Most of the resources and formal interventions dedicated to preparing children for school don’t start until age four. And while pre-kindergarten is critical, the science is clear: that’s too late, because a child’s experiences from birth onward are intrinsically linked to life outcomes.

A variety of accessible, high-quality choices available to families across income levels

Support educators and programs with a specific focus on language development and school readiness

A shared philosophical value system that encourages collaboration between early learning providers and other education providers

High-quality, neighborhood-serving continuum for student growth, learning, and achievement at every level starting at birth and through college and beyond is just one aspect of our coordinated holistic approach.

Click to learn more about our approach

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Moving the Field Series

Education Starts at Age 0

“You can be anything you want to be when you grow up.”

While we might all want this well-meaning childhood refrain to be true, it just isn’t. Widely accepted standards of calculating poverty indicate that there are nearly 5.2 million children under the age of 6 – and approximately 41 percent are born into low-income families. Our country’s overall poverty rate has been stubbornly stuck at 10-15 percent since the mid-1960s. That means that a large segment of our population – around 40 million Americans today – has been unable to consistently earn an income that provides for a basic standard of living.

Distressed neighborhoods are the product of decades of disinvestment, the effects of mal-intended public policy and private actions that were explicitly designed to segregate our cities and concentrate poverty and regularly expose children to toxic stress. And it is largely the sources of toxic stress to which children are exposed to in their neighborhood that is the driver of educational (and all other) outcomes.

The Science Behind How a Child’s Surroundings Influence His or Her Development in Profound, Life Changing Ways
Dr. Jack Shonkoff, Harvard Center on the Developing ChildWatch Video

There is no single intervention that can ‘solve’ poverty.

Early Childhood Education, the “Difference Maker”

There is no intervention that can single-handedly ‘solve’ poverty. Yet since 2009, Purpose Built Communities has worked with committed leaders who are relentlessly pursuing disruptive strategies. Bold ideas, big gains and hard-learned lessons informed and measured by respected researchers and on-the-ground practitioners, in partnership with the families impacted, have led to the development of a suite of solutions that, when implemented in tandem, are yielding promising results.

An essential component of the Purpose Built approach to ending intergenerational poverty is a focus on early childhood education. Most of the resources and formal interventions dedicated to preparing children for school don’t start until age four. And while pre-kindergarten is critical, the science is clear: that’s too late, because a child’s experiences from birth onward are intrinsically linked to life outcomes.

For example, the neural circuits most closely associated with language development are wired in the first year of life. From the National Association for the Education of Young Children, “By 3 years of age, there is a 30-million-word gap between children from the wealthiest and poorest families.” According to research from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 86 percent of third graders living in high poverty neighborhoods do not read proficiently.  And that reality has consequences for individuals and the communities where they live. High school dropouts are 3.5 times more likely to be arrested than high school graduates. Nationally, 68 percent of all males in prison do not have a high school diploma.

Great Outcomes Start with Early Learning – A View from the Network
Watch Video

Early Learning Benefits the Whole Community

Childhood is a window when core skills develop. Neighborhood-serving investments in children’s early learning is an important strategy to impact a child’s future performance in school.

Early learning programs in the neighborhoods supported by Purpose Built Communities share key attributes based on our experience across many communities. Those include:

  • A variety of accessible, high-quality choices for families across income levels
  • Support for educators and programs with a specific focus on language development and school readiness
  • A shared philosophical value system that encourages collaboration between early learning providers and other education providers
Ins & Outs of Building a High Quality Early Learning Center
Watch Video
A variety of accessible, high-quality choices for families across income levels

Access to affordable childcare near home gives parents and caregivers time to work or go to school while having confidence that their young children are receiving meaningful instruction from trained educators, therefore enabling economic stability for households. And it is essential to make sure families have high-quality choices even if their choice is to keep children at home. Those choices mean families are less stressed and capable of maintaining a stable home, in turn creating more stable communities. As an added benefit, many different delivery methods for early learning open opportunities for diversified funding streams for those programs.

Support for educators and programs with a specific focus on language development and school readiness

Frequently cited research identified a 30-million word gap between students who grow up in areas of concentrated poverty when compared to peers with access to opportunities and resources. This affects the development of oral language at early ages – and by the time children enter the classroom can create a significant difference in how they are able to understand, respond, and be ready to learn. Providing support, training and resources for teachers, as well as programs focused on language development and school readiness, are critical to helping children in distressed neighborhoods develop core skills to thrive.

Programs and training centered on language development help build a child’s “reading brain,” which ensures that they have the foundation needed to be on a path to read and learn by third grade. Recent research by the American Academy of Pediatrics links higher household family incomes and neighborhood socioeconomic status with greater school readiness. And, lack of school readiness has been shown to predict later cognitive problems and adult psychosocial adjustment.

A shared philosophical value system that encourages collaboration between early learning providers and other education providers

Explicitly encouraging and supporting collaboration between early learning and other education providers in a neighborhood helps foster a shared philosophical value system. That collaboration includes opportunities to learn together, build relationships and share resources. This ensures a more seamless transition for students as they matriculate from one program to another and allows partners to help match families to the programs that best meet their needs. Further, it facilitates opportunities for educators to share data and best practices and align instructional practices. And, it can provide better continuity, for example allowing new teachers to pick up where the previous teacher left off – resulting in a better experience for all involved.

You Can't Expect a School to Outperform its Neighborhood

The central plank to the education-focused approach to poverty reduction is that if we can simply turn failing schools into high performing schools, then all children will be put on a path to prosperity. But in reality competing explanations for poor educational outcomes – including poverty rates – are a much better predictor than any internal measure of school management. We need to focus on conditions both inside and outside the school building itself in order for every child to reach their full potential.

It is neither reasonable nor sustainable to expect a school to outperform its neighborhood – and education reform strategies must be centered on neighborhood-serving schools.

You Can’t Expect a School to Outperform its Neighborhood
Listen to Podcast

Spotlight on Early Childhood Education

Spotlight on New Orleans:
Educare New Orleans

In the redeveloping and revitalizing neighborhood Gentilly in New Orleans’ Bayou District Purpose Built Communities Network Partner Bayou District Foundation has initiated a “cradle to college education pipeline.” Educare New Orleans at Columbia Parc opened in October of 2013 in a new $8.9 million, 27,000 square foot state of the art facility, and currently serves 168 children ages 6 weeks to 5 years. Over the last 7 years, graduating classes of 5 year olds from Educare New Orleans have proven to meet or exceed national standards of kindergarten readiness at a rate of over 90%.

Read More

Spotlight on Spartanburg:
The Franklin School

In Spartanburg, South Carolina Purpose Built Communities Network Member Northside Development Group is focused on an area of town once home to the sprawling Spartan Mills. In January 2019 the community opened The Franklin School with 135 students enrolled in a full-day, full-year early learning center. The Franklin school focuses on children ages 6 weeks to 5 years old through a holistic child development and learning program, using an evidence based curriculum with STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) inspired classrooms. The mixed-income learning center enrolls both Head Start and private-pay students, with children from Northside given priority.

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Purpose Built Communities helps local leaders create greater racial equity, economic mobility, and improved health outcomes for families and children.

This newsletter provides resources to help engage communities and partners, insights to lessons learned, and proven solutions from Network Members.