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Community Partners Share Next Steps in Plan to Ensure all Kids are Ready to Learn


On Monday, January 13, community partners and the Ready to Learn Team shared the next steps to ensuring all Rockford kids are ready to learn. The event was held at Patriots Gateway Center, 615 S. 5th St., Rockford.

The Ready to Learn Team – a joint effort from Alignment Rockford, Transform Rockford and Rockford Public Schools with support from dozens of community organizations and schools – has finalized three main areas to focus their work to improve kindergarten readiness in the Rockford community:

  • Family-friendly neighborhoods
  • Early Childhood continuity
  • Coaching & support for parents/families and professionals

Members of the Ready to Learn team know that improving kindergarten readiness will improve the outcomes for students, families, neighborhoods, and our region as a whole. These three areas were determined based on data collected about Rockford’s youngest learners and feedback from the Rockford community to guide and push transformative change.

The data – gathered through the Early Development Instrument with data partner Erikson Institute – came from an assessment of more than 2,000 public and private kindergarten students in Rockford, conducted in January 2019. Information about the readiness to learn for these students, plus other neighborhood data, were mapped with neighborhood census tracts. (Click here to view the interactive map with the community data.) Community members offered feedback in June through September to provide context and help the Ready to Learn Team understand the data and more about families’ strengths and vulnerabilities at the neighborhood level. The Ready to Learn Team sorted and prioritized hundreds of comments from the community – specifically from community members who live and work in areas of strength and opportunity. Themes include: 

  • Vibrant wrap-around community centers – like St. Elizabeth’s Center, Patriots Gateway Center and Rock House Kids, for example – help families mitigate difficulties associated with unemployment, housing and transportation issues. They serve as community anchors for families.
  •  RPS 205 Early Childhood programs and Orton Keyes Head Start have made a difference for social, emotional and communication domains.
  • Strengths were more prevalent than expected in several areas of the community, and vulnerabilities were not isolated to specific areas of the community. 

What’s happening now: The Ready to Learn team is solidifying work teams to further explore and implement strategies for transformation. Each strategy will have a team of volunteers focused on the work with Alignment Rockford. These volunteers are called A-Teams – or Alignment Teams – and will use the collective impact model to make meaningful and effective change in a particular area. The A-Teams will work to first understand the data, conduct a gap analysis, develop a tactical plan, pilot that plan, assess it, and – if that plan worked – scale it up.

More about the Alignment Rockford work teams, or A-Team:

  • Family-friendly neighborhoods team: This team will explore and develop tactics to strengthen and connect families. If a family is socially connected to other families and resources, their vulnerability is lower than families that are not socially connected. This group will focus on neighborhoods with high vulnerability and low existing community assets.
  • Early Childhood continuity team: This team will develop tactics that address access, location, equity, quality, transportation and transitions between private and public early childhood programs – for children from birth through age 5 – and help the transition into kindergarten. The team will question ways to ensure children and families have access to quality programs and ensure transitions are effective from one program to the next.
  • Coaching & support for parents/families and professionals: This team will develop tactics that improve the skill and knowledge of everyone in the Rockford community who interacts with young children – such as parents, caregivers, teachers, aids, medical professionals, social workers, public safety officers and more. The team will focus on mental health, social health and trauma-informed and culturally competent responses. 

The Ready to Learn initiative also sparked two additional work groups:

  • Community Connectors: This team of emergent strategy pollinators will connect with existing efforts to share the Early Development Instrument data and encourage individuals and organizations to align their work with this approach – and with each other. The team will consist of people who are highly connected in the community and enthusiastic and optimistic about early childhood learning and our community.
  • Policy Roundtable: This team will use the Early Development Instrument data plus information from the other A-Teams to design and implement policy-level solutions. The team will largely drive funding, change policy, convene stakeholders and align resources so the Rockford community becomes a place that all young children thrive.

Speakers at the event included:

  • Dr. Matthew Johnson, Senior Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church, Rockford, and co-chair of the Ready to Learn Team
  • Anisha Grimmett, Alignment Rockford Executive Director
  • David Sidney, Executive Director of Transform Rockford
  • Rockford Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Ehren Jarrett
  • Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara
  • Jon Bates, President of the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois
  • Geoffrey Nagle, President and CEO of Erikson Institute and a leader in Early Childhood policy and research
  • Heidi Dettman, Executive Director of Academics for Rockford Public Schools and co-chair of the Ready to Learn Team
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