Drexel University and the William Penn Foundation are partnering to improve the quality of West Philadelphia child care centers by working with parents, caretakers, and community organizations. The effort will be coordinated by Drexel and funded by a three-year $1.8 million grant from William Penn.
The West Philadelphia Promise Zone (a place-based community development program initiated by the Obama Administration earlier this year) is the target area. The zone is bounded by Girard Avenue to the north, Sansom street to the south, 48th Street to the west and the Schuylkill River to the east. It contains the low-income neighborhoods of Mantua, Belmont, Saunders Park and West Powelton.
Drexel has made improving education in surrounding neighborhoods a major goal of its community engagement strategy, which has been amped up since President John Fry was appointed in 2010. The University started by working with K-8 schools, but soon took a more comprehensive approach.
“When you start working with K-8, you realize that you have to go back and you have to go forward,” said Lucy Kerman, vice provost for University and Community Partnerships at Drexel.
This initially meant working with pre-K classrooms with a focus on early literacy to help children at an even younger age — but again, it became clear that a crucial learning stage was not being addressed.
“You start working in pre-K and you say ‘wait a minute, we can’t work in pre-K without understanding where these kids are coming from,'” said Kerman. “We need to be looking at education for children under five.”
Drexel received a planning grant from William Penn in 2013 to do a needs assessment of the area’s child care centers, which determined that 483 families in the target area had children under five years old. Drexel was able to get in contact with 443 of them. Nearly a quarter of the children were cared for at home, leaving the majority in the hands of the child care system, which includes a mix of independent centers and local branches of large organizations.
Based on a state rating system, 65 percent of child care providers in the target area are of low quality.
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Kerman explained that the quality of a child care center is determined by a few key factors: the amount of stimulation available for the children, the availability of educational resources, the overall quality of the surroundings, and the quality of the caretakers, including whether or not they have teaching experience.
Many of these factors are, in effect, looking at the distinction between watching over the children and providing them with stimulus and opportunities for learning. The goal of Drexel and its community partners is to move child care centers towards becoming viable learning opportunities.
“I think the real problem [in the target area] is shortage of high quality seats,” said Elliot Weinbaum, senior program officer of the Great Learning program area at William Penn. He added that the current number of children in high quality seats is 300 out of a total of over 1,100.
Community partners, who will work directly with parents and child care providers, include the Children’s Literacy Initiative, Philadelphia Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children, People’s Emergency Center, and the School District of Philadelphia.
“The effort will double the number of high quality seats in that neighborhood,” Weinbaum said.-30-
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