Sooyun Sha is very happy with the Parent Infant Center (PIC) at 42nd and Spruce Sts., where her son Andy goes to pre-K.
“The education is really great, teachers are great, and I feel really safe to send Andy there.”
Sha’s impressions sum up a successful partnership model connecting the District to many community-based child care providers across the city.
PIC is one of 60 community agencies that partner with the District to provide high-quality pre-K programs to low-income families. The District manages and allocates the federal and state grants that fund the programs. For their part, the community-based child care providers offer free pre-K to families who qualify for government support.
The money comes from federal and state Head Start programs, and from a two-year-old state program called Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts, which is designed to increase access to pre-K for low-income families. The District funds pre-K for 9,975 children through these partnerships.
The partnerships have clear benefits for all involved. For the District, they ensure that more children enter kindergarten prepared for success. By upholding high academic standards, the District pushes centers traditionally focused on taking care of children to play a more rigorous educational role. Participating community-based providers are required to offer five hours daily of high-quality instruction through the school year, delivered by teachers who have at least a bachelor’s degree.
David Silberman, director of Partnership Development and Support at the District explains one objective of the District partnership as “going from a culture of compliance – you get your license and you don’t let anybody get seriously hurt – to a culture of competence and best practice.”
He adds that the District didn’t have the space to expand programs and acknowledges that despite the District’s education expertise, “the partners know the community better than we do.”
For their part, community-based providers benefit from a wealth of knowledge and support they otherwise might not be able to afford. Each site receives regular visits from an instructional specialist, a special-needs coordinator, a social worker, a nurse, and a parent involvement field representative. These professionals observe and model teaching practices in classrooms to help individual teachers improve. They also prepare workshops and trainings for the partners.
Angela Harrison of Dixon Learning Academy in South Philadelphia praises the District’s approach. “They don’t come in trying to run our program. They talk to the teachers and ask them what they need to improve their job.”
Alfredo Calderón, chief executive officer of ASPIRA, a bilingual program in North Philadelphia, describes it as a “true partnership,” one in which professionals share information and provide understanding and support.
For parents, programs such as Pre-K Counts offered at their local child care centers meet their need for centers that provide extended day and summertime care, unlike District pre-K programs.
Parents are also happy to see their children receiving rigorous instruction. At the Rising Sun Daycare Center in North Philadelphia, Elina Henri thinks the program is playing an important role in preparing her daughter Debora for kindergarten. “Day care is just fun,” she says, “but Pre K Counts is teaching. The day is structured like a school day to get them prepared for school.”
The partnerships have proved particularly successful for immigrant families. The District addresses issues relevant to English language learners in all its professional development opportunities.
“It’s a very conscious effort on our part,” says Silberman. “All the materials that we purchase for our own programs are cognizant of the wide variety of cultures and languages that exist in the centers; all of our workshops take into account those things.”
At PIC, children come from all over, including Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Spain, Korea and China. Parents welcome the chance for their children to practice English in a supportive environment, while meeting classmates with different backgrounds.
Parent Genze Shao is pleased with his daughter Jasmine’s progress: “I think Jasmine learned a lot; the first thing is her language. At home we speak Chinese, but we want her to learn some English…. At first she got confused, but by the end of the year it’s good; she understands everything.”
Despite the partnership model’s success, its fate depends on the outcome of the state budget dispute. Providers and District officials are worried about the future.
As Silberman says, “We’ve done wonders for the children of Philadelphia, but this doesn’t come cheap. If the legislators decide there is not enough money to do this, it will not get done, and I think that will be tragic.”