The success of the existing programs shows the power of community-building and encouraging parents and families to be involved in early education.

For more information, visit the CDF website at www.cdfaction.org.