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Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative


The Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative is a group of Grand Rapids organizations that are aspiring toward a community where all children, regardless of the neighborhood where they live, are able to grow and learn, and reach their potential as adults.
Michigan Nightlight: In your view, what makes your program innovative, effective or remarkable?
Dr. Nkechy Ekere Ezeh, Chief Executive Officer of Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative: Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative (ELNC) is innovative in that it links the academia and theoretical worlds of Early Care & Education with the practical reality of reaching vulnerable children and ensuring their readiness for kindergarten.
 
According to published statistics, 80 percent of the children entering the Grand Rapids Public School kindergarten were being assessed as not ready for kindergarten. With this fact as a primary motivator, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation provided the financial resources for a project with a primary purpose of planning and designing an Intentional Preschool Service System (IPSS) aimed at providing, expanding and sustaining the number of high quality preschool slots in vulnerable neighborhoods of Grand Rapids.
 
WKKF tapped Dr. Nkechy Ekere Ezeh, an internationally known expert in the field of Early Care & Education, to lead a process that would convene neighborhood-based providers, local community-based organizations or faith-based organizations vested and/or interested in the early education of preschoolers. That process resulted in the birth of ELNC.
 
What was the best lesson learned in the past year?
“We are in this together.”  
Although their strategies and perspectives may differ, Early Care & Education initiatives share a common goal all children, regardless of where they call home, should have access to quality early childcare education programs aimed at ensuring their readiness to learn when they enter kindergarten.
Although their strategies and perspectives may differ, Early Care & Education initiatives share a common goal – all children, regardless of where they call home, should have access to quality early childcare education programs aimed at ensuring their readiness to learn when they enter kindergarten. Therefore, there is room at the table for all voices and an understanding that there is not just one cookie cutter method that will work for all children in all neighborhoods.
 
What was the hardest lesson learned in the past year?
In the ELNC Target Neighborhoods, there are about 1,400 children annually enrolled in kindergarten. Based on the above statistic, a minimum of 1,100 children will not be ready for kindergarten. Resources and available capacity of quality preschools located within ELNC Target Neighborhoods is limited. Partnerships must be developed that are not only of quality and effective in the present, but are also sustainable for the long term.
 
What really differentiates this program?
ELNC is unique in that its services are neighborhood based, provided by grass roots organizations, and at the same time has secured a place within the larger community of Early Care & Education systems.
ELNC maintains advisory councils consisting of parents, teachers and ELNC partner providers to ensure that their voices are heard and that services are designed with them rather than for them.
ELNC maintains advisory councils consisting of parents, teachers and ELNC partner providers to ensure that their voices are heard and that services are designed with them rather than for them.
 
What are the keys to success for your program?
Leadership: capacity, commitment, and vision; current ELNC leadership is provided by Dr. Nkechy Ezeh
 
Membership: diverse and includes key community organizations; the ELNC Partners, collectively, have been serving diverse populations for over 380 years
 
Structure: clear mission, strategy, and management policies; ELNC has completed its governance and organizational structure utilizing the expertise of the Dorothy Johnson Center
 
Communication and decision-making: processes that get results but do not stifle members; a communications/marketing firm will be employed and decisions will be made, collaboratively, by ELNC Partners
 
Resources: diverse sources, including in-kind from anchor institutions; ELNC Partners have committed in-kind resources; Heart of West Michigan United Way will act as initial fiduciary, providing in-kind support through the services of Tony Campbell; and explorative discussions have commenced
with several local educational institutions
 
Breadth: the collaborative itself covers most issues important to the community, or is part of coalition that covers these issues; the larger community agrees that the current Early Care & Education system, left unchecked, will result in more future adults unable to actualize their full human potential and for some unable to reach self-sufficiency
 
Community buy-in: effective communication beyond the collaborative; the DeVos Foundation’s Baby Scholar initiative selected ELNC, under the leadership of Dr. Nkechy Ezeh, to act as co-director and provide all Early Care & Education Services through ELNC Partners
 
Sustainability plans: long-range planning, developed and implemented by ELNC
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