Savannah Early Childhood Foundation

All Children Ready At School Age

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Savannah Morning News: Guest Opinion Column by Michael O’Neal

March 9, 2015 | Posted by pfisher

Breaking the cycle of crime, poverty starts at birth

Posted: March 7, 2015 – 10:40pm  |  Updated: March 8, 2015 – 1:30am

By MICHAEL O’NEAL

It’s been a while since I’ve communicated on these pages, but exciting developments are occurring at Parent University and in my life personally.

We have added a new module called Early Learning College at Parent University. This new special module is sponsored by the Savannah Early Childhood Foundation, created in 2011 by the Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs of Savannah.

ELC at Parent U focuses on serving parents of children birth to 3 years old. The concept is to create an environment in which parents can realize that they are their child’s first teacher, enhance their parenting skills, enable parents to much better prepare their child for school and then partner with teachers for the further education of their child.

Although the stated goal is “All Children Ready for School.” This model is designed to be a long-term solution to breaking the multigenerational, cyclical challenges of low educational outcomes, crime/violence, poverty and creating a better educated work force. SECF has not found another effort in the nation that is similar to this parent-centric Savannah model.

Because of very limited resources in the past, Parent U has offered 3-4 sessions of classes/year at one central location for the last 16 years. ELC at Parent U is designed to offer 4-6 sessions of classes in each of nine neighborhoods when full expansion plans have been realized.

We are in the middle of our third year and third neighborhood in offering ELC at Parent U. In the first two full years in two neighborhoods offering 16 sessions of ELC at Patent U, total attendance was more than 1,700 with over 300 parents served.

We ran an exciting pilot last month where parents were able to work with their child in a facilitated environment to demonstrate use of knowledge acquired in the classroom. Parents were ecstatic about this advancement in learning.

This Savannah effort is also unique in the country in its collaboration efforts. We have over 30 existing community resources playing a role in ELC at Parent U and are adding more regularly. Live Oak Libraries is a partner that has offered permanent offices at Bull Street Library as a gift.

Funding for the effort has come from the Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs of Savannah, as well as the Oscar Mayer and Anderson Family Foundations, Savannah Foundation, Gulfstream, Fox & Weeks, Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church, Zaxby’s, and many individuals.

The City of Savannah just committed to help fund the effort. But the most significant gift to date has come for my employer of 38 years, International Paper.

IP just created a one-of-a-kind, sabbatical leave for me to continue full pay and benefits while working full time at Parent U and ELC at Parent U.

These are exciting times. I hope to have more updates to come.

Michael O’Neal is executive director of Parent University and Early Learning College at Parent U. He is also the vice president of operations at the Savannah Early Childhood Foundation.