Kindergarten readiness initiative marshals countywide resources, rallies dozens of community partners
PINELLAS, Fla. — A recent state report shows only 57% of Pinellas children were “ready” for kindergarten. To address this and related areas of need, The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg awarded a multi-year, Transformative Grant to The Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas County (ELC) in 2018 to launch Thrive By Five Pinellas (TBFP). The initiative’s ambitious goal: bringing together organizations and families throughout the county to ensure all children in Pinellas County are ready for kindergarten.
“Thrive By Five Pinellas is a collective impact initiative, which means we’re working to transform early childhood in Pinellas County through intense collaboration and alignment of resources,” said Kate Bauer-Jones, director of Thrive By Five Pinellas. “We’re engaging hundreds of stakeholders, all working together to ensure that Pinellas County has an equitable, accessible, responsive, and accountable early childhood system.”
TBFP formed a Steering Committee comprising key players in the early childhood landscape:
Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas
Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg
Community Foundation of Tampa Bay
St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce
Juvenile Welfare Board
Pinellas County Schools
LSF Head Start
Florida Health Department
Directions for Living
The Steering Committee hired Kate Bauer-Jones in April 2018 to lead TBFP. Former President & CEO of the United Way of the Florida Keys, Bauer-Jones is an experienced and proven executive and already a fixture in Pinellas County nonprofit circles and community conversations on early childhood.
“Kate is working with local influencers, social and human services providers, education/nonprofit leaders, government officials, and business and civic organizations, to ensure kindergarten readiness is top-of-mind in conversations throughout Pinellas County,” said Early Learning Coalition CEO Lindsay Carson. “Equitable access to quality early learning for all children will only be achieved with communitywide understanding and involvement.”
“TBFP engages hundreds of stakeholders countywide, to pinpoint opportunities for our resource-rich community to work together to better meet the needs of our youngest citizens,” said Kate Bauer-Jones. “Investing in early childhood ensures healthy development and strong futures for young children, and allows parents to continue in their careers and in the workforce. This strengthens local economies alongside strengthening neighborhoods.”
As part of the formula to achieve this critical work, Thrive By Five has established Project Teams, dedicated to focus areas identified through comprehensive research and strategic planning, and ran by passionate volunteers and staff from a range of organizations and businesses. Project teams include:
• Business Engagement
Supporting family-friendly workplaces and private sector champions of early education
• Children Prepared to Succeed
Ensuring equitable access to quality programs
• Systems Alignment
Working together to streamline processes for families to access services
• Parent and Caregiver Support
Hearing and responding to needs of families in Pinellas County
• Public Awareness
Building public will for prioritizing early childhood as a community value
Working relationships in the community also include: University of South Florida St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg College, Feeding Tampa Bay, City of St. Petersburg, United Way Suncoast, R’Club Child Care, Pinellas County WIC, Pinellas County Child Care Licensing, Healthy Start Coalition of Pinellas, The Children’s Movement of Florida, many local childcare providers and early educators, 211 Pinellas County, and more.
Working with partners, TBFP has already helped catalyze some notable and potentially significant changes in circumstances of vulnerable families: a newly forming partnership with a local food pantry may produce a regular food delivery partnership to childcare centers; child welfare agencies and the ELC are producing a new process for prioritizing and promoting safety of vulnerable children by giving them access and a pathway to quality childcare and early learning opportunities; and work with the City of St. Petersburg, alongside potential national partners, endeavors to make St. Petersburg an early adopter of the new Early Learning Nation movement.
With infrastructure in place, and still building, Bauer-Jones notes several examples of key programs both in-works and around-the-corner:
• Working with employers and families to develop a formal “Family Friendly Workplace Certification,”
• Piloting an “adopt-a-center” program for businesses to sponsor early childhood education centers,
• Working with service providers on multiple strategies designed to streamline application processes,
• Developing specific frameworks within which the system can hear – and respond to – direct and immediate needs of local families,
• Aligning with like-minded entities to help articulate and advocate for public policy priorities,
• Continuing to build a network of awareness advocates, and educating the public,
• Demystifying early care and education opportunities for families not yet exposed,
• Spotlight and elevate inspirational early educators, with the esteem they deserve,
• And more.
If interested in getting involved with a project team, or supporting Thrive By Five in various other ways, please contact Kate Bauer-Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or 727.400.4430.
About Thrive By Five Pinellas: Thrive by Five Pinellas is a collective impact approach to ensure an equitable, accessible, responsive and accountable early childhood system that will increase the percentage of children in our community “ready” for kindergarten. TBFP works with diverse partners throughout the community to achieve a multi-faceted common vision, ensuring that children, families, schools, and the community are aligned in supporting the development of young children. Thrive By Five Pinellas is inspired by such programs across the country as Thrive by Five DC, Thrive by Five Detroit, and Thrive Washington (Seattle).
About The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg: The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg is a private foundation formed in 2013 following the sale of the nonprofit Bayfront Health St. Petersburg. It is the steward of community assets dedicated to supporting health equity in Pinellas County. The Foundation inspires and empowers people, ideas, information exchange, organizations and relationships to end differences in health due to social or structural disadvantages and improve population health. HealthyStPete.Foundation.
About Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas County: The Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas County is a nonprofit agency focused on high-quality early care and education. In working with families and childcare providers, the goal is to prepare children to enter kindergarten ready to succeed – in school and in life. The coalition achieves this goal in collaboration with community partners by providing: childcare scholarships; Voluntary Pre-K (VPK); training and technical assistance for childcare providers; developmental, vision and hearing screenings; and resource and referral information for families looking for childcare.
About early childhood development – just a few select facts (much more readily available on request) illustrating the importance of early childhood development – for individuals, for families, and for the community:
o Early healthy development sets trajectory for long-term health outcomes.
o A recent state report shows only 57% of Pinellas children were “ready” for kindergarten.
o A baby’s brain has doubled in size at age one, and is 80% of adult volume by the age three.
o By age three, a brain produces double the neural connections faster than any other time of life.
o The human brain is wired for visual & auditory learning. Reading & writing must be taught and brains must develop in language-rich environments to optimize these critical communication skills.
o Access to quality care in early years reduces juvenile arrests as well as future crime victimization.
o Nationwide, if all low-income three-and-four-year-olds were enrolled in quality early learning, the country could see up to $61 billion in additional revenue in less than five decades.
o Early learning and readiness has profound impact on our whole community.
o Educated and skillful citizens create stronger economies, locally to nationally.