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Putting Children and Families First: How Officials Plan to Implement the Every Child Promise

Every Child Promise
Over 200 Supporters Signed the Every Child Promise at the ECP Rollout Jan. 21st/Credit: Mike Smith

The Every Child Promise aims to cut in half the number of local youth who are unprepared to learn upon entering kindergarten within 10 years. KSMU's Mike Smith has more in our latest installment of Making a Difference Where You Live.

“I’m here today, to talk about a promise.  Our community promises to empower families so that every child age birth to 6 has the opportunity to enter our schools ready to learn," said Todd Parnell, co-chair of the Every Child Promise , before over 200 people during the January 21st rollout of the ECP.   "This promise is home grown.  This promise is consistent with treasured community values.  It assumes sustainability, not over night, but over time.  It assumes universal, voluntary accessibility…A long phrase, but what it means is that every parent and every child in our community who wants access will be able to afford it.  Its grounded in community ownership, community focus, community control and community funding.  Every Child a community value, and we’ll do it our way, the Springfield way." 

That means supporting 5 areas of importance to the Promise:  Early Child Care, Pre-K Education, Food/Nutrition, and Health Care programs, as well as address the high rate of child abuse and neglect in Greene County. 

Also announced January 21st, the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, private citizens and businesses, and families, led by the O’Reilly and Wooten families, have already pledged $900,000 toward the $1.2 million 10-year initiative. 

“It’s ambitious to start out with 5 pilots but we felt like these are all critical, and if we then can see the difference early childhood education makes in the community, we believe the community will respond and look at sustainable  funding, so that is certainly our hope,” says Community Foundation of the Ozarks President Brian Fogle.

Fogle says about a year ago, a series of reports in the Springfield News-Leader about Springfield’s children of poverty, and a certain photograph contained in the series served as a wakeup call and a call to action.

“You see that one photo of the young child, barefoot on a dirt floor, they were living in a garage with that lone light bulb overhead. The picture really brought home the reality of poverty and what some children are growing up in, and I think it really took us out of our comfort level to say we really need to do something about this.”

Thus was born the Every Child Promise strategic plan.  Todd Parnell and his wife Betty were named co-Chairs of the overall initiative.  An executive board was established, committee chairs called their groups to action, technical advisors advised.

“The community has already responded tremendously," Fogle says. "The Mayor’s on board, the superintendent of schools, United Way, Community Partnership, the business sector, The Chamber, the Faith Community.  We looked at what this would take and who should be at the table and everybody we asked said yes.”   

All in all, 157 citizens met 27 times last September and October to provide input for the final plan.  Additional input came from 450 more citizens during community forums. 

Dana Carroll is Springfield’s Child Advocate. 

“The main focus is to put children and families in our community first.  When we are faced with lots of issues, which we know we are everyday, I want our community to say 'First are our children and their families' and if we can support our children and families, then everything else we do is going to be better. When Children are healthy, communities are healthy.”

By 2023, fulfillment of the Every Child Promise will mean 90% of Springfield children entering kindergarten will be ready to learn.  Brian Fogle says that’s double the current number. 

“We believe we can do that with the right resources and the community buying in.  Ready to learn doesn’t necessarily mean you know your ABC’s.  It means you can sit still, you can work with other children, you know how to listen and follow instruction.  It’s basic things we sometimes take for granted but a lot of children don’t get that exposure growing up.  Certainly a quality preschool helps with that,” Fogle says.

SOUND OF 4 AND 5 YEAR OLD KIDS IN A LIGHTHOUSE CHILD AND FAMILY DEVELOPMENT CENTER:

Kim Gilman is the Executive Director of the center. 

“We’re really excited about the ECP because it’s the community supporting what we are doing here,” Gilman said. 

The Lighthouse early childhood program is seen by the ECP Executive Committee as a model for other preschool providers to make good on the promise to cut in half the number of children who are unprepared to enter kindergarten. 

“We partner with faith based churches in the community.  We are located in the Messiah Lutheran Church and here in the First Baptist Church on South Street. We like to have highly qualified teachers in our preschool classrooms.  We have masters level and degreed teachers working for us. The kids from 2 on up through preschool we focus on social skills.  Getting along with others, following directions, and we do that through daily routine and play.  Our program is set up in learning centers and the children get to interact with each other during the day and learn those skills.” 

Gilman says parental or family involvement is key to successful child development and the Lighthouse Child and Family Development Centers require it.

“We know when families are healthy and doing well, then children do well.  We know when families are engaged, and here families are required to volunteer so many hours in the a year, when families are engaged, we know children do better in school.”

Tim Rosenbury is a Springfield businessman and a member of the ECP Task Force. 

“Here’s the challenge," Rosenbury says. "Investing in kids before they enter school so they are ready to learn is the long dollar.  In other words you got to spend money up front in order to see results at the end.  The short dime is not spending that money until later in life and using it for incarceration, property damage, police enforcement, things like that. In other places where they’ve invested in children’s programs, economic studies consistently show the return is better by proactively investing the money up front, rather than reactively spending the money fixing problems caused a long time ago.” 

CFO President Brian Fogle adds that, “The four year olds of today are the work force in 20 years.  If we can have them better prepared and successful in school, they’ll be more successful as employees, and again when you’re successful as an employee you’ll probably be more successful in a family and in a civil society in general.  There’s a direct cause and effect of how successful you are as a four year old and what you’re going to do the rest of your life.” 

For information on supporting the Every Child Promise through the Community Foundation of the Ozarks crowd funding platform Cause Momentum, visit causemomentum.org or cfozarks.org