The following article originally appeared in the July 2014 issue of the KiwaniGram of Skidaway.
Update from Savannah Early Childhood Foundation
– Special to the Kiwanigram from Jan Wright
Jan: SECF’s name is about early childhood. Is that where you’re focusing your efforts? had the pleasure to sit down with Savannah Early Childhood Foundation (SECF) president Paul Fisher for a couple of hours recently, to catch up on SECF news as our club gears up for a second round of our Take a Chance for Kids to raise funds for SECF. The following dialogue is not verbatim, but it captures the gist and highlights of our conversation.
Paul: Research shows that the most important stages of cognitive development happen in a person’s first 2-3 years of life and that creating a safe, nurturing and language-rich environment—not demographics or economics—is the most determinant variable. SECF is focusing on helping parents of children ages 0-5 to give those children the best possible start in life. Working with Parent University and other partners in our community, our goal is to help parents develop parenting skills that will enable their children to be ready for school at school age and enable parents to be active partners with the schools throughout their child’s formal education.
Jan: SECF is in its second year of running Early Learning College through Parent University. Can you update us?
Paul: Yes, we’ve had a super year and now are running 6-session parenting skills training in 2 of the 9 neighborhoods prioritized by Youth Futures Authority. We’ve expanded from serving East Broad Elementary’s neighborhood to also serving Shuman’s.
Jan: What are SECF’s most critical needs for the year ahead?
Paul: Parent University needs a full-time executive director. We’re working to secure $150,000 of funding so the current director can transition from being a part-time volunteer to a full-time paid position. We believe having a full-time executive director could enable our programs to grow exponentially. We’re also working to raise finance in anticipation of that growth.
Jan: Where does SECF plan to expand next? How much finance are we talking about?
Paul: Where we expand next will depend on which neighborhood schools are most ready to work with us. In our first 3 years, we’ve raised $200,000, all of it private, and all but 25% of it from outside of our local community. Each 6-session Parent University series of Early Learning College classes costs $25,000, so we’re talking about $225,000/year when we expand to all 9 neighborhoods for this component of our programs.
Jan: Metrics have always been important to you, and you have said that SECF intends to sustain its efforts for at least a generation. Can you tell us more about how you will know if SECF’s investment in parents, local childcare facilities, and ultimately young children actually makes a positive difference?
Paul: We’re taking it a step at a time. First, we’re using pre- and post-testing for parents to measure how much they’ve learned at Parent University and are working to implement controlled observation of their ability to apply it in practice. Concurrently, we’re working with the neighborhood schools to ensure we have baseline scores for students and measure their absolute and relative progress over time. We’ve recently formed a partnership with Armstrong State University, to develop a database and robust analytical model to support our longitudinal studies.
Jan: Thank you, Paul, for this update. It’s so exciting to hear how SECF is building upon the Harlem Children Zone project experience and taking early childhood development to a new level. I know our readers will want to hear more as this work continues and to do their part to support it.
Paul: I’d like to thank Kiwanis of Skidaway for partnering with us, and I’ll be happy to come back to update your members in person. While SECF’s goal is “all children ready at school age,” our vision is “our community taking care of our own.”