Early Childhood

Molina Early Literacy Network Hits a New Turning Point

The Molina Early Literacy Network, representing 3,300 students, hit a new turning point on October 28 as principals representing the entire feeder pattern—all five elementary schools, the neighborhood middle school, and two high schools—came together with community and business leaders representing more than 20 organizations at Catholic Charities’ Santa Clara Regional Community Center.

The group used local data—on pre-K access, Kindergarten Readiness, early literacy, and parent needs—to identify barriers and surface potential community solutions.

Two key themes emerged from the discussion:
With data demonstrating that nearly one out of five incoming Molina 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders experienced significant summer learning loss in reading, the desire emerged to coordinate efforts for quality afterschool and summer programming
Informed by data showing that a high majority of ~2,000 Molina elementary parents surveyed indicated they would like more support in helping their children learn, the group focused on parent engagement as an area for collective action

Motivated to act, the Molina Network will move forward by identifying additional existing resources it might leverage, inviting additional stakeholders to join the group (especially neighborhood groups, faith-based organizations, businesses and parents) and convening again in January to action plan.

Thanks to the organizations below represented at the first meeting of Molina Community Partners:

All Stars Project
Big Thought
Carter Financial Management
Catch Up and Read
Catholic Charities
Children’s Medical Center
Crow Holdings
Dallas ISD
Dallas Public Library
Family Wellness Dallas
Jiv Daya Foundation
Leadership ISD
Literacy Instruction For Texas (LIFT)
Momentous Institute
Open Door Consulting
Teach For America
The Concilio
University of Dallas

To learn more and get involved, please reach out to Andy Canales, Director of Literacy Initiatives and Partnerships, at andy.canales@commit2dallas.org.

By |November 7th, 2014|Early Childhood, Early Literacy|0 Comments

Rallying Around Our Children’s Earliest Years

We need to act early to ensure our youngest children are positioned for lifelong success. James Heckman’s research finds a 7-to-1 return on early childhood investment in reduced expenses associated with remediation, unemployment and incarceration. Yet in 2013, fewer than half (49%) of Dallas County students entered Kindergarten ready to succeed, setting a ceiling on subsequent achievement that plays out irrespective of socioeconomics.

The time for action couldn’t be better. With federal, state and city attention zeroed in on children’s earliest years, diverse community members are mobilizing together to address challenges in quality, access, awareness and alignment. A recent convening on September 17 drew more than 70 actors to begin aligning in key areas of 0-5 education. Thank you to United Way Metropolitan Dallas, Zero To Five Funders Collaborative, Dallas Early Education Alliance and The School Zone for their leadership in bringing together this group. More updates to come!

Two recent accomplishments are worth highlighting:

A community awareness campaign to support early pre-K registration: Motivated by the opportunity to close the 37,000 3- and 4-year-old enrollment gap in Dallas County, more than 45 partners—ranging from healthcare providers to nonprofits to faith-based communities —mobilized across neighborhoods to distribute more 45,000 flyers encouraging families to register eligible 4-year-old children for pre-K. Supporting Dallas ISD’s own efforts leveraging utility bills, mass media and other channels, the community’s collective efforts led to a more than two-fold increase in early registration and a ~1,000 student increase in 4-year-old pre-K enrollment by the start of school. Grand Prairie ISD also innovated to increase awareness and early registration through “human billboard” campaigns, movie theater spots and activation of a ministerial alliance. A big thanks goes to Workforce Solutions Greater Dallas and the Dallas Regional Chamber for championing these recent campaign efforts. We look forward to expanding these efforts in 2015 to further close the pre-K gap and place more children on a path to academic and life success.

Multiple partner districts align behind a common multidimensional Kindergarten readiness assessment: This Fall, Dallas, Grand Prairie, Irving and Richardson ISDs will be screening a sample of more than 13,000 Kindergarteners on the multidimensional, nationally-normed Brigance readiness assessment. For the first time, common data will help provide a consistent data point on our children’s school readiness and the relation to early education, as well as support a case for directing more funding towards quality early education.

To support the work ahead, we’re delighted to announce that Jaime Hanks Meyers, formerly the Managing Director of Children At Risk North Texas, has joined the Commit! team as Director of Early Education Initiatives! You can welcome her aboard at jaime.meyers@commit2dallas.org.

By |September 19th, 2014|Early Childhood, Early Literacy|0 Comments

Panel on Parent Engagement Hosted by The School Zone

Panelists represent AVANCE, Workforce Solutions Dallas, Dallas ISD, and The Concilio. Event will take place September 23; RSVP here. Need more content so it will take up the whole space. Need more content so it will take up the whole space. Need more content so it will take up the whole space. Need more content so it will take up the whole space.

By |August 23rd, 2014|Early Childhood, Early Literacy, Early Math|0 Comments

Community EC 0-5 Convening September 17

Learn about a new city EC campaign, give input on how to align on action, and organize into working groups advancing towards outcomes. RSVP here. Need more content so it will take up the whole space. Need more content so it will take up the whole space. Need more content so it will take up the whole space. Need more content so it will take up the whole space.

By |August 23rd, 2014|Early Childhood, Uncategorized|0 Comments

Introducing Our First Partner Spotlight: Jubilee Park & Community Center

The Commit! team has started a new tradition of sorts; once a month, our staff arranges a lunch-hour visit to learn more about a partner organization, neighborhood or initiative. The purpose is simple: to listen, learn and break bread together.

Thus far, we’ve been hosted by some great organizations: Vickery Meadow Youth Development Foundation, Dallas Urban Debate Alliance, Concord Church, Vogel Alcove and, most recently, Jubilee Park & Community Center.

It was only recently that the thought struck us: “Why don’t we share what we learn with a wider audience?” So, thanks to our friends at Jubilee Park, we offer up our first “partner spotlight” post!

We were attracted to Jubilee Park due to the significant impact they have helped achieve in their neighborhood, from their youngest to eldest residents. Through an integrated, partner-driven approach, the neighborhood has achieved a significant reduction in crime, constructed affordable senior housing units and seen nearby O.M. Roberts Elementary School go from being one of the lowest performing schools in Dallas ISD to exemplary status.

As with many similar efforts, the organization is tackling challenges related to data and youth engagement, but with implementation of a new data system, expanded capacity to serve and a new affordable housing initiative underway, Jubilee Park continues to stand tall in the community. Read on to learn more!

Partner Spotlight: Jubilee Park & Community Center

How did your organization get started?
Jubilee Park & Community Center was founded in 1997, the “jubilee year” of St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church. The congregation chose to mark the occasion by making a long-term commitment to one of Dallas’ poorest and underserved neighborhoods. The congregation members canvassed the neighborhood and learned that families and children had no place to safely congregate. And so the concept for Jubilee Park & Community Center was born.
Who does your organization serve?
The organization serves the people of Jubilee Park, a 62-block neighborhood in southeast Dallas bounded by Fair Park, I-30 and East Grand Avenue, and the surrounding neighborhoods. Today, the Jubilee Park neighborhood is 65% Hispanic, 34% African American and the average family income is $14,850.
How does your organization support student success?
In response to the needs and wants of those in the community, Jubilee Park has developed a comprehensive strategy intended to strengthen those elements which create prosperity in any neighborhood: education, public health, public safety, affordable housing and economic development. Education is central, with a lifespan of services provided on the Jubilee campus: early childhood (ages 0-5), afterschool and summer enrichment programming (K-12) and adult education classes (ESL and computer literacy).
What measurable outcomes do you point to as evidence of your success?
The neighborhood has experienced a 64% reduction in crime since 2007. Nearby O.M. Roberts Elementary School has gone from being one of the lowest performing schools within DISD to Exemplary Status in ’08-’09 and ’09-’10. Its afterschool program is one of only three sites quality-certified by Dallas Afterschool. Multiple homes on Congo Street have been renovated and retrofitted, 24 affordable senior housing units have been constructed and are now occupied, and the first phase of an affordable housing initiative will result in 28 new residences by 2016.
What partnerships do you credit most to your success?
Jubilee Park’s success can be attributed to an almost countless number of long-term partnerships. Amongst them are:
Dallas ISD’s O.M. Roberts Elementary School: Volunteers, many still recruited from St. Michael’s, serve as in-school tutors with Reading Partners, and Jubilee’s afterschool program is the only one in Dallas that employs certified teachers in each of its classrooms. Jubilee staff also serve on the school’s Site Based Decision Making (SBDM) team.
Head Start of Greater Dallas: Jubilee Park provides a home for Jeanie’s Place Early Head Start Center (ages 0-3) and Davids’ Place Head Start Center (ages 3-5). Together, these centers offer programs that encompass high quality child development, health and family support.
Dallas County Community College District: Jubilee’s adult ESL courses are certified (in some cases taught by a professor) and learners are able to access on-campus resources on the El Centro campus.
City of Dallas: A Resource Center serves as a police storefront within the neighborhood and DPD surveillance cameras have been important crime reduction tools. The City has also committed to match $1 million in private dollars raised by Jubilee to build affordable, quality homes in the community.

By the Numbers:
Years in operation: 17 (founded 1997)
Geography served/location(s): 62-block neighborhood in southeast Dallas bounded by Fair Park, I-30 and East Grand Avenue
# staff: 12
# volunteers: 835
# clients served: 1,100
Annual operating budget: $1.3M

Website: JubileeCenter.org
Facebook: facebook.com/JubileeCenterDallas
Twitter: twitter.com/JubileePark
How can volunteers plug-in? Contact Allison Johnson, Development Associate and Volunteer Coordinator, at volunteer@jubileecenter.org or 214-887-1364, ext. 268.

By |August 22nd, 2014|Early Childhood, Early Literacy, Early Math|0 Comments

New Year, New (Professional Development) Opportunities

Albert Einstein once said, “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” While most would agree with Einstein, defining what that “supreme art” looks and sounds like in the classroom is easier said than done. How do you differentiate instruction, especially for children who are behind? How do you effectively manage and engage students? How do you help children solve problems?

Yesterday 600 elementary and secondary teachers in the Dallas Independent School District’s (DISD) South Oak Cliff feeder pattern came together to explore these questions and others through various professional development sessions. The University of North Texas at Dallas graciously opened its doors to host these teachers and multiple organizations joined forces to offer workshops, including the DISD, Region 10 Education Service Center, Salesmanship Club and Teach For America.

While many of the workshops focused on reading and writing development, several sessions delved into other topics critical to student success such as “Brain Focused Strategies for Developing Social Emotional Health.” At this session, presenters Heather Bryant and Michelle Kinder from the Salesmanship Club cited their organization’s research finding that “the passing rate [on the reading STAAR exam] of students with higher levels of empathy was almost 30 percentage points higher than of students with lower levels of empathy.” With this link in mind, teachers explored strategies on how to develop children’s non-cognitive or “soft” skills such as optimism, empathy, self-regulation and effective communication.

Denessa Johnson, who teaches Kindergarten at Holland Elementary School, thought the day was productive: “Everybody had really good ideas and fed off each other. Today helped us think about how we can ask more inferential and critical thinking questions to help move our kids further.”

In South Dallas, the first day back to work in 2014 began with our community coming together to collectively support teachers on the front lines guiding our children every day. Usamah Rodgers, DISD Executive Director of the South Oak Cliff High School feeder pattern, reflected, “Today was an example of how effective we can be when we break down our silos and work together to better support our teachers and students.”

By |January 7th, 2014|Early Childhood|0 Comments

#Commit2Literacy Volunteers

As a show of support for local schools, approximately 100 volunteers joined principals and teachers at five Dallas ISD elementary schools in Southwest Dallas recently to prepare classrooms for the first day of school, August 26.

These schools are among 14 others in the district’s strategic feeder pattern for South Oak Cliff and Moises E. Molina high schools to benefit from the district’s partnership with Commit!

In an effort to establish a foundation for student success, local elementary schools are increasingly focusing campuses around student-centric literacy classrooms and infusing a college-going culture that helps cultivate self-motivated learners. Volunteers contributed by working with principals and teachers to help decorate classroom areas with college-themed materials and set up literacy classrooms.

The event marked the third consecutive weekend community members have volunteered at local elementary schools in the South Oak Cliff and Molina high school feeder patterns that together serve more than 8,000 students.

Dallas ISD and the Commit! Partnership have brought together more than 200 volunteers on Fridays and Saturdays throughout August to help the following elementary schools: Whitney Young Jr., Arturo Salazar, Celestino Mauricio Soto Jr., Barbara Jordan, Leila P. Cowart, W.W. Bushman, Nancy Cochran, Elisha M. Pease, Robert L. Thornton, Thomas Marsalis, H.I. Holland, Mary McLeod Bethune, Clinton P. Russell and Clara Oliver.

Past volunteers have represented organizations including: Salem College, Texas Woman’s University, Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas, The Concilio, Reasoning Mind, Citi, Dallas County Community College District, Abstract Construction, Texas Real Estate Commission, Boston Consulting Group, and Teach For America.

Dallas ISD and the Commit! Partnership plan to coordinate two additional volunteer events in September. To learn more, please visit the Commit! Partnership’s Web site at commit2dallas.org.

By |August 23rd, 2013|Early Childhood|0 Comments

Supporting our Youngest Students

Did you know that by 4th grade, only one in three of our students are reading at a level on track for college? Concerned members of the community from a wide range of career backgrounds have joined the Commit! Early Childhood Support Council, with all members sharing a common interest and goal of seeing the youngest children in the cradle to career pipeline succeed and thrive. They are focused on improving two community indicators: Kindergarten Readiness and 3rd grade literacy. The Council has been meeting once a month and is beginning to look at national research and local data that fall into a holistic framework for improving Kindergarten Readiness and 3rd Grade Literacy: Ready Families, Ready Services – Health, Ready Services – Early Care and Education, Ready Communities, Ready Schools and Ready Children. Get to know the members of the council here.

By |February 4th, 2013|Early Childhood|0 Comments

Tops in Texas, Dallas Region Commits to Kindergarten Readiness

Research shows that early childhood development is the most telling indicator of a child’s future success. Yet, we have historically struggled to act on that research because student data is rarely tracked during pre-Kindergarten years. But now that Dallas area school districts and childcare centers have enrolled more children in Texas’ Kindergarten Readiness System (KRS) than any other region in the State, we have a new opportunity to take action that will impact the lives of our kids during their most influential years.

The KRS, a system created by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), tracks excellence in early childhood programming by linking data from the reading assessment a student takes when entering Kindergarten with the student’s pre-K provider. With thousands of pre-K providers in the region, an unprecedented degree of collaboration was required to enroll students in the voluntary online system.

Beginning in April, leaders from area school districts, Head Start of Greater Dallas, Texas Workforce Commission, ChildCareGroup, Educational First Steps and Region 10 Education Service Center worked together to promote KRS participation amongst administrators, principals and center directors. When the enrollment period officially closed at the end of August, our region (known as Region 10) had enrolled a total of 34,000 children – more than any other in the State. Dallas, Grand Prairie, Richardson, Garland, Irving, and Lancaster Independent School Districts each enrolled 90% or more of their pre-K students. Head Start centers also played a critical role, accounting for more than 13,700 of the students enrolled in our region.

Such high enrollment figures create an enormous opportunity to better understand how we are preparing our youngest learners to be successful in school. Using the information that will come from KRS, our region can now potentially identify best practices and then spread them. Furthermore, this level of cooperation and participation demonstrates the area’s dedication to expand access to quality early childhood education.


By |October 18th, 2012|Early Childhood, Uncategorized|0 Comments