Kansas Health Foundation supports communities with $2.7 million early childhood literacy initiative

August 19, 2020

Media Contact Kristi Zukovich,

WICHITA, Kan. – The Kansas Health Foundation approved nearly $2.7 million in funding for community-led initiatives in Kansas, to improve early childhood literacy and kindergarten readiness. These community projects will support eight priority school districts with significant disparities in educational attainment, specifically lower fourth grade literacy rates: Arkansas City, Dodge City, Garden City, Kansas City and Turner-KC, Liberal, Topeka and Wichita.

In 2019, 66 percent of Kansas students were not reading at grade level by fourth grade. These students are four times more likely to drop out of high school, with the achievement gap even wider among children of color and those from low-income families. This has long-term implications for health, employment and overall wellbeing.

“We know there is a direct link between higher levels of educational attainment and better health outcomes and a greater overall quality of life,” said Reggie Robinson, KHF president and CEO. “Community stakeholders are in the best position to assess their unique early literacy needs and propose coordinated approaches to address gaps that lead to increased literacy for children from birth to age eight.”

Eight community collaboratives will receive approximately $300,000 each (over three years), working in partnership with school districts and other community organizations, including literacy providers, libraries, faith-based and other non-profit entities. Each community has identified specific needs and strategies to support early childhood literacy. KHF has retained The Improve Group to evaluate this multi-year initiative (for $243,000).

Learn more about the overarching work of these eight community collaboratives:

Turner Kansas City (USD 202)
Joy Engel, project director, engelj@turnerusd202.org
Partners: Turner Recreation Commission, Turner Community Library, Turner Parents as Teachers and Wyandotte County United Way.
Project: Turner Unified School District will bring together community partners, local daycares and parents to form the Early Childhood Cohort, with a focus on working together to increase community-wide awareness about the importance of early literacy and improving kindergarten readiness among low-income families. An early literacy coordinator will be hired to work with daycares, out-of-school programs and staff on literacy instruction.

Wichita (Opportunity Wichita for USD 259)
Misty Bruckner, project director, Wichita State University Public Policy and Management Center, misty.bruckner@wichita.edu
Partners: USD 259-Wichita Public Schools, United Way of the Plains, Rainbows United, Greater Wichita YMCA, Wichita Public Library, Kansas Children Service League, Child Start, Project Wichita, Wichita State University, School of Education and the Counseling, Leadership and Educational and School Psychology, AB&C Bilingual Resources and Storytime Village.
Project: Wichita State University’s Public Policy and Management Center (PPMC) will support Opportunity Wichita in bringing together the Wichita Literacy Coalition, comprised of various stakeholders, to create and implement a collective plan to increase kindergarten readiness for children and families experiencing the greatest need. A literacy coordinator will be hired to support the coalition.

Dodge City (Dodge City Community College Foundation for USD 443)
Lorna Ford, project director, Lford@dc3.edu
Partners: CACFP-Child Adult Care Food Program, Arrowhead West Child Services, USD 443 Bright Beginnings Head Start, DC3 Adult Learning Center, Dodge City/Ford County Economic Development and Ford County RSVP.
Project: Dodge City Community College plans to strengthen the existing coalition of partners in their area engaged in early childhood/early literacy efforts, including USD 443 (Dodge City Public Schools), to increase parent outreach and engagement, provide early literacy trainings to childcare providers and buy and distribute books. Funding will also be used to support a project director, part-time staff to provide story time and training to educate providers.

Garden City – (USD 457)
Monica Diaz, project director, mdiaz@gckschools.com
Partners: St. Dominic and Diocese of Dodge City, Kansas Children’s Service League and Finney County Public Library.
Project: USD 457 will develop a council with identified key stakeholders to focus on improving kindergarten readiness and early literacy skills. Funding will be used to support a literacy coordinator to organize efforts including teacher and staff development and parent engagement.

Topeka – (United Way of Greater Topeka for USD 501)
Brett Martin, project director, bmartin@unitedwaytopeka.org
Partners: Child Care Aware of Eastern Kansas, Kansas Children’s Discovery Center, Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library, TARC (serving individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities), USD 501 Parents as Teachers, USD 501 Topeka Public Schools and YWCA of Northeast Kansas.
Project: The United Way of Greater Topeka Steering Committee will recruit additional partners to identify assets and gaps in their community’s early childhood systems, to increase access to services and resources for low-income children and families. Funding will be used to hire a early literacy coordinator and to provide data analysis, training and professional development opportunities

Kansas City – (USD 500)
Kimberly Shaw, project director, kimberly.shaw@kckps.org
Partners: Kansas City, Kansas Public Library, United Way of Greater Kansas City (Dolly Parton Imagination Library), KCK Parents As Teachers, Project SPARK (Successful Partnerships to Assure Readiness for Kindergarten) Wyandotte County Infant-Toddler Services, Kansas City Kansas Public Schools Head Start, Pre-K and Special Education, The Family Conservancy and Project EAGLE Early Head Start.
Project: Working to engage partners to increase the number of students entering USD 500 ready for kindergarten, and to reduce barriers and support child development by engaging a newly hired early literacy access specialist to help families locate ways to support their needs. The coalition will use professional development opportunities for childcare providers to increase knowledge about literacy tools and outreach to parents through community events and local groups to connect/refer them to services. Funding will be used to hire a early literacy access coordinator and for trainings and professional development, community outreach, and to contract with translators/childcare providers for engagement events.

Liberal – (Tri-Agency Intervention dba Liberal Area Coalition for Families for USD 480)
Sarah Mersdorf-Foreman, project director, coalitionforfamilies@yahoo.com
Partners: USD 480, Russell Child Development Center, Liberal Memorial Library, Kansas Action for Children and Head Start.
Project: An early childhood collaborative will be created to support community-wide early literacy, increase parent engagement, involve and educate policymakers, examine opportunities for professional development and expand early childcare availability. Partial salaries of the project director and research specialist will be supported through the grant to identify best practices and provide professional development.

Arkansas City – USD 470
Jeri Crumbliss, project director, jeri.crumbliss@usd470.com
Partners: Legacy Foundation, Cowley College, Arkansas City Public Library, Kansas Association of Retired School Personnel, Arkansas City Police Department, the City/Cowley County Health Department, Greenbush Southeast Kansas Education Servcie Center, Foster Grandparents, South Central Kansas Medical Center and REACH Infant Toddler Services.
Project: Priorities include improving child screening and referrals, increasing parent engagement, supporting transitions from home-based to school-based programming and increasing inter-agency communication and collaboration. Funding will be used to support a early literacy coordinator, actionable projects for all partners, kindergarten success camp, Nitty Gritty Theatre and other upcoming programs.


About the Kansas Health Foundation

The Kansas Health Foundation (KHF) is a nonprofit organization based in Wichita but statewide in its focus. At KHF, all our work centers on our mission: to improve the health of all Kansans. As part of a new strategic framework, developed by our staff and board of directors, KHF also strives to accomplish three primary purposes: empower Kansas to lead the nation in health; eliminate the inequities that create health disparities; and, for KHF to become THE model for philanthropic impact.

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