Child-care centers wavered during the pandemic, scrambling to stay open on razor-thin budgets and with little federal and state guidance. Some closed, others eked by, barely able to afford to pay employees even minimum wage. Then, our nation learned a critical lesson: you can’t reopen the economy without early learning centers.
At the heart of the early learning sector are dedicated, passionate educators, however, they are often not paid a livable wage and leave careers they love because they cannot financially support their families. Economic pressure within preschools feeds a vicious cycle: caregivers need childcare to go to work; preschool teachers are often working poor; teachers leave the profession; classrooms close; waitlists grow; caregivers can’t go to work; and babies and young children miss out.
To support a transformational shift in the system of early learning, Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation has launched the Barancik Early Learning Initiative (BELI). The Foundation will lead efforts to transform the early learning model through an innovative approach that focuses on leadership development for center directors, the recruitment and retention of preschool teachers, and enhanced behavioral health supports in early learning classrooms.
“Early learning centers are the converging point of many of our society’s biggest challenges and greatest opportunities,” says Teri A Hansen, President|CEO of Barancik Foundation. “They hold promise to stimulate intergenerational cycles of opportunity.”
Barancik Foundation convened key partners to begin the research and development phase of the initiative last year. The Early Learning Coalition of Sarasota County and YMCA of Southwest Florida have been instrumental in identifying areas that can be improved in the system, and the Sarasota County School District has also joined in the conversation about how they can support children before they enter the public school system.
Research studies from the University of Florida and Kempton Research and Planning were commissioned by Barancik Foundation, in partnership with United Way Suncoast and the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, to better understand the landscape of early learning in the region.
With data in hand, four key areas of investment were identified: preschool leadership, behavioral support, teacher workforce pipeline, and public policy.
“The earlier the investment, the greater the return,” says Hansen. “This has long been our strategy when it comes to investing in child wellbeing. Early childhood is the most vital developmental period of a child’s life, so that’s where we are going.”
In tandem with these efforts, Barancik Foundation granted $408,000 to the YMCA of Southwest Florida early learning program to boost staffing and become accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). The organization has navigated a period of tremendous growth, and they have quickly become one of the region’s largest childcare providers. They also can potentially serve a sector hub for shared services and other economies of scale that will benefit other providers in the region.
“Historically, efforts to support early learning are insufficient and do not provide equitable opportunities for both children or the early learning professionals,” says YMCA of Southwest Florida President and CEO Gene T. Jones. “We will address critical and foundational issues deeply woven within the field. These efforts will create a best-in-class early learning model and build more opportunities for children in our communities.”
Ample research in the field suggests the greatest influence on student success is the quality of the teacher. Unfortunately, the early learning industry is experiencing a workforce shortage with an estimated 25 percent attrition rate during the pandemic.
Barancik’s initiative is working with the Early Coalition of Sarasota County in the coming months to provide retention incentives for childcare teachers who have stuck through these difficult years. The initiative will also kick off a region-wide teacher recruitment campaign to attract more individuals to the sector.
“The best results come from the best teachers,” says Hansen. “We will expand opportunities for further educating preschool teachers and creating a solid pipeline for more to enter the field.”
This work will complement an earlier initiative of Barancik Foundation, First 1,000 Days Suncoast, which was launched in 2017 in partnership with Sarasota Memorial Health Care System. The effort has built a coordinated system of care for new families to access services for babies, so all children have an equal opportunity to thrive.
This announcement aligns with The Week of the Young Child®. The observance, running from April 2-8, is an annual celebration sponsored by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the world’s largest early childhood education association, with nearly 60,000 members and a network of 52 Affiliates. The purpose of the Week of the Young Child® is to focus public attention on the needs of young children and their families and to recognize the early childhood programs and services that meet those needs.
To learn more about BELI and support early learning in our community, visit whyearlylearningmatters.org