In 2019, Chicago launched a universal pre-kindergarten (UPK) initiative to provide all four-year-old children with access to free, full-day preschool. Initially, 28 communities were targeted to provide universal kindergarten for children aged four; additional neighborhoods are being phased in through 2021.
One vital challenge is to make sure families are aware of UPK opportunities and enroll their children. To implement the program, the city of Chicago turned to community collaborations to reach out to families and encourage enrollment and attendance in these high-quality early learning programs.
This approach has many advantages. These community collaborations have a deep understanding of where families are, especially those not in preschool programs, and how to reach them. They can build trust and community buy-in for preschool by strengthening relationships with diverse, community-based partners. Embedded in communities, they are positioned to identify root causes of preschool enrollment barriers and design strategies to overcome them.
Grants to Community Collaborations
As a key partner in the Early Learning Collaboration Supports for the UPK project, Illinois Action for Children leads the initiative to attract, fund, train, and support community-based programs who can engage families and promote pre-K enrollment.
IAFC developed a competitive grant program open to Chicago community collaborations. With this grant funding, collaborations will implement strategies that raise public awareness of universal preschool and the value of early learning, engage families, and enroll young children in Chicago Early Learning programs.
Under this program, Illinois Action for Children is:
- Awarding and administering grants of $30,000 to $50,000
- Providing training and technical assistance to collaborations that are awarded funds
- Documenting outcomes, ensuring that collaborations track their activities, family engagement, and enrollment.
- Supporting peer learning, data exchange, and information sharing to encourage system change and lasting enhancement of early childhood programming
Although community collaborations vary on strategies for engaging local partners and families, all funded organizations commit to:
- Raising public awareness of universal preschool and the value of early learning for young children and families
- Implementing strategies that engage families and enroll young children in Chicago Early Learning programs that they may be eligible for
- Maintaining collaboration meetings and activities that support local programs in engaging families and young children in early childhood programs and services
- Communicating challenges and successes with Illinois Action for Children and city partners
Programs were funded in four neighborhoods in 2019 and again in 2020. Currently, these four are reaching out to inform families about UPK opportunities now through Dec. 31, 2020:
We hope to continue to fund and partner with these community collaborations in the coming year.
If you are part of an active community-based early childhood collaboration in Chicago and are interested in staying up to date on this program, please contact Aminah Wyatt-Jones, Director of Community Impact at Illinois Action for Children, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is a joint initiative through Illinois Action for Children, the Mayor’s Office of Early Learning, Chicago Department of Family and Support Services, and Chicago Public Schools