Educare of Seattle Is a Model of Early Education and How to Narrow the Opportunity Gap
April 3rd, 2013 by Paul Nyhan
One of the first things you notice when you enter Educare of Seattle is all of the natural light. It floods in from all sides of the two-story building, pouring in from floor-to-roof windows and streaming down from skylights.
The light highlights all of the open space inside this cutting edge early education hub that sits on the edge of South Seattle. Two broad hallways shoot off each side of a wide-open reception area, one to the infant–toddler wing and the other to pre-kindergarten classrooms.
These spaces and light were part of an intentional design to create a campus, not a preschool or child care center, three years ago. It is a place where at-risk infants, toddlers and preschoolers can develop, and where parents, teachers, the region, the state and the nation can learn what high-quality early education looks like and how it works.
Today, the facility is one of 18 Educare centers — high-quality early learning programs working to narrow and close the opportunity gap between the most at-risk children and other students — in the country and the only one in the Pacific Northwest.
At the heart of Educare’s strategy to narrow the opportunity gap is a continuum. It works to enroll at-risk children for three years from toddlerhood through pre-kindergarten. When they graduate they can walk 20 yards across the parking lot to attend kindergarten at White Center Heights Elementary. This 0-to-5 continuum extends to parents because Educare supports the entire family, helping parents with everything from job hunting to taxes.
The continuum is based on Educare’s dosage theory, which calls for children to spend a minimum of six hours a day, five days a week, 12 months a year at the center.
“Our goal is to have children in Educare for at least three years,” said Luba Bezborodnikova, the program’s executive director.
Three years matters. When veteran Educare teacher Saesta Shahnewaz taught students for three years those students were often far ahead of their classmates in kindergarten.
“One year compared to three years, it is a big difference,” she said. “Here we are making a difference by involving these kids and teaching them not only ABCs, but all kinds of social skills and manners.”
Educare’s theory, or platform of change, also requires high teacher qualifications, mentor teachers, professional learning, and services for the whole child — health, nutrition, mental health, disability services and family support. In addition, there are low student-teacher ratios. In infant-and-toddler classrooms there are three adults for each child. In preschool, three adults teach 17 students, who range from three years old to five years old.
A report on preliminary results from 12 Educare Centers, including Seattle, supports what Shahnewaz observed. It found:
- Kindergarten-bound Educare children score better on measures of vocabulary than most low-income children in other large studies of early achievement.
- Children who begin the Educare program early in life score better on a school readiness assessment when they leave Educare for kindergarten compared to late-entering children. Children from both English- and Spanish-speaking homes who enter Educare before age 2 score over 98 – near the national average (100) and exceeding the typical scores of at-risk children.
—“Educare Implementation Study Findings – August 2012.” Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, University of North Carolina. (See the full report for footnotes).
In her preschool classroom Shahnewaz sees and hears this every day.
“Some of the parents they came back and say ‘Thank you so much. Because of you guys my kid’s at the head of the class,’ ’’ Shahnewaz said. “I think the important thing is we are making a difference in a kid’s life and family’s life also.”