Continuum of Support from Cradle to Career
Consider the following questions for a moment,
Why do some children achieve on grade level and others do not?
Why are some high schoolers prepared for college and careers and others are not?
Why is it necessary for some businesses to recruit highly-qualified applicants from areas outside of Sangamon County?
In 2005, local educational and business leaders asked themselves these and more questions about how education and the local economy are tied together. The more they dug into these questions, the more they realized that the answers were interconnected. Educational attainment is linked to grade-level achievement and social-emotional support. Grade-level achievement and social-emotional learning are connected to healthcare, nutrition, executive thinking skills, motor skill development, literacy skills, parental support, and on and on. It wasn’t long before these experts realized that in order to support Springfield’s economy, they had to focus on supporting youth through the entire continuum from cradle to career.
Thus, the Continuum of Learning (COL) was born. COL was formed in 2005 as a partnership between the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln, the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, The United Way of Central Illinois, and UIS Center for State Policy and Leadership. As the COL gained steam, Springfield Public Schools #186, Lincoln Land Community College Workforce Development, Innovate Springfield, the Springfield Sangamon Growth Alliance, and the Illinois Education Association joined the efforts.
The COL has five core aspirations that guide its work:
- To have every child ready for kindergarten.
- To have every K-5 student performing at or above grade level.
- To have every high school student graduate with a plan for the future.
- To increase post-secondary educational attainment.
- To have all county residents achieve their highest employment potential as a result of the learning they have acquired.
Of course, these are lofty aspirations that require dedication from various local, state, and national organizations that may take decades to meet. Data has to lead to policy, which has to become codified in practice and law, all of which has to be supported by more data about the impact of the changes made. Many people have to be working locally toward the same goals, asking questions, gathering information, and constantly refocusing as progress is made.
In all of the local data, one fact stood out above all others: Less-advantaged children tend to lag behind their more privileged peers when it comes to health, education, and social-emotional outcomes. Less-advantaged here means children from households that earn below 150% of the federal poverty line. In 2015, the COL released the Sangamon Success report, detailing research around this issue and 25 evidence-based recommendations to support less-advantaged children from their prenatal development through their post-secondary preparation. These recommendations still guide the COL as well as other community organizations.
While the conversation surrounding a continuum of education has been happening locally, it has also been happening statewide. Two new pieces of state legislation will help to support the COL’s goals in the coming years: House Bill 354 and Public Act 101-0654.
Prenatal development and early childhood education are vital to building a strong and healthy foundation for children, especially those from low-income families. Home visiting programs are often crucial support for new parents and small children, offering in-home checkups, parenting education, developmental support, and much more. Unfortunately, many such programs are either privately funded or grant-funded, leading to uncertainty of the program’s sustainability or limited services to families. HB 354 stipulates that perinatal doula services and evidence-based home visiting services will be covered under the medical assistance programs for persons who are otherwise eligible for medical assistance, meaning that many programs will be eligible for Medicare reimbursement. Programs like our local Nurse Family Partnership will gain a solid financial foundation to better support more young families.
Just last week, Governor Pritzker also signed PA 101-0654 into law. The law is a sweeping education equity bill, creating a Whole Child Task Force to “establish an equitable, inclusive, safe and supportive environment in all schools for every student in this State.” The bill also makes a kindergarten readiness assessment mandatory, provides guidance for automatic enrollment for accelerated placement classes, and amends graduation requirements over the next ten years to include computer literacy, computer science, foreign language, and laboratory science in order to more closely align high school graduate skills with college and career prerequisites. HB 2170 also seeks to increase equity for students of color, requiring demographic information to be more readily gathered, establishing a grant program to facilitate improved educational outcomes for Black students from Pre-K to Grade 12, creates an Inclusive American History Commission, adds a Black History unit of instruction to social science standards, and establishes a state scholarship for minority students who wish to become teachers.
These bills seek to support students in new and innovative ways from before birth through their post-secondary preparation, and their impact will affect learners right here in our city. There are still questions to be asked about the future of education and many more about how to best equitably serve all children in Sangamon County, and every answer will inevitably lead to more questions. That’s the nature of the evidence-based inquiry. Through it all, the Continuum of Learning will continue to support less-advantaged children from cradle to career.
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