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Early Learning Efforts Show Progress in Preparing Children for Kindergarten - Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Two communities supported by Thrive by Five Washington and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation receive an additional $8 million in funding

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Molly O'Connor
Thrive by Five Washington
Phone: +1.206.621.5562

SEATTLE -- Thrive by Five Washington and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today announced $8 million in new, joint funding to support two community partnerships that were launched last year and show progress in helping prepare children to enter kindergarten ready to learn. Research shows that kids who have access to high-quality early learning experiences are more likely to be successful in school and life.

In order to better prepare kids to start school, the partnerships – also called Thrive Demonstration Communities – are testing new ways to provide the best child care and early learning opportunities for children and their families. Each community’s partnership is a model for what can be done to substantially increase access to high-quality early learning opportunities for children from birth to age 5. Each will receive $4 million over the next year, as a second round of funding to continue their work.

The White Center Early Learning Initiative received $11.7 million in a first round of funding last year; East Yakima’s Ready by Five received $5 million.

“The two communities are working hard and with a sense of urgency to create the partnerships, programs and seamless network of supports and opportunities we desire for all young children and their families,” said Nina Auerbach, president and CEO of Thrive by Five Washington, which oversees the work in the two communities. “Within the first year, they have shown amazing enthusiasm and progress, and we’re very excited to begin year two.”

Some highlights from the past year’s work include:

In White Center, the White Center Early Learning Initiative:

  • Broke ground on and completed fundraising for the nation’s 20th Educare early learning hub, which will open this winter. Educare is a national model for high-quality child care.
  • Started the Outreach Doula program, a home-visiting program that will support Somali and Latino families with health, development and early learning information before their child’s birth and for up to two years after that, if needed.

In East Yakima, Ready by Five:

  • Created the Kindergarten Transition Program with the Yakima School District that brings new kindergartners to school two weeks before school starts to get to know their teacher, classmates, routines, and expectations, so that positive learning begins on day one of the school year.
  • Started Creative Families, a monthly program to help parents learn more about how to engage in activities with their children that promote learning.

“Every child deserves the best start in life possible. That includes having access to quality early learning experiences at home and in their community, so every child who starts kindergarten is ready to learn and succeed in school.” said Valisa Smith, senior program officer for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Early Learning initiative. “The work being done by Thrive by Five Washington and in White Center and East Yakima gives more children access to the experiences they need to develop their potential and creativity.”

Both communities are testing pieces of the state’s quality rating and improvement system, so that Washington can soon help child care providers increase the quality of care they offer and provide families with objective information about child care in their community. This system is similar to ratings that are already available for restaurants and hotels.

As part of their work, the communities are developing a continuum of programs for children birth to age 5 as well as their parents and caregivers. Some of the services and programs that will be offered include home visitation for expectant families; play-and-learn groups for toddlers; resources to support language development and literacy; parenting activities; and a kindergarten transition program.

"The continued funding for the White Center Early Learning Initiative means that hundreds more families will receive support getting their children ready for school and life, beginning at birth. This is a wonderful example of a public-private partnership, where philanthropic dollars leverage state and federal funding to benefit our community, state and nation," said Dr. Monte Bridges, superintendent of the Puget Sound ESD, which oversees the community partnership in White Center.

Added Helen Marieskind, executive director for Ready by Five in East Yakima: “Our community is excited to be a part of an early learning initiative that creates opportunities for the children of East Yakima to achieve school readiness and life success. We also know that our work has the potential to shape early learning efforts across the state and nation. We’re looking forward to continuing our services for the second year and our Board and Staff greatly appreciate the support from both the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Thrive by Five Washington.”

In 2006, White Center, located south of Seattle, and East Yakima were chosen to be the two Thrive Demonstration Communities because of their strong local leadership, diverse populations, size and community commitment to improving early learning.

Thrive by Five Washington
Thrive by Five Washington, created in 2006 as the state’s public-private partnership for early learning, brings together public and private partners to advance the development and learning of children ages birth to five, so that all children in Washington state are ready to succeed in school and thrive in life.

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