Helping Raise the Bar on Early Learning in Central Alabama

The importance of high-quality pre-kindergarten programs cannot be overstated. According to the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education, a high-quality Pre-K experience makes children less likely to repeat a grade; they score higher on achievement tests; and they’re more likely to go to college, earn higher salaries and stay out of prison and off welfare. All of which are long-term, big-picture reasons why the Bold Goals Coalition’s Early Learning Action Network (ELAN) is focused on creating universal access to First Class Pre-K in Central Alabama.

What is First Class Pre-K? It’s an innovative and voluntary program from the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education that outlines a set of standards for Pre-K to prepare children for success in school and lifelong learning. First Class Pre-K is specifically designed to help children develop an enthusiasm for learning, an ability to function in a social setting and a range of age-appropriate skills, including communication, problem-solving, emotional and physical. To accomplish this, First Class Pre-K uses a “diverse delivery” grant structure to provide public schools, Head Start and private programs with access to resources, such as funding for classrooms and professional coaching.

What is ELAN doing to help more children benefit from the First Class Pre-K experience? The State of Alabama provides qualified early learning centers with grant money for the purpose of enhancing their facilities, staff and programs in order to be designated First Class Pre-K. Successfully preparing and applying for these grants, however, is a skill unto itself. That’s where the Bold Goals Early Learning Action Network comes in.

ELAN provides guidance and support for early learning centers to help them become strong candidates for Alabama’s First Class Pre-K grants. The network conducts informative workshops and works closely with learning centers throughout the grant-application process. Those that participate in the initiative consistently make dramatic improvements in the quality of their facilities and curriculum. As a result, a high percentage receive sustainable First Class Pre-K funding, and credit ELAN’s assistance for their success.

For example, one learning center director wrote:

“We want to thank [you] for putting together training, support and coaching to assist programs through this process. Having someone from [the] Department of Early Childhood come and speak about the process, as well as having the thorough training on grant writing, helped us to focus on the specifics of what we needed to do. Support in evaluating our program and helping us look at strengths and areas for growth was immensely helpful not only for this process but for our overall goal of quality programming. Having staff read the grant request and giving feedback was a key component.”

Nearly 200 more First Class Pre-K classrooms are opening this fall, following a $26.8-million expansion of the program approved by the state legislature earlier this year. That increases the total number of First-Class Pre-K classrooms across Alabama to more than 1,200. In spite of that growth, however, there are still only enough classrooms statewide to accommodate about 40% of Alabama’s four-year-olds. For this reason, ELAN, which has mainly impacted Jefferson County thus far, will now be expanding its work into Blount, Shelby, St. Clair and Walker counties with the help of a Bold Goals Vision Council Grant. This is a major building block in the Bold Goals Coalition’s broader work to ensure that Central Alabama has 90% of high school seniors college and career-ready, and 125,000 highly skilled adults added to the workforce, by 2025.

The Bold Goals Coalition is 200 organizations solving big community problems by aligning partners, resources and agendas. To learn more about what Bold Goals is doing for education in Central Alabama, visit our website.