Children in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods will be getting more help in preparing for school after the W.K. Kellogg Foundation announced a $5 million grant to a local nonprofit that already is making inroads with families on the West and Southeast sides.
The money is going to the Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative, and will be used toward the group’s goal of ensuring the children they work with are able to master kindergarten readiness skills by increasing their accessibility to educational resources.
More than 80 percent of kindergartners entering Grand Rapids schools aren’t prepared.
”The social, physical and cognitive development of a child is negatively impacted when, beginning with their prenatal experience and continuing through early childhood, they are surrounded by an environment of poverty,” said Nkechy Ezeh, executive director of ELNC.
And it’s no wonder when no structured early learning opportunities exist for the majority of the 5,000 kids between age 0 and 5 in those neighborhoods, predominately minority children, said Nadia Brigham, program officer for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
”This collaborative turns the paradigm upside down in terms of leadership and advocacy and empowerment around a community — the neighborhoods making decisions regarding their children,” said Brigham.
The Kellogg Foundation was an early investor in the ELNC. Its work is centered around designing a preschool service system to bring high-quality early care and education programs to the vulnerable neighborhoods where it’s based.
Ezeh, who is also director of the Early Childhood Endorsement Program at Aquinas College and an associate professor, said the collaborative had been a vision for more than decade, but organizers began putting together the pieces in 2009-10 and now can help more families with Kellogg’s support.
”Early intervention is effective and needs to be implemented for children from low-income homes as soon as possible,” said Ezeh. “As a child reaches age 4, especially those children who have not experienced ideal developmental environments previously, the availability and access to quality preschool is critical to their future success in school.”
Andrew Brower, associate program officer with Kellogg, said the ring of early childhood education programs is good around Grand Rapids but not at the city’s core. He said the four-year grant provides technical, developmental and educational support.
ELNC partner organizations include: Baxter Community Center, Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, New Hope Baptist Church, South End Community Outreach Ministries, Steepletown Neighborhood Services, The Other Way Ministries, United Methodist Community House and Wellspring Church of Grand Rapids.
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