Early Learning & Development

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Early Learning & Development

Goal: To help students in Erie County perform at grade level by the time they reach third grade.

Small changes early in life can have a dramatic impact on educational success later in life. 

Children who are below grade-level proficiency by the time they reach third grade are much less likely to graduate from high school than their counterparts. Those who do not graduate high school are more likely to need public assistance and earn significantly less than their peers later in life. We know that in order to help children reach grade-level proficiency, they need to receive targeted interventions focused on not only literacy and math, but also their social-emotional and mental health. Unfortunately, children in our community do not always have access to these critical early care and learning interventions, and as such are falling behind. On average in Erie County, 45% of third-graders are reading at grade level and 40% can do math at grade level. This is even more true for children of color. For Black students, only 21% are proficient in English Language Arts and 17% in math. 

One way United Way works to increase the number of students in Erie County performing at grade level by third grade is through investing in evidence-based community programs with a strong track record of work in this area. When seeking out these programs we also wanted to take into account the systemic inequities that have disproportionately affected communities of color in our area. We undertook a broad community campaign that prioritized zip codes that had a high proportion of residents experiencing financial hardship and/or a high proportion of residents of color by race and/or ethnicity. The results were overwhelmingly positive. We collected a record number of applications for community investments, and a large portion of those came from non-profit organizations that we have not partnered with in the past. 

Due to the success of the 2020-2021 annual campaign, we were able to invest over half a million dollars in 19 different programs across 18 different non profit agencies. These programs are targeted toward providing strategic interventions so that children are better equipped to perform at grade level later in life. These programs are both wide-ranging and far-reaching, they include programs like ParentChild+ and the CARE Child Care Program. 

ParentChild+ is an evidence-based intensive school-readiness home visiting program. This program aims to use educational opportunities to break the cycle of poverty. ParentChild+ works with families of toddlers who are challenged by poverty, isolation, language, literacy and cultural barriers. Early Learning Specialists spend an hour a week in participating families' homes for a minimum of 23 weeks a year. When visiting the homes, Early Learning Specialists bring age-appropriate books and toys which are used to help develop early literacy and school readiness skills, increase parent-child verbal interaction, model positive parenting and promote positive social behaviors. The educational books and toys remain with the family free of charge, which assists in transforming the home learning environment and gives the parents the tools to continue positive interaction with their children. 

Studies show that children from economically disadvantaged families are on average exposed to 32 million fewer words by age 4 than their more affluent peers. This phenomenon is known as the word gap. This word gap can interfere with a child’s ability to learn, and children who don’t meet educational milestones early in life are more likely to be placed in special education classrooms later. The CARE Child Care program aims to reduce the word gap by maximizing the language and vocabulary development of infants, toddlers and preschoolers. They do this by giving child care providers access to evidenced-based tools and strategies, empowering them to provide high-quality, nurturing educationally and developmentally appropriate care. The CARE Child Care program sends certified Early Literacy Intervention Specialists into child care settings to work one on one with child care providers to meet the different needs of the children in their care. These Specialists are trained to deliver developmental assessments for every child so that child care providers can use that data to create individualized learning plans that are as unique as every child they work with. This program works with in-home child care providers who most often work with a high percentage of low-income families. 

Children are our community's greatest resource. Ensuring that they have access to high-quality early care and learning experiences and that parents are better equipped to be a partner in their child's development and education is crucial to ensuring that children are able to perform at grade level later in life. 

The work of United Way of Buffalo & Erie County and our partner agencies is critical to closing the achievement gap for so many of our children. Please consider supporting the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County’s annual campaign so that we can continue to do this vital work. As little as $2 a week can provide a book a month for 10 children for the entire school year. Meaningful change in our community starts with people like you choosing to make a difference. Make your pledge to the UWBEC annual campaign here uwbec.org/give 

If you are interested in learning more about the funded agencies and the ways in which general campaign funds make a positive change in our community visit uwbec.org/impact