Starting Strong with Social Supports
As we put our strategic plan into action in 2019, we targeted programmatic investments to three school communities and surrounding neighborhoods: Calvin Rodwell Elementary/Middle School in Howard Park, Liberty Elementary School in Forest Park, and Dorothy I. Height Elementary School in Reservoir Hill. We supported schools with funding for capital improvements, support services and enrichment programs that nurture academic excellence and expand opportunities for young people. Grants to schools and school partners were paired with ones to community development organizations and nonprofits working collaboratively to build a cleaner, greener and more vibrant neighborhood around each school.
As we made grants, we reflected on how we might measure long-term impact and ultimately success. One metric that arose immediately was kindergarten readiness. In Baltimore City, just 39% of children are deemed ready for kindergarten and Black and Latino children are less likely to be ready than their white peers as a result of inequitable access to early learning opportunities. BCF has long supported Judith P. Hoyer Early Child Care and Family Education Centers—or Judy Centers, as they are more commonly known, and fortunately two of our target neighborhoods includes one. These centers work closely with schools and often share space in buildings, providing Pre-K classes and wraparound support services for children ages birth through five and their families. The wide range of supports Judy Centers provide include providing food assistance; help securing WIC, SNAP and other government benefits; rapid rehousing/eviction prevention; GED classes; job readiness training and certifications; mental health support; parenting classes and social activities. For the 2018-19 school year, 55% of incoming Baltimore City children with Judy Center experience met kindergarten readiness benchmarks.
At the Dorothy I. Height Judy Center, parents connect with their children and each other in regular playgroups and support groups. “That social emotional piece is so important,” says Crystal Harris, the Judy Center coordinator at Dorothy I. Height, which also has a full-time mental health consultant on staff. “If kids aren’t able to share, aren’t able to express their emotions, are they ready to learn?” Likewise, parents and caregivers need a safe place to release their emotions, venting about challenges and sharing solutions. “We’re all out here thinking that it’s only ourselves, and really we’re all going through the same thing,” said one parent.