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Helping All Kids Succeed in School and in Life is Possible, and We Have the Tools


If we consider the learning process as an assembly line, our first reaction is to say that the assembly line is broken in high school – after all, that’s where dropouts occur.

But although high school is where the dramatic evidence of the failed system is obvious, that’s not where the break occurs, and therefore, that is not the point at which it can be fixed. By then, it’s too late.

If we move toward the beginning of the assembly line, we find that children unprepared for kindergarten often don’t achieve reading comprehension by the third grade and are, therefore, 90 percent likely to become a dropout.

There is nothing more stifling than a compromised beginning; nothing more tragic than a child whose possibilities are unnecessarily diminished.

Brain scientists tell us that 90 percent of the architectural structure of the brain is built in the first three years of life; children are born with a billion brain cells, and no more are created after birth. However, the way these cells are “wired” is controlled by the environment he or she experiences during these first three years.

There is nothing sadder than a missed opportunity.

It is, therefore, IMPERATIVE that children be placed soon after birth in an environment conducive to learning.  That is why in your community, as in ours, providing Early Childhood Education is among the most important things we can do. It can mean the difference between success in school and in life, or the inability to succeed. The stakes are very high.

But the next challenge is that most Early Childhood Education centers or Day Care Centers face a monumental task of making ends meet. The business model is untenable and, in myriad communities across the country, dozens of centers fail after a year or two, leaving children without care, employees without jobs and parents unable to work for lack of care for their kids.

There is a short window of opportunity and these kids are our future.

At The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, we, like you, are not satisfied with this status quo. We want solutions to problems, and we want to share them with other communities as well.

We have the knowledge and capacity to help fix our educational assembly line, preparing every child for success.

As a result, we have created tools, which help 1) build revenue; 2) lower expenses; and 3) provide shared services.

  • The first is ChildcareNashville.com, which serves families seeking care, centers with open slots, and job seekers eager to work in the field. 266 centers are on the site at present. They improve the education of over 32,000 children.

  • Second is ChildcareTennessee.com, which provides those who run, or are employed by centers, ready tools to succeed. For instance, every center needs a family handbook and we supply an already-approved template to download. The site also provides links to professional development and information about child development, in addition to joint-purchasing opportunities that save centers money on a host of fronts. There are 1,700 tools on the site at present.

  • Third, we in Nashville and Middle Tennessee have also chosen to develop a shared financial back office; each of the centers is filling out the same paperwork – why should each pay a separate bookkeeper?

These basic efficiencies help centers stay afloat, children get prepared for success, and parents go to work or school every day, confident that their kids will be cared for. 

Each of these tools and others are easily replicable and are available for any other community, because we know that our devotion to our kids is not unique, and because we want to make sure that more of all of our kids are “teed up” to succeed in school and in life.

Ellen Lehman is president of The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.

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