Detroit early education programs serve as excellent models for PreK for All

This article is part of Early Education Matters, a series about how Michigan parents, childcare providers, and early childhood educators are working together to implement Pre-K for All. It is made possible with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
Research shows that early childhood education is extremely important when it comes to the person a child will become. Birth to age 8 is a critical period in childhood learning, making pre-k one of the most important years in a child’s education. This is why the State of Michigan wants to expand on its Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP) to provide universal free pre-k to all of Michigan’s youngest students.
Feedback from community listening sessions and child care educators across the state has indicated that how the roll-out of Pre K For All is handled is almost equally as important as the plan itself. Many great examples of pre-K programs that have been well executed exist across the nation. Right here in Michigan, Detroit’s pre-K programs are among the best.
With a population that is a majority of people of color, Detroit children’s access to quality education becomes an even stronger determining factor in their potential future success. Students of color often have less access to the quality resources necessary for successful education 

Knowing this, pre-k programs all over Detroit have risen to the occasion and come up with different methods to best serve their students and families. One of those is Marygrove Early Education Center.
“At Marygrove, we have opted into a mixed-income model. The beauty of this method is that we're able to service and provide supports to all families," says Celina Byrd, director of strategy and innovation and principal of Marygrove Early Education Center. “Whether they are lower on the socioeconomic guideline or higher, we're able to provide support and access to quality early childhood education.” 

Celina Byrd, director of strategy and innovation and principal of Marygrove Early Education Center.Marygrove’s researched-based curriculum and mixed-pricing model is only the beginning of Marygrove’s benefits.
“We also operate with a significant parent focus,” Byrd says. “What this means is we offer a full-day, full-year model so our scholars are able to attend Marygrove five days a week. This is very different from the current GSRP model, which is a four-day model.”
Camarrah Morgan, The Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation program partner.
This very important aspect of the Marygrove model is one many early childhood education providers and families mention when discussing PreK for All and how it can improve on GSRP. In addition, Marygrove’s commitment to parent-focused, family-focused education is another goal that many hope to see as part of the state’s Pre K For All program.
“I think early care and education professionals are resilient. They have worked through a pandemic because people needed care,” says Camarrah Morgan of Champions for Hope Imperative 2 - Hope Starts Here. “As I think about early childhood education and the structures put in place in Detroit, there are many programs in general who have really worked hard and creatively to stay open through these times. It's been difficult, especially for private programs that may or may not have a variety of pay mixes with the high percentage of families that are on childcare subsidy.” 
Littles listen to a story at Marygrove Early Education Center.Champions for HOPE does not stop at admiration when it comes to aiding early childhood educators. 
James Ribbron, executive director, Champions for HOPE.
“For the past month, we have been working to identify child care programs and providers in each [Detroit] City Council district,” says James Ribbron, executive director of Champions for HOPE. “We are working on this, number one, to begin to create those relationships that we can build our advocacy around. Secondly we started out trying to identify the slots that were available for children in Detroit.”

One of Champions for Hope’s main focuses, much like that of Marygrove and other Detroit programs, is a parent- and caregiver-focused approach to making sure students succeed in early childhood education.
“When we look at the data, only 18% of Detroit third graders were at the correct level of reading proficiency for their age,” Morgan says. 

More recent numbers show that 88% percent of Detroit’s third graders are not proficient readers. Greater access to and focus on early childhood education only serves to address these child literacy concerns. To improve childhood literacy, the early childhood  educators leading pre-k programs in Detroit  are taking a multilayered approach. Champions for HOPE’s goal is to not only support early childhood educators but also empower parents to get involved with their children’s literacy goals outside of the classroom.
Our 6-A-Day campaign includes six, free, easy, researched methods or activities that parents or caregivers could do with it with their child. These six things are encourage, hug, talk, sing, read, and play,” says Furqan Khaldun, partnership coordinator for Champions for HOPE. “These are things that anyone or everyone can do with a child to boost brain development, increase some early literacy, and foster further connection between adult and child.”

Birth to age 8 is a critical period in childhood learning, making pre-k one of the most important years in a child’s education.Bringing parents into early childhood education and considering what strides can be made when child development considers the family as a whole can help increase the likelihood of success for the child.

 “One of the things I've learned is when we give parents a voice, they have something to say,” Ribbron says.

Organizations like Champions for HOPE and early childhood education providers like Marygrove are making all the difference for Detroit’s children. Thinking about education as something the entire family should be a part of and considering a child as a part of a family unit are a few of the many strategies that make early childhood education successful in Detroit. This is why the folks working on developing the Prek for All roll-out — Policy Equity GroupSouthern Imaginations, and members of Governor Whitmer’s Pre K For All taskforce — are looking to Detroit programs as models to build on. 

Ashley King is a born-and-raised Michigander. She wants to use her writing expertise gained from her time studying at the University of Michigan to make sure the stories of Michigan reach far and wide across the Mitten.

Photos by Doug Coombe.

Early Education Matters is a series of stories about the implementation of Pre-K for All throughout the State of Michigan. It is made possible with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
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