Getting to Great: Investing In Our Youngest Children

Interim President Allen Smart on Great Expectations

I remember the day my son said his first word, started kindergarten, learned to read and rode a bike. These ‘firsts’ are happy memories as my son reached milestones and became independent.  

These are happy memories, but I recognize that my family is fortunate—privileged—to live in a neighborhood where most children are healthy, achieve developmental milestones at the ‘right’ age, and complete kindergarten prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. I know we are fortunate, because this is not the case for more than 2,400 children—half of the children attending kindergarten in Forsyth County—who are likely to fall behind their classmates.  I also know that there are entire neighborhoods in our community where the majority of children are at risk—of poor health and of failing to succeed in school and what lies beyond. 

Forsyth County’s children deserve better.

The Trust is committed to changing the trajectory of these children. This summer we launched Great Expectations, a 10-year, $30 million initiative to ensure our young children, especially those living in financially disadvantaged families, meet age-appropriate developmental milestones in their first five years, enter kindergarten ready for the grand adventure of schooling, and leave it ready for learning and life success.

This work will not be easy. We know that. To be successful, we have to disrupt business as usual. We have to work with groups we’ve never funded. We have to bring experts in from outside Forsyth County. We have to engage parents and the business community and the health care sector. We have to go beyond our comfort zone.

But we believe that our community can do this and we believe there are principles and practices to guide our work.

In order to get this right, we worked with early childhood experts from around the country and tapped the local expertise in Forsyth County to come up with a Great Expectations Activation plan to guide our work.

In order to ensure 90 percent of all financially disadvantaged children in Forsyth County finish kindergarten ready for success, we will do the following:

Focus on Five Core Priorities

Improve child and family health
Improve self-regulation and executive function among children and adults
Improve parent-child interactions and adult caregiving capacity
Support children’s oral language and vocabulary development
Build the capacity of parents, providers, communities and systems that serve young children and families
Work with Many Key Stakeholders

This work cannot be done in isolation if we want to be successful. Some of these key stakeholders will include:

Providers (child care and other services)
Community organizations
Government agencies
Work with Two (or Three) Generations at Once

National research has shown us that young children do better when their families do better. Great Expectations will use a two-generation and three-generation framework in order to address the needs of the whole family.

Invest in an Activating Agency

Although our investment in “getting to great” may seem large, the Trust’s staff is quite small. To support the successful implementation of Great Expectations, we are investing in a separate organization—an Activating Agency—whose responsibilities include knowledge development, strategic communications, oversight and support for grantees, expansion of partnership, refinement of the initiative, reporting on progress and tracking outcomes and challenges.

We announced this summer that MDC, a nonprofit based in Durham, has been named as the Great Expectations Activating Agency. Read more about MDC, who they are and their previous work in this edition of Catalyst.

We are excited about this work and hope you are, too. We know we can’t do this alone. To date, the Trust has invested in a number of programs including Nurse-Family Partnership, First Book, and More Than Baby Talk to test some new ideas and move Great Expectations forward.  We’ve been working with critical partners such as the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools for the past couple years to lay the groundwork for investments in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten teachers, as well as the children they serve. And we recently made a grant to the school district to install or improve playgrounds at 23 Title 1 schools in Forsyth County.

We also announced a $330,000 grant to Forsyth County Public Library to create early childhood corners, full of books and age-appropriate games and learning materials, in seven libraries and two bookmobiles around the County where the new materials are most needed.

Winston-Salem is the Trust’s hometown. It’s where we work and live and raise our children. If our community’s children thrive, so will our city. It’s imperative that we get this right. Help us, join us, hold us accountable—this is not just a grants program; it’s a community-building program with the opportunity to change thousands of lives and make Winston-Salem a better place to grow up and to call home.

Sincerely,Allen Smart

Interim PresidentVice President of Programs

To learn more about this work, download the Great Expectations Activation Plan.

Interested in getting involved? Contact Joe Crocker.