Community Foundation of St. Joseph County

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Early Years Count Education Initiative

A student at Vision Day Care in South Bend

In 2001, the Community Foundation received $5 million from the Lilly Endowment to improve education in St. Joseph County. Because most kids who start out behind stay behind, high-quality early childhood education can make a big difference in preparing children to succeed in school—academically, socially, and emotionally.

The goal of our Early Years Count Education Initiative is to give disadvantaged children a fair start, and that’s exactly what we’ve been doing.

Since 2001, we've partnered with the Family Connection of St. Joseph County to use the research-based, nationally recognized HighScope program to train more than 430 teachers, assistants, and administrators in effective classroom techniques. We’ve evaluated the success of the program through the Early Childhood Assessment Project (ECAP), which uses objective rating scales to judge how well these new tools are being incorporated. And we’ve helped teachers get the mentoring and support they need through ECAP mini-grants, intensive seminars with local and national experts, and ongoing High/Scope classes and workshops.

In 2013, we began taking the next step to contribute to the success of our community’s children. Now we're providing professional development and support to elementary teachers, too. 

To do this, we’re using a research- and evidence-based approach to elementary education called Responsive Classroom. This approach, which emphasizes building strong, respectful relationships among peers, has been tremendously successful in greater teacher effectiveness, higher student achievement, and improved school climate. The best thing about Responsive Classroom is that it’s not a new system of teaching; rather, it’s an approach that incorporates methods that many of our best teachers are already using.

In 2016-17, the Community Foundation has expanded its Responsive Classroom training to nine schools, involving more than 220 teachers and impacting some 3,400 local students.

Through this work, we’ve dramatically improved the quality of early childhood education for thousands of young children in Head Start classrooms and other centers throughout the county, as well as a growing number of kindergarten and first-grade classrooms. And that’s good for the entire community.