When teenage sisters Kamiyah and Mariyah Mitchell of Columbus discovered they were pregnant, they weren’t sure how they would finish high school. But their mother knew. Both of her daughters had attended a highly rated local preschool when they were infants and toddlers so she could continue working.

So the sisters enrolled their infant sons at Fresh Start Learning Academy. The boys’ attendance was at no cost to them, thanks to the college’s Early Head Start program, which allowed them to graduate from high school. But the partnership went a step beyond — providing jobs for the girls as well.

Soon after graduating, the sisters were hired as assistant preschool teachers at the Learning Academy. Not only did they receive one-to-one coaching and professional development from the college’s Early Head Start, but a partner program helped them earn their Childhood Development Associate Credentials.

The two were promoted and still work for the Learning Academy. The college’s Early Head Start program advanced the girls’ careers and earning power, giving their family a boost. Early Head Start also improved the professional expertise of the Learning Academy, a benefit to more families and their children.

Mariyah Mitchell said the Early Head Start program has been a positive and supportive experience for her, her family and her school family. “They always provide us with resources we need, whether it is something big or small,” she said.

“The Early Head Start program has provided us a support system that other owners dream of,” said Necole Sykes, owner of Fresh Start Learning Academy. “We have so many resources that save our administration countless hours. The coaches for our teachers assist with lesson planning, professional development and strategies to increase outcomes.”

“Parent advocates assist our caregivers with housing, referrals and support for the entire family, not just the children,” she said. “As an owner and director, I feel supported and encouraged to create an environment for families that cannot (otherwise) afford quality care.”

Now, that care and support will expand to more Columbus families.

preschool teacher laughing as young children play around her

Impact of the college’s Early Head Start in Columbus

The college’s Early Head Start Partnership began in 2015 with a five-year grant that renewed in 2020, all from the Early Head Start – Child Care Partnership initiative of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Since then, a total of 1,553 Columbus children ages birth through three years of age have received early education through the program. Although the participants live in zip codes with high infant mortality rates — 8.3 to 20.1 per 1,000 live births compared to 6.7 per 1,000 in Ohio and 6 nationally — the program’s participating families have experienced zero infant mortality since the program began in 2015.

Don Fuzer, principal investigator of both grants, said the program has earned national recognition for its innovative, two-generations approach to service. “Not only does our program enroll children in early education, he said, “but families receive supportive services and counseling from our family advocates to reach career goals and move from poverty to self-sufficiency.”

“Our services far exceed the requirements of the Head Start Program Performance Standards, and we continuously review data to assess quality and make improvements,” he said.

And despite the pandemic, the Early Head Start Partnership has maintained all its early education slots for children.

New award augments the winning Early Head Start program

Thanks to the program’s excellence, a five-year, renewable grant has been awarded to the college under the federal Early Head Start Expansion – Child Care Partnership initiative.

The original, five-year funding plus the new award total just over $28 million. The current grant provides 160 early education spaces for children yearly. The new grant adds capacity to serve more children via 103 additional early education spaces per year for a total of 263 spaces at the following:

  • The program currently provides 135 spaces at 10 early education centers, including the college’s Schoenbaum Family Center. Four more centers will be added to provide 38 additional spaces for children.
  • The program currently works with eight experienced, trained providers who offer 25 early education care spaces in their homes. The new grant expands early education by 10 spaces, so the program will add three to four new providers.
  • New to the program will be home-based care for 30 families who wish to educate their child at home. A home visitor provides training and resources to the primary caregiver to ensure quality early learning, plus monthly gatherings for parent and child socialization are planned.

Also new to the program will be assistance to 25 pregnant women to ensure they give birth to a healthy child and receive support services through the child’s third birthday.

Man helps young boy wash dishes

Finally, the expansion grant will add to the already extensive network of community partners to provide more high-quality dental, health, mental health, nutrition, vision, parenting supports, education, training and workforce development services to participating families and their children.

“With this funding opportunity, we will expand our reach to provide a continuum of services, beginning with prenatal care for pregnant moms and impacting the lives of newborns and their families through the children’s third birthday,” said Sherrie Sutton, program director of Ohio State’s Early Head Start Partnership.

“We look forward to broadening our relationships with community and university partners to meet the needs of children and families living in poverty.”

Parents appreciate the program, helping to drive change for more children by volunteering their time. In 2019-2020, parents participating in the Early Head Start program volunteered 9,915 hours.

The Mitchell sisters are prime examples. They volunteer as members of the program’s Policy Council, along with other parents, representatives from partner organizations and other community representatives.

Together, the group makes decisions, and Kamiyah and Mariyah Mitchell have learned to become advocates for early childhood education.

And that translates to better lives for entire families.

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