By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Education is an essential aspect in children’s lives. Creating educational systems to foster the growth and development of children is a costly function. Last week, several Milwaukee organizations received federal grants to help them develop early childhood education programs.
Head Start and Early Head Start are two federal programs, which give grants to groups interested in developing education programs. They have been in existence for over 50 years. The goal of the programs is to fund groups, which want to provide high quality education and supportive services for children.
Next Door and United Community Center received $13.5 million to fund several programs, which aim to serve 1,200 infants and toddlers living in poverty.
Early childhood education is for newborns and ages one to five. There is typically a focus on academic achievement, building social-emotional skills, strengthening parent-child bonds and helping children become better prepared for school, according to the press release.
Research has shown that 90 percent of a children’s brain development happens during the first five years, which is why parents and teachers advocate for building a “strong foundation for long-term learning and development.”
“In Milwaukee, this funding will be a transformative community asset, preparing children for kindergarten and supporting families through these critical years in their children’s lives,” Mayor Tom Barrett said in the press release.
“This allows us to continue our early childhood initiatives for Milwaukee, putting our youngest residents first,” he added.
Next Door, one of the recipients, aims to serve 749 children. The grant will go towards a Head Start program, for children ages three to five, and towards an Early Head Start program for students ages six weeks to three-years-old.
“This investment in children in our community is critically important in building a stronger future for Milwaukee,” said Dr. Tracey Sparrow, president of Next Door.
Sparrow said that these programs will not only help prepare children for success but could contribute to the closing of the achievement gap.
The achievement gap has been an ongoing issue in Milwaukee for years.
The United Community Center aims to serve 510 children, with 422 in its Head Start program and 88 in its Early Head Start one.
According to the press release, the UCC opened its Early Learning Academy at the Bruce Guadalupe Community School, 1028 S. 9th St. Its early learning programs have already impacted hundred of children who have gone on to high school and college.
“Over the last ten years, college acceptance and enrollment rates for UCC alumni has risen from 8% to 96% ensuring more students are on the path to lifelong success,” stated the press release.
Ricardo Diaz, the UCC executive director, said that the UCC is thrilled to have received this investment. It will fuel change and lay the foundation for success in at-risk communities, he said.
“This is an exciting step forward to ensure every child, regardless of circumstances at birth, is given the opportunity to succeed,” Diaz said.
With the development and continuation of these programs, UCC, Next Door and Milwaukee hope to see a decrease in the achievement gap and a lifelong impact on children and families.