Family Engagement Initiative Supports Children’s Success in State-Supported Pre-K Programs

AmeriCorps members begin year-long effort in three Indiana cities to strengthen ties between families and teachers

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Recognizing that families are a child’s first and best teacher, Early Learning Indiana, with support from Serve Indiana, launched an effort to facilitate deeper engagement of families in pre-K programs through the work of fifteen full-time AmeriCorps members. On September 28, the Pre-K Family Engagement Corps members began year-long placements at pre-K programs in Evansville, Fort Wayne and Indianapolis, following two weeks of training. Each program host site is a part of the state’s On My Way Pre-K scholarship program, which expands access to pre-Kindergarten for low-income Hoosier families.

This new Pre-K Family Engagement Corps initiative is the first Serve Indiana effort to specifically target improvements in family engagement using the power of national. AmeriCorps members serve four days a week at host pre-K sites, partnering with teachers to better utilize families’ strengths and spark engagement that contributes to literacy and other measures of school readiness.

“Pre-K programs are stronger when they engage families, but often we devote too little time and resources to these efforts,” said Ted Maple, President of Early Learning Indiana. “We are excited to share these full-time AmeriCorps members with programs across the state. I look forward to seeing the impact these passionate and committed individuals will have on family engagement and early learning.”

girls-learning-about-trumpetRecent research indicates that family engagement is one of the most critical factors contributing to school readiness and achievement, with greater potential impact than even a strong classroom curriculum. Pre-K Family Engagement Corps members, with support from coaches from local child care resource and referral agencies, support stronger partnerships between parents and teachers. Their ultimate goal is to strengthen the abilities of both parents and staff at participating pre-K programs.

“My goal for serving is to empower families to carry the torch on, to feel that their role at home is just as important as an educator,” said member Raven Hill, who is also a mother to two young children. “I also look forward to applying these skills in my own home.”

Pre-K Family Engagement members’ activities align with recently released guidelines for family engagement that were approved by the Governor-appointed Early Learning Advisory Committee (ELAC). The guidelines were developed in partnerships with Indiana University’s Early Childhood Center, which also supports this initiative with weekly training plans for AmeriCorps members and their coaches.

“Putting our state’s new family engagement guidelines to work for Indiana’s families and Pre-K programs is an exciting opportunity,” said Michael Conn-Powers, Director of Indiana University’s Early Childhood Center. “This new initiative will provide guidance and resources for creating strong partnerships between homes and Pre-K programs.”

The initiative is building on a strong foundation of family engagement practice that already exists at partnering pre-K programs. Each Pre-K Family Engagement Corps program site is rated Level 3 or Level 4 on Indiana’s Paths to QUALITY or nationally accredited. Additionally, their staff has training and experience with family engagement. The initiative is intended to build on these strengths.

Participating programs include:

  • In Evansville
    • Carver Day Care
    • Enterprise Zone Child Development
    • Methodist Temple Children’s Care
    • Parent’s Choice Child Care
    • Vincent Center for Children & Families
  • In Fort Wayne
    • Early Childhood Alliance Children’s Learning Center
    • Early Childhood Alliance Learning Center
    • Emmaus Lutheran Preschool
    • Kiddie Prep School
  • In Indianapolis
    • Christamore House Family and Community Center
    • Day Early Learning at Park 100
    • Day Early Learning at the State Government Center
    • The Early Learning Academy
    • Lawrence Kids Care Preschool Ministry
    • Wayne Township Preschool

AmeriCorps members will serve for nearly a year and receive a living allowance, education award and other supports. They will be trained, coached and supported by staff at three local child care resource and referral agencies: 4C of Southern Indiana (Evansville), Child Care Answers (Indianapolis) and Early Childhood Alliance (Fort Wayne). These local agencies each have long histories of supporting families to access high-quality early childhood education, delivering family engagement programming and advocating for early childhood in their region.

“Families and early learning providers alike are beginning to better understand the value of partnering to support the goals and aspirations they share for each child,” said Jennifer Drake, President and CEO of 4C of Southern Indiana, Inc. “This effort promises to empower families, early learning providers, and communities with tools to build strong partnerships.”

This AmeriCorps initiative is supported by Early Learning Indiana’s Partnerships for Early Learners, a five-year campaign to improve access and quality of early childhood programming across Indiana. The campaign aims to ensure that 75% of children in child care or preschool are in a high-quality setting and that families of young children are engaged and supported. The campaign is primarily funded by a five-year, $20 million grant from the Lilly Endowment.