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Getting kids ready for school

Gates grant puts $1 million toward early learning

The first Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant to Spokane County United Way will put $1 million toward a collaborative effort to prepare children for school.

The three-year grant will be matched by community funding sources, including $600,000 from the United Way as it partners with the Inland Northwest Alliance for Early Learning to train and support child care providers.

The alliance of education, health care and social service providers was formed two years ago to build a high-quality early learning system in Eastern Washington.

“All had a different part of this larger puzzle,” said Tim Henkel, president and CEO of Spokane County United Way. “This grant is an affirmation of Spokane’s vision for young children and a call for us to do more.”

Only about 44 percent of students entering kindergarten are ready, according to a 2005 survey of Washington kindergarten teachers conducted by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. That rate drops in low-income neighborhoods.

“If we can get to those kids and families early and wrap some support around them, we can help children enter kindergarten ready to succeed in school,” said Sally Pritchard, the county United Way’s vice president of community impact.

The effort could help thousands of children, Pritchard said.

The grant also will enable child care providers in low-income neighborhoods to use the Devereux Early Childhood Assessment, a set of assessment tools and strategies used in local Head Start and state-funded preschool classrooms.

The collaborative effort’s three main subcontractors – BluePrints for Learning, the Children’s Home Society and Educational Service District 101 – will train, coach and support child care providers and kindergarten teachers in Spokane Public Schools, the West Valley School District and northern Stevens and Ferry counties.

“This will give us effective tools to help young children thrive, especially those with challenging behaviors,” said Lee Williams, director of St. Anne’s Children and Family Center in Spokane.

Contact Kevin Graman at (509) 459-5433 or kevingr@spokesman.com.


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