Investment in Austin-area childhood education initiatives pays off

Success By 6 The majority of a $1 million grant for United Way for Greater Austin's Success By 6 program was used to fund Play to Learn.[/caption]

Five years after a $1 million grant was invested locally, more than 200 families have benefited from educational development initiatives, and numerous new pre-k programs have been created.

United Way for Greater Austin received the grant from Samsung Austin Semiconductor in 2010 to help its Success By 6 project, which fosters educational success for children ages 0 to 5. The funding was a game-changer, said Leah Newkirk Meunier, vice president of strategic programs for nonprofit group United Way for Greater Austin.

“We actually did a really comprehensive research project analyzing what are the needs we’re seeing in our youngest children,” Meunier said. “We found that we had some real language delays. We [also] saw a lot of fine motor delays and problem-solving delays.”

Play to Learn, an intervention program designed to address those issues, was implemented in 2012. It involved an eight-week course during which families could receive educational materials and help detailing how to enhance their child’s education from home, Meunier said. Those who participated also received a digital tablet to introduce children to learning through technology, she said.

Catherine Q. Morse, Samsung Austin Semiconductor senior director of public affairs, said the grant was given out of a desire to invest in the community. She said the program was chosen because there is data to prove its success.

“The more I learned about United Way’s Success By 6 program, the more convicted I have become that investment to early childhood really gets the greatest return on the dollar,” Morse said. “If we can reach more economically disadvantaged children with very high quality interventions, we can really change the trajectory for these individuals’ educational outcomes and thereby create a more educated and thriving community for Austin.”

A third-party evaluation of the Play to Learn program found it was effective in helping fill developmental gaps and reducing child behavior problems as well as decreasing depressive symptoms of the mothers who participated with their children, Meunier said.

“It was good to see that this experience of getting together with other parents and feeling supported…was actually making a difference in the lives of those mothers. What we know from research is that maternal depression is strongly related to child outcomes,” Meunier said.

The Play to Learn program laid a foundation for the expansion of Austin ISD's pre-k programs, which expanded this fall to include 500 three-year-old children throughout Austin, Meunier said.   


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