RVA Parenting: A look at regional early learning programs - NBC12 - WWBT - Richmond, VA News On Your Side

RVA Parenting: A look at regional early learning programs

By Monica Callahan

Smart Beginnings Greater Richmond is a partnership among public and private agencies, businesses, and individuals serving the cities of Richmond, Colonial Heights, as well as Chesterfield, Charles City, Goochland, Hanover, Henrico, New Kent and Powhatan counties. The partnership works to enhance the quality of early childhood care and learning for young children, so they will be well-prepared to enter the workforce.

Recognizing the importance of early childhood development, businesses, nonprofits, governments, school, and philanthropic leaders in Greater Richmond have been working together to provide support to families with young children and to bring attention to the value of investing early to help young children thrive.

Smart Beginnings Greater Richmond can trace its roots back more than 15 years, to Youth Matters, a project of ChamberRVA, and Success by Six at United Way of Greater Richmond and Petersburg. In 2006, these two efforts merged to form Smart Beginnings Greater Richmond, which has served as the region’s convener and coordinator for strategic early childhood initiatives ever since.

ChamberRVA has helped to establish early childhood as a crucial component of the workforce pipeline and raise awareness of the issue among business leaders. United Way’s reputation as a longstanding nonprofit and funder lends credibility to the work and provides access to a vibrant network of nonprofit partners and volunteers.

Smart Beginnings Greater Richmond is one of 17 regional Smart Beginnings initiatives that form a statewide network supported by the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation. The foundation works with Smart Beginnings partners across the state to understand barriers and promote opportunities for increasing access to high-quality early learning.

The Regional Plan was developed through a collaborative process that engaged more than 250 participants from 110 public and private organizations across Greater Richmond.

The Plan emphasizes children and families most in need, and focuses on the following key goals: 

  1. Greater Awareness and Enrollment: Increase awareness of the importance of early childhood and accelerate enrollment in high-quality programs.
  2. Collaborative and Intentional Pathways: Enhance collaborative and intentional pathways between schools and public and private programs serving families with young children to improve access and customer service.
  3. Policy Alignment and Public Will: Leverage national, regional, state, and local resources and build public will to expand and sustain the region’s quality early childhood services.
  4. Professional and Organizational Capacity: Strengthen professional and organizational capacity of early childhood programs to provide culturally- and trauma-informed care to families with young children.

The four goals focus on areas where there are disparities between children of color and non-minority children, where school districts have not made progress, and where economic insecurity has increased the emotional, social, and physical barriers to accessing care.

Smart Beginnings Greater Richmond represents a powerful network and organizing force, and the staff of the partnership serves as the backbone for coordinating and accelerating the shared vision. No one sector or organization can complete the Regional Plan for School Readiness 2017-2020 on its own. Success requires a multi-sector alliance and investment from public, nonprofit, private, and charitable sectors with families at the center.

A renewed collective impact model will build on and coordinate existing efforts and deliver with greater efficiency and impact. More than 110 organizations were involved in the creation of the plan, and we anticipate even more partners will be identified as the plan moves toward implementation.

At the core of the Plan is the belief that organizations, working together through a coordinated regional partnership, have more power, influence, and impact than they have working alone. The essence of the plan is to increase families’ ability to access high-quality early childhood resources and to use the partnership’s collective influence to advocate for strategic and targeted investments.

It will require a strong backbone organization — Smart Beginnings Greater Richmond — facilitating and guiding the work, and building on its role as the regional convener and backbone organization. It will also require greater accountability among its network partners, increased diversity of membership, and more family engagement.

The partnership will include an expanded group of stakeholders who will share accountability for results.

SBGR will build on years of success and long-standing relationships with its existing network to ensure the successful implementation of this new plan.

Since the first Regional Plan was launched in 2010, SBGR has increased public awareness, leveraged new resources for quality services, and built strong cross-sector representation and relationships.

SBGR partners have developed a shared agenda focusing on service delivery and system change, cultivated trust and better communication within the provider network, and served as a bridge between schools, localities, and programs. The Regional Plan for School Readiness 2017–2020 takes into account the region’s past successes and focuses attention where action is most needed.

SBGR’s selected accomplishments include:

  • Public awareness success through the Kindergarten Registration Campaign
  • Development of trusting relationships with providers,  schools and government
  • Greater recognition among the business community of the importance of early childhood; 4) Greater Public Sector Investment: Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI+) Preschool Expansion grant, MIECHV Home Visiting Expansion, Hanover County Home Visiting Investment and Expansion, City of Richmond Kellogg grant for Early Childhood Alignment, Development of Regional Local Government Coalitions.

The new Regional Plan will continue this history of success as it emphasizes children and families most in need. A child’s early years are too important not to invest in them, and this three-year plan provides a guide to where these investments are needed most.

RVA Parenting contributor Monica Callahan is the Director of Outreach and Development at Smart Beginnings.

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