Pre-to-3: Place-Based Early Literacy Initiatives Giving Families a Sense of Community Pride

Pre-to-3: Place-Based Early Literacy Initiatives Giving Families a Sense of Community Pride

By: Education Dive

Since 2012, families in Grundy County, Tennessee — northwest of Chattanooga — have been learning about lesser-known treasures in their rural community in partnership with the Yale Child Study Center, Scholastic and Sewanee: The University of the South.

Discover Together Grundy is a place-based, early literacy and family resilience initiative that aims to build stronger connections between families as they learn and share the stories that surround them. Through a parent co-op for young children, a summer camp and an after-school program, the children and their families begin to take pride in the place they call home.

“This is one of the most naturally beautiful areas in the state,” Dr. Linda Mayes, a psychiatry, pediatrics and psychology professor at Yale — who graduated from Sewanne — said in an interview. “Through grounding a curriculum in your place, the families are starting to learn about their own backyard.”

Now, the leaders of an early-childhood initiative in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, are hoping to bring those same experiences to families in an urban setting.

“The residents are so eager to be involved in decision making and the allocation of resources in this community,” Kassa Belay, the co-director of collective impact at SCO Family of Services, a New York City social services agency, said in an interview. Belay co-directs United for Brownsville with David Harrington of Community Solutions, a nonprofit focusing on solutions to homelessness.

While the daily lives of families in Grundy County are quite different from those who ride the 3 train in Brooklyn, Harrington said they share similar challenges, such as a sense of social isolation and feeling like they don’t have places in the community to enjoy as a family, or opportunities for their children.

“The specifics might be different,” Harrington said in an interview. “But the underlying concerns are the same.”

‘Changing the narrative’

As part of a “participatory planning” process, Harrington and Belay learned parents and others in the community have “an appetite for changing the narrative about Brownsville,” a predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhood where life expectancy is 11 years less than it is in the city’s financial district, more than a quarter of adults have not completed high school and rental units are more likely to be poorly maintained, according to a 2015 Community Health Profile.

The co-directors also learned families especially lacked structured opportunities for young children on the weekends.

“It hits home to me when I hear families say, ‘I don’t have safe, supportive things to do in this community,’” said Harrington. The father of a toddler son, he described the “great networks” available to families in his Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope and said he hopes Discover Together will create similar connections for Brownsville families.