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Expanding Cultural and Educational Horizons For Young Children About to Enter Center Based Pre-School at Age Three

We propose to provide a once per month series of culturally enlightening and educationally enriching day trip experiences for pre-schoolers.

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Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)

Candidly, the overall concept was initially developed several years ago in response to and inspired by a Request for Proposals for health related activities albeit for a different population incorporating a different series of activity related site visits. That proposal, though not ultimately funded, served as impetus for our current submission modified substantially to address the needs of a target young child population characterized as both low income and generally isolated geographically from the kinds of life experiences herein detailed. A team of employees here at the United Way of Central Jersey (UWCJ), with extensive experience in the delivery of services for children ages 0-5 assisted with the development of overall design of the program and in the identification of possible activities. Ultimately, it will be the responsibility of the administrators and classroom pre-school teachers at the Jamesburg (New Jersey) JFK Elementary School and parents of the 81 children to finalize the schedule and the list of the venues to be visited.

Name or Organization

In partnership with the Jamesburg, New Jersey elementary school administration and the elected members of the township Board of Education, UWCJ as a not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization will serve as the legal entity to which funding will be directed. UWCJ has had over three years of direct experience in working with the school administration on health (including dental health) and education related programming and services.

Geography

This proposed program with take place in Jamesburg, one of the twenty-five municipalities in Middlesex County, New Jersey. Although limited in initial geographic reach to Jameburg, the concept is fungible and thus can be readily scaled to reach children in school districts throughout the county (and ultimately the state).

What is your stage of development?

  • Advanced Innovator with 3 to 10+ years of experience in ECD

Type

  • Non - Profit

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Research & Early Testing: I am exploring my idea, gathering the inspiration and information I need to test it with real users.

Describe your submission in one clear sentence

This initiative consisting of a year long series of culturally enlightening and educationally enriching adventures which is designed to ultimately improve kindergarten readiness (as measured by the New Jersey Department of Education GOLD Assessment Instrument) for a population of three year old children about to enroll in a state funded preschool program at the Jamesburg JFK Elementary School in September 2018.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

In the targeted Jamesburg school district where fewer than 50% of the children are reading at grade level by the third grade (as measured by uniform state administered PARCC tests), this proposed initiative could prove not only to positively impact kindergarten readiness, but also third grade reading scores widely recognized as a strong indicator of longer term educational achievement and success ultimately impacting high school graduation rates and entry into college.

Select an Innovation Target

  • Service: A new or enhanced service that creates value for end beneficiaries.

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

This idea, by exposing young children to a range of culturally enlightening and educationally enriching experiences at a time when their brains are rapidly developing, is while primarily designed to positively impact upon readiness for kindergarten is also likely to reduce grade repetition, reduce the need for, or intensity of, special education services, increase third grade reading proficiency and increase the likelihood of high school graduation. The idea of school related trips (usually once per year at best) is clearly not new. The concept of "packaging" an exciting series of monthly site visits incorporating the identification of specific outcomes is clearly innovative and when offered very early on at the pre-school level may have a very long term long term positive impact upon the child's formal educational experience.

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

This idea, targeting young children in largely low-come families living in relative isolation, is designed primarily to improve kindergarten readiness as measured by the GOLD Assessment tool to be utilized uniformly by the New Jersey Department of Education beginning in 2019. Further, through this group activity, socio-emotional development is likely to be enhanced in addition to the positive educational impact.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

We begin with the recognition that the target population of children from largely low income families live in a rather isolated circumstance rarely (if ever) venture travel beyond the narrow confines of their own small town. Many of families to do not own vehicles and access to public transportation is virtually non-existent. Few if any have been on a bus or train and it is highly unlikely that they have experienced or been exposed to any of the attractions, locales and activities listed below. We will arrange for a series of once per month day trips for children, teacher and parent chaperones offering culturally enlightening and educationally enriching experiences a draft of possibilities as follows: September 2018 : "Back to School" event including the distribution of free backpacks stuffed with age appropriate supplies and a visit by the "Fun Bus". October : A trip to the " Ole McDonald's Working Farm -EIEIO) " to explore where milk and eggs come from, to ride in a hay wagon, and parade in Halloween costume through a maze. November : Hispanic Discovery Day at the Puerto Rican Association for Human Development celebrating hispanic heritage with special services, flag raising and festivities with music, dancing and ethnic foods. December : "All Aboard" a train ride on a operating steam engine in Flemington January : A "Day on Shark Patrol" at the New Jersey State Aquarium in Camden including a tour guided by a expert on under sea life. February : A "Day in Outer Space" exploring the planets with an astronomer offering age appropriate material. March : A "Birthday Bash for Dr. Seuss" serving green eggs and ham and readings from his works by corporate volunteers at the Jamesburg public library with library cards offered to all participating children and their parents. April : A "Day at College" celebrating "AG" Day on the Cook Campus of Rutgers University at which there are all kinds of fun activities and educational events for area residents and children. May : "Anchors Aweigh" on a boat trip to the Statue of Liberty or paddle boating on the lake at Mercer County Park. June: "Play Ball" running the bases at a minor league Somerset Patriots game including a picnic and other activities. July : Up, Up and Away in my Beautiful Balloon " at the annual Quik Check Balloon Festival in Whitehouse Station with many activities designed for young children. August : "Water Water Everywhere" at the East Brunswick Community Water Park" including a picnic lunch. Substitute trips subject to teacher / parental interest may include: "Butterflies are Free" at the Davidson Mill Park Butterfly House where children try to catch a butterfly and explore other natural wonders or "Smell the Roses" at the Colonial Park Arboretum and Gardens in Somerset or try their luck at the "Ole Fishing Hole" in North Brunswick or attend the Family Health and Activities Day at the Perth Amboy YMCA. etc. "Talk to the Animals" on a trip to Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange Through this range of fun filled educational and culturally beneficial "hands on" group activities designed to help young children explore their world, we would anticipate an impact upon their early educational progress most especially as relates to kindergarten readiness.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

The beneficiaries of this initiative are young children residing in the municipality of Jamesburg, New Jersey Although this idea has not yet been implemented, we have worked with this population of children for well over three years on health and education programming. Our work in the district has included the "Summer Sprouts" program for children who completed kindergarten but need to boost math and reading skills to be successful in first grade, as well as for rising first graders who need supplemental educational help. We provided oral health screening which included application of a flouride varnish. With corporate volunteer and financial aid, we constructed two "Little Free Libraries" stocked with books and placed at the two main entrances to the school building enabling children to take and return books at any time. We also installed libraries stocked with donated books (both English and Spanish) in each pre-K to 5th grade classroom to encourage more reading. In 2016 and 2017, we conducted an evidenced based Abriendo Puertas / Opening Doors series of ten workshops enabling parents (as their child's first teacher) to more actively participate in their child's education and to empower them to advocate for their children in school.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

This innovative idea if successfully implemented can favorably impact families and children individually and may result in longer term, positive systemic change, In that the program has not yet been introduced, we have not yet collected data that would definitively serve as proof that the predefined outcomes have been effectively achieved. We nonetheless feel confident that the idea will positively impact upon the goal of better preparing young children for entry into kindergarten. It may also inspire and motivate families who are generally isolated to independently take greater advantage of the multiplicity of opportunities for exposing children to additional cultural and educational experiences.

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

This impact specifically targets a largely low income population in a township (Jamesburg) classified by the State of New Jersey Department of Education as a "special needs district" thus establishing universal eligibility to access to high quality free pre-school for all three and four year children residing in the municipality. Many of these children live in families where Spanish is the primary (often only) language spoken at home, and in many instances, the parents are illiterate in their own native language. Rarely do many of the families have access to a reliable automobile, and when they do, the vehicle is used exclusively for local travel to work or to shop for groceries. Given the relative isolation of these families, It is highly unlikely that any of the children have been exposed to the adventures herein proposed.

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (1500 characters)

While many schools do conduct educational bus trips for their students generally at best once per year and usually involving older children, as well as a fee to participate, we know of no pre-school program, publicly or privately administered anywhere in the state offering this highly innovative programming.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

Ultimately, the program design is fungible in that it can be readily scaled up to serve many more public and private non-profit, center based pre-school programs serving the "end users". At least with respect to our proposal targeting pre-schoolers in Jamesburg, we can expect as we have experienced thus far in other endeavors in that community, substantial corporate buy-in through generous in-kind and financial supports as well as active volunteer participation. The major cost components include travel (bus rental) and admission fees to certain, but clearly not all, venues. There are no additional personnel costs to the extent that these trips occur mostly during the regular school day. Meals for eligible children would be made available are no or reduced cost.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

We strongly believe that this is an idea with a high level of programmatic and financial feasibility. We have found the building Principal at the Jamesburg JFK Elementary School to be amenable to creative ideas and innovative thinking. She has been open to suggestions from outside the educational bureaucracy, not threatened by them as is sometimes the case. The local Board of Education has similarly been highly supportive of engaging with the UWCJ on a number of projects witness the fact that have invited UWCJ to present on our activities at the May 2018 dinner meeting of the Middlesex County Association of School Boards. We see a clear path to program implementation beginning at the start of the school year in September 2018 and feel confident that we can raise supplemental financial support and corporate volunteer support to make it happen.

Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (1500 characters)

We see no major barriers to implementing this program. The costs are comparatively minimal, can possibly be covered within the existing school budget and may generate supplemental support from area foundations and corporations. Other than finances, we do not anticipate any resistance to full participation on the part of the school administration or the parents of the targeted children.

HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (1500 characters)

UWCJ's approach to community engagement involves a bottom-up process. We don't possess a preconceived notion of local community needs nor do we impose 'one fits' all solutions. Our methodological approach involves bringing stakeholders to the table including publicly elected officials, program administrators, faith-based and non-profit organizations and most especially families in the community to openly discuss concerns peculiar to that population. We then work together to formulate strategies to effectively address those identified concerns. For this initiative, we will actively engage the educators and parents of the targeted children in the process of planning and finalizing the calendar and venue for all twelve events.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

As noted above, we were inspired by an earlier submission of a similar proposal to another potential funding source. UWCJ has established a clear funding priority on services to the 0-5 population. Internally, we have created a continuum of United Way directly administered evidenced based services including the nationally acclaimed Nurse-Family Partnership program (NFP), the widely replicated Parent-Child Home Program and the innovative Abriendo Puertas (Opening Doors) program. NFP serves low income, first time pregnant women stating from the 12th week week of pregnancy through to the child's second birthday. Bachelor Level Nurses conduct frequent home visits (sometimes once per week) during the critical weeks prior to delivery and through the early developmental stages of the infant's life. The PCHP program involves specially trained paraprofessional visits to the home of low income families with a child between the ages of two and four modeling positive parent interaction around reading age appropriate books and educational toys all which the child gets to keep. Abriedo Puertas is a program, developed by Latinos and for low income Latino families involving a series of ten workshop sessions recognizing parents as their child's first teacher and empowering them to effectively advocate for their children when they attend school. We are proud to report that UWCJ was the very first county-wide provider of NFP in the entire state of New jersey having launched the program in 2004. Based in part upon our pioneering work, NFP has been expanded to each of the twenty-one counties in New Jersey. We are the sole New Jersey provider of both the Parent Child Home Program and the Abriendo Puertas (Opening Doors) series of workshops. Thus UWCJ has broad direct experience in the early childhood "space" has attached absolutely highest priority to that population not only in our directly administered services as delineated above but also with respect to our program investment in support of community non-profit partners. We are also inspired by the recognition, as promoted by Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ) that there is only "One Childhood...No Second Chance." Much of our work in the very early child "space" has been informed by Dr. David Olds (NFP), Dr. Bruce Perry (early brain development), and Nobel Prize winner Dr. James Heckman, economist at the University of Chicago.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (500 characters)

We have established effective partnerships with the Jamesburg school administrators, the elected School Board members and Borough Council. We are concurrently in the process of tangentially developing a "Place-Based" initiative in which we plan to engage stakeholders and parents in a process to identify and address local concerns particularly relating to families with young children.

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)

We are confident that we will be able to move forward on this project with existing personnel resources and expertise. The award of an Early Childhood Innovation Prize and the inherent recognition associated with it would certainly serve as an incentive to move quickly forward. Given our goal to strengthen kindergarten readiness, it would be helpful to have expert assistance in the integration of a research design and implementation plan including the identification of a control group. This research would also be beneficial for promoting expansion of the idea, and may result in the publication of an article in a relevant professional journal.

Would you like mentoring support? [Relevant only for Early Submission Deadline]

  • No

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

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