The U.S. Census Bureau points to a poverty rate in Springfield Missouri above 25%, and The Every Child Promise, an initiative launched 5 years ago, continues at the forefront of getting disadvantaged Springfield Public School preschoolers ready for kindergarten.
In January 2014, co-chair Todd Parnell, announced the launch of The Every Child Promise.
“Our community promises to empower families so that every child age birth to six, has the opportunity to enter our schools, ready to learn,” he said at the time.
Todd Parnell is a former bank executive and served as President of Drury University from 2007-2013. In January 2014, Parnell and his wife, Betty, were named co-chairs of the Every Child Promise, and today the couple still serves on the ECP Advisory Board as Emeritus members.
“The first thing that comes to mind is how high our poverty rate is," says Todd Parnell.
“And secondly, it does show in the numbers of kids on Free and Reduced Lunch, it shows on the number of kids who show up for Kindergarten, not ready to learn," Parnell said.
“I’m married to a retired elementary school counselor, and some of the stories she brought home to me during her career were just heartbreaking, about the lack of confidence and lack of ability to have hope for some of these kids who got started behind everybody else, and they spend the rest of their lives trying to catch up," Parnell said.
“Kids who are from under resourced backgrounds, who are in poverty, are entering Kindergarten about a half a year behind their peers,” says Springfield child advocate, Dana Carroll.
“They stay about a half a year behind, but summer comes, and often times they have less exposure to enriching opportunities like summer camps or vacations to see National Parks, and so they lose at least another quarter or half a year, and now they’re a grade behind. And so they don’t ever catch up with their peers," said Carroll.
“Often time it’s because of stress in the home, lack of high quality nutrition, or not enough high quality, play-based pre-school experiences,” said Dana Carroll, who also serves as Vice President of Early Child & Family Deveopment at the Community Partnership of the Ozarks.
The 10 year goal of The Every Child Promise is that, by 2024, to cut at least in half the number of Springfield kids entering kindergarten not ready to learn.
In 2014, that was 20% of each incoming kindergarten class. The ECP focuses on: early childcare and early childhood education; safe and secure environments in which to live and learn; food and proper nutrition; and health.
Dana Carroll says a major component of The Every Child Promise of support for early childhood education and childcare is its scholarship program.
“In exchange for acceptance into the program, the parents agree to make sure their kids attend preschool 90% of the time. They agree to enroll in Parents as Teachers, and they will follow any of the preschool requirements such as parent participation and volunteerism, or the reading requirements of some of the programs," she says.
“You know, just reading to your children, making sure they get a good night’s sleep that they get to school on time. Just beginning to train them on what’s going to be expected from them, once they get to kindergarten. The parents also have to agree their child will be screened and assessed,” says Dana Carroll.
Dana Carroll says the program’s preschools also have requirements for acceptance into The Every Child Promise.
“We require the preschools have portfolios on kids, they assess kids, and agree to participate in professional development with us. Just a little check-off that they agree to raise the quality of their program, They bill us every month, and we make sure those scholarships are paid, and the kids are ready,” she says.
Dana Carroll says the first five years of the Every Child Promise is showing great results.
“Among the children who have accessed the preschool scholarship, and have successfully the preschool program with us, 100% have tested Ready for Kindergarten. It’s a good brag,” she said. “We’re proud of it!”
ECP Emeritus Advisory Board member Todd Parnell says he's proud of Carroll’s work with the program.
“Fortunately we had Dana Carroll,” says Parnell. “She proved it can work. She put together pilot programs; she raised over a million dollars in private funds to make those pilots work,” he said.
“The school district said, 'This can really help us be successful, too.' And they have embraced it fully, and have committed resources to touch 600 preschool kids in the 3 years, and that gets us there! You touch those kids and have the kind of success rate Dana’s pilot programs have had, we will have far exceeded the goal of cutting it from 20% to 10%,” said Todd Parnell.
“I said the School District has allocated funds for programming, but they don’t have the space to put it all together yet,” says Todd Parnell. “They’re using Campbell elementary to house the first 200 of these students they are going to be dealing with. They need and have planned for additional space to move it up to 600," he said.
Todd Parnell pulls no punches on his support for Proposition S, which will appear before voters on April 2.
“I’m going to make a blatant plug to pass the school bond issue coming up. I’m such a strong believer this is such an important vote in our community’s history, and it will make a difference in terms of preparing young kids to be successful, not only in school, but in our community, and in our life,” said Parnell.
Putting his money where his mouth is, or maybe where his pencil is, Todd Parnell has donated 100% of proceeds from the sale of his book, Privilege and Privation, A Love Story, to the every Child Promise Scholarship Fund.
Parnell says the cost to our community of kids entering kindergarten not ready to learn is enormous.
“In terms of remediation; incarceration; unemployment. So I have come to look at this as not only a humanitarian issue, but also a work force and economic development issue,” he says.
“There are studies--studies that will say every dollar invested will return 7-17 dollars, so there’s an enormous return on putting our money in getting kids ready for kindergarten,” Parnsll said.
Springfield Child Advocate Dana Carroll agrees with Parnell long-term investment assessment, but reminds us of the immediate relief and support an Every Child Promise, Early Child Care Scholarship can provide.
“It’s the difference between choosing fresh vegetable s and not, every week; or meat in the meal, or not skipping a breakfast or two. It really does allow families to put that money back in their budget so they can still have safe quality childcare, and provide for the other needs of the family,” said Carrroll.