Preparing kids for school

By Chris Gigley

GREENSBORO, NC – United Way of Greater Greensboro has launched a collaborative effort to prepare young children in Guilford County for school.

The collaborative, which focuses on children from birth to age three, includes more than 40 members, including county government agencies, Moses Cone and Women’s Hospital, children’s advocacy groups and United Way agencies.

“We go into this with the understanding that there are some real heroes in our community who are working on these issues already,” says Sam Parker, vice president of community investment for United Way. “We’re trying to assist them and create collaborations to make the public more aware of the importance of helping children before age three.”

Thriving at Three, which was formed in February, has already met twice, focusing initially on trying to identify existing services and gaps in services.

The initiative grew out of an assessment of community needs conducted last year by area foundations and United Way.

The study identified 12 key community needs, including preparing children to handle school.

United Way then consulted with child-development experts and researchers, and found the most impact could be made on children from birth to three years old, Parker says.

“By age three, a lot of things have happened to children developmentally,” he says. “There are issues of brain chemistry and other things we’re just learning in the sciences.”

Charmaine Purdum, coordinator for the Guilford County Coalition for Infant Mortality, says she had first-hand knowledge of the disparities among children at the kindergarten level, and jumped at the chance to be involved with the collaborative.

“I have a son in kindergarten, and I’ve talked to his teacher and seen the great diversity in his class,” she says. “There are 25 kids in his classroom. My mouth was on the ground initially when I saw what some of these kids had and others didn’t.”

The problem, she says, is that no one knows where kids are developmentally until they reach kindergarten.

By then, catching up can be difficult, she says.

Thriving at Three aims to help more kindergarten children start at the same skill level by helping at-risk children before they turn three.

At-risk children to be served by Thriving at Three, says Parker, will be defined based on feedback from clinics dealing with high-risk births. These risks range from poverty to drug abuse problems.

For the short term, Parker says, United Way set aside funding for the initiative.

“Down line hope we can bring in foundations and other sources of income from a federal and state-wide basis,” he says. “We think that in a couple of years we’ll be ready for seeking grants from governmental and other organizations.”

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