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Improving kindergarten readiness by promoting children’s developmental health

Pre-K children at ELNC. Photo taken pre-pandemic.

In 2009, a shockwave went through Kent County, Mich. when then-Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Bernard Taylor noted that 83 percent of Grand Rapids students were not ready to enter kindergarten. As a response to the call to action to better prepare local children for kindergarten, Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative (ELNC) was established, taking a comprehensive approach to preparing a child for preschool.

Over the past decade, ELNC has been assessing the problem and evolving a solution for some of the most vulnerable families in Grand Rapids. Not only have they created learning programs and experiences for zero- to five-year-old children, but they have realized that the issue is not solely intellectual. In fact, in many circumstances children are living in an impoverished environment which creates many barriers that affect one’s education.

“You can’t just create a preschool program and expect parents to bring their children when they are dealing with housing insecurity and struggling to put food on the table,” said Dr. Nkechy Ekere Ezeh, founder and CEO, ELNC. “ELNC uses a two-generational approach. Through our Empowering Parents Impacting Children (EPIC) model, we use Family Coaches to identify and address barriers preventing them from meeting basic needs and rely on community resources to help families improve well-being.”

While the organization certainly is making progress and seeing results in children’s preparedness, they have continued to evolve their services. Over time, ELNC observed that families who struggle to meet their basic needs likely also struggle to navigate appropriate healthcare systems their children may need. That Is why in 2020, ELNC established the Healthy Outcomes Promote Education (HOPE) program where they look at the whole health of the child in preparation for schooling.

“We have to be more inclusive of child development. Children need their eyes checked, teeth checked, and behavioral health assessed,” said Ezeh.

With a $50,000 grant from The Children’s Foundation, ELNC hired a health services coordinator to oversee 120 three- and four-year old enrolled children, helping to assist families in their efforts to address any health issues preventing children from reaching their fullest development potential. The coordinator assists families navigating healthcare systems to establish medical and dental homes, ensuring children receive referrals and appropriate follow-up services.

Poor health can cause educational setbacks and interfere with schooling; health conditions, disabilities, and unhealthy behaviors can all influence educational outcomes. ELNC’s HOPE program, and particularly the newly hired Health Services Coordinator, exist to address these issues and ultimately continue improving the readiness of kindergartners. This is the first of a three-year initiative and data will be collected and analyzed throughout the duration of the program.

Help us improve the health and wellness of more children and families.

You can help us reach more children and families by making a gift to The Children’s Foundation. Click here to make your gift.

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