If you want to build a structure that lasts, it has to have a solid foundation. Communities first began building early childhood partnerships with the support of Best Beginnings in 2009. Now, with partnerships in seven Alaska communities, four “pillars” have emerged as the cornerstones common to each one.
The four pillars are:
- Community Support for Early Childhood
- Parent Engagement & Education
- Language & Literacy
- Partnership Development & Sustainability
With these pillars in place, partnerships can engage more of their community in practical and creative ways to tackle the issues related to young children – but this doesn’t make the work any easier. Partnership work is rarely simple and straightforward. Joy Lyon, a founding member of the Juneau Partnership for Families and Children, says that despite the challenges, the rewards are clear.
“We’re able to work together across our individual agency silos, to accomplish more than we thought possible,” she said. “We are energized by seeing how much we can accomplish together. Seeing measurable results toward our goals keeps everyone coming to the table. Everyone wants to be part of the action!”
Each of the seven partnerships – in Anchorage, Mat-Su, Juneau, Fairbanks, Homer, Ketchikan, and Wrangell – works on all four pillars at various times during the year. How that looks depends on the specific needs of the community as identified by the partnership, but the four pillars provide a universal framework.
Community Support for Early Childhood
Partnerships identify and connect supporters in different ways, from local government funding commitments in Juneau and Wrangell, to coalitions with the business community in Mat-Su and Fairbanks, to a massive community volunteer effort in Homer.
Parent Engagement & Education
Partnerships get creative in how they reach and teach parents, a child’s first teacher. They conduct parent workshops, training, and home visits (Anchorage, Ketchikan, Homer, Fairbanks, Juneau); organize structured play groups (Fairbanks); sponsor family nights (Wrangell and Fairbanks); and organize health and developmental screenings (Fairbanks, Juneau, and Wrangell). These all help strengthen families and ensure more positive outcomes.
Language & Literacy
Many partnerships support Imagination Library activities in their communities. In addition, in Fairbanks, the partnership organized education sessions for 152 child care providers about school readiness. Thanks to the Wrangell Early Childhood Coalition, every 4- and 5-year-old in Wrangell spent at least four hours a day, four days a week in a quality early learning program during 2012. Working together, communities can take action that increases a child’s readiness for school and their language and literacy skills.
Success in this area makes success with the other three partnership pillars possible and enduring. One of the best ways to ensure healthy and sustainable partnerships is to keep their membership diverse. More diverse stakeholders lead to more creativity and more resources brought to the table.
For example, 31 of the 52 licensed child care centers in Mat-Su collaborated on quality improvement with the partnership there, expanding and deepening relationships. Fairbanks Families demonstrates its diversity by including 13 nonprofits, five child care programs, eight government agencies, and three tribal agencies. And the 21 partner organizations in the Juneau Partnership for Families and Children regularly participate in the partnerships meetings and activities.
Best Beginnings believes that with a solid foundation built on these four partnership pillars there are few limits to what communities can create to support parents and young children. These pillars also serve as a roadmap for other communities that want to know how they can create local systems for early childhood and connect the resources and relationships needed to achieve their goals.