A Bronx Tale: Partnering from Cradle to Career

As state economies tank and ECE moves lower on the policy agenda—our President mentioned nada about early childhood in his State of the Union—we need some cheering up.  So here’s a quick update on collaboration and synergy, from early to higher education, in the Bronx.

 But first, some hard, cold data:

  • 40 percent of children in the Bronx live in poverty, the highest poverty rating of all boroughs.
  • Ranking New York City’s communities by risks to child well-being  (economic, health, safety, community life, education), Mott Haven and Hunts Point pose the greatest risk, with Fordham, East Tremont and Morris Heights right behind them.
  • Only 43 percent of Mott Haven students meet state and city reading standards, with black students at 39 percent, and Latinos at 38 percent.
  • Only 43 percent of high school students in these Bronx communities receive a local diploma.

The numbers paint a dismal picture of this long under-served borough, where access to high-quality services and education has been an elusive dream. But a number of initiatives are underway, promising to knit together, stitch by stitch, the disparate strands of children’s progress from cradle to career. 

Supporting Transitions from Early-Education to Public Schools (STEPS), a demonstration project of the United Way of New York City, is focused on the South and Fordham sections of the Bronx, and aims to serve more than 1,000 children.  They’ve identified the lack of coordination between early education programs and the public school systems as a major barrier to children’s ongoing success in elementary school and beyond.

To ensure that children’s learning and developmental needs stay front and center from birth to age eight, the initiative is aligning professional development across five community-based early childhood centers and three public elementary schools, working with the NYC Department of Education, the Administration for Children’s Services, the Center for Early Childhood Professionals at Bank Street, the NYC Early Childhood Professional Development Institute at CUNY, East Side House, in Mott Haven, and Lehman College.  Teachers are taking advantage of cross-functional study groups, and principals and ECE program directors have also joined this Collaborative Learning Community, reading Mind in the Making to establish a common framework for designing and implementing curricula that meet the developmental needs of young children. 

The word is getting out.  Not too long ago, one public school principal, who had not been in the original initiative, asked to join the  group: his pre-K, he said, was not developmentally appropriate, and he wanted some support for his school.  Step by step…

Meanwhile, another collaboration, the Bronx Early Childhood Education Consortium, is taking root.  Their goal:  “to serve as a venue for the exchange of ideas, research and teaching practices for professional development and a supporting body that reflects and acts on existing policies that affect early childhood programs.”  Consortium members range from executive directors of community-based early childhood programs, to Head Start directors, to NYC DOE and ACS administrators, to the Bronx Borough President, Ruben Diaz, who was instrumental in the creation of this consortium as well as four others—for elementary, middle, high school, and higher education. 

Just recently, the heads of the five consortia met at Mercy College, where they hosted an audience of 100 Bronx educators.  “Everyone wanted to know what the other groups were doing,” said one prime mover in the Early Childhood Education consortium, who, in her modesty and collaborative spirit, refused to be identified.  Talking is encouraging.  Alignment  from cradle to career is impossible without communication.  To that end, the consortia will be holding an education summit, to be held next October (2011).   Plans are also in the making for an ECE forum for early 2012. 

The word is getting out.  Scott Stringer and Marty Markowitz have taken notice of consortium activities in the Bronx, inspiring thoughts of movement in other boroughs.   Step by step…

While these efforts are still incubating, with positive outcomes down the line, their very presence provides a sliver of light in this dark winter of our discontent.  Our Bronx children, alas, have been waiting a long time.  Let’s hope these initiatives yield fruit–soon.


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