On a Roll: The Early Childhood Intersections Bus Tour

On Friday, April 26th, almost 30 early education professionals joined us for a field trip around Atlanta on a school bus! Our attendees, who were a mix of community leaders from public school systems, early learning centers, and more, actually skipped the classic-but-clattery yellow bus in favor of a comfortable touring model, but we did visit an amazing quartet of schools for children ages zero to five.  

According to the GEEARS Bus Tour’s theme, Early Childhood Intersections, we visited innovative early care and learning sites to learn about the ecosystem of community supports that helps them build and maintain high-quality early learning environments. Many attendees expressed a hunger to learn about new resources and relationship-building ideas that they could bring back to their own programs or communities.  

Sure, enough, each of the programs we visited echoed what we heard from Reverend Larry Hill at our second stop, Northwest Youth Power @ Magnolia: “Partnerships are so critical.”  

Hill and Center Director, Gail White, then rattled off just a few of the connections who help their program succeed, from their local Neighborhood Planning Unit to the Atlanta Housing Authority to Councilman Byron Amis to community ambassadors.  

In their community, White added, the growth that comes from outside investment does—and must—extend beyond her students’ classrooms, where many families are living in poverty. She understands that healthy, happy, well-educated children can’t exist in a vacuum. Their families need access to tools that can improve their wellbeing.  

“We always have to make sure that the students and most importantly the families we work with have tools, like information regarding housing or utility assistance,” White told the tour. “Last year, we actually did a health fair with a 5K for the entire community in which we talked about nutrition, we talked about exercise. But we didn’t just talk about it. We did it. We brought in food trucks, and we served 100-plus individuals.”  

Before we boarded the bus for our next stop, White made one more connection! Allison O’Hara, who works on the behavioral and mental health prevention team of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s community prevention arm drew White aside for a private chat. Afterwards, she confided, “We don’t yet work with this center, but I would love to. This site is perfect for this program because I noticed that they don’t already have feelings, posters or coping skills areas [in the classrooms]. We can provide those.”  

We saw fascinating variations on our connectivity theme at all the programs we visited. Speakers at Whitefoord Early Learning Academy cited its location in the same building as the Atlanta Public Schools’ Office of Early Learning and across the street from a dedicated health clinic as a major reason for improved health among the students and staff. They noted that these associations have positively impacted students’ learning and that they often lead to swifter access to medical services.  

“Our offices are upstairs, so I can see Michelle every day,” said Bridget Bailey, APS’s Early Learning Coordinator, referring to Whitefoord’s Director, Michelle Jackson. “So, if Michelle gets some babies that show some challenges, we have staff that are available to just come down and give her strategies. If you’re in the building and you have the resources, then you share them!”  

At KIDazzle @ York Avenue, we learned both about the program’s connection to the West End branch of the Fulton County Library and its well-orchestrated food program, which uses both the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and a local charity that provides some produce for KIDazzle’s chefs, who prep meals for all five of their Atlanta locations.  

Finally, we visited Premier Academy in Midtown and learned about all the services it offers—from Applied Behavioral Analysis to a program called the Childhood Acute Mental Health Program (CAMP) to a Montessori curriculum.  

Montessori has typically been reserved for the elite,” said Cindra Taylor, Premier’s former director (and mother of current director, Starla Bailey) in a video we watched before touring the sprawling center. “You know why? Because they can afford it. But our children [in marginalized communities] deserve that as well.” 

It wasn’t a surprise that Premier’s Montessori coach and connector—Trish Winfrey of Montessori Partnerships for Georgia—was in the audience. That sort of active involvement was a perfect embodiment of the Bus Tour’s intersectional theme.  

Incidentally, all the programs referenced the GEEARS-led PAACT: Promise All Atlanta Children Thrive and its grants for repairs and renovations as a partner in their success. Whitefoord is renovating a restroom, for instance, and Youth Power used a PAACT grant to replace a badly dilapidated outdoor play area.  

On Saturday, April 27th, the exploration continued at the Building Babies Brains Impact Lab conference in Gwinnett. Participants saw how BBB connects child care programs to professional development opportunities and resources to bring back to their programs. Participants also played the Brain Architecture Game, which helped build an understanding of the powerful impact of experiences on early brain development. 

Between the Bus Tour’s rich content and its sociable format—which allowed participants to chat and network both on the go and at lunch—we’re confident that even more early childhood intersections were forged on our Bus Tour. Thanks to all who came along for the ride. We can’t wait to have you aboard next time!